Data science company Climax Foods raised $7.5 million in seed funding to fuel artificial intelligence research into how plants can be converted into products that “surpass the flavor” of their animal-based counterparts, according to a release. The company said it will start with plant-based cheese.
Investors include At One Ventures, founded by GoogleX co-founder Tom Chi, as well as Manta Ray Ventures, S2G Ventures, Valor Siren Ventures, Prelude Ventures, ARTIS Ventures, Index Ventures, Luminous Ventures, Canaccord Genuity Group, Carrot Capital and Global Founders Capital. There are also several angel investors that contributed to the funding round.
Founded in 2019 by Oliver Zahn, the data science lead at Google, SpaceX and Impossible Foods, the company already has an impressive roster of employees, including two Nobel laureates as well as alumni from Eat Just and Impossible Foods.
Plant-based innovation has largely been separated between companies that are focused on their own niche. Although Climax Foods is starting its research with cheese, it is planning to use this funding for its data science approach to create plant-based products with less processing at a more accessible price point.
Plant-based products are steadily growing in popularity as consumers look for ways to eat food that is better for their bodies, as well as the environment. Alternatives that mimic their animal cousins are especially popular as they are able to attract consumers who are flexitarians or carnivores to a category that is slowly chipping away market share from more traditional animal agriculture. Creating these offerings that match animal-based options has not been easy though, especially in the cheese category. Many plant-based cheese producers have said perfecting this type of product is exceedingly difficult.
Climax Foods is seeking to remove the trial and error from plant-based cheese experimentation by using AI. The company has created learning frameworks to test the taste, flavor, texture and nutrition of a kaleidoscope of plant-based sources at a molecular level. The idea is to find the key for how plants can be optimally used as raw ingredients to replace animal-based ingredients in recipes.
Despite the difficulty developing the plant-based cheese, there are already many products on the market that Climax Foods will need to top. In February, Tofurky officially launched Moocho as a spinoff brand making dairy-free products such as Moocho’s Cheddar and Mozzarella. The Bel Group, the maker of Babybel, announced plans last fall to develop hybrid items integrating dairy and plant-based raw materials. Good Planet Foods recently raised $12 million to expand the production of its plant-based cheeses, and other major companies in the space with products include Daiya Foods, Miyoko’s Creamery and Follow Your Heart.
Even though the competition is increasing, Climax Foods seems to be jumping into the space at the right time. Plant-based cheese sales were up 95% compared to 2019 in mid-March, according to SPINS statistics analyzed by the Plant Based Foods Association. Sales in this category have remained on an upward trend, with a growth rate of 54% in the weeks after the consumer buying peak.