When it comes to AI meets food, it’s easy to think of food robots, precision farming, or even restaurant tech. But over the past year or so, we’ve seen a parade of new startups emerge that use machine learning and other forms of AI to develop new food building blocks.
Take Kingdom Supercultures. The company, which raised $25 million a couple of weeks ago, uses machine learning to explore the properties of existing cultures to create what it claims is the world’s largest biobank. From there, they mine to explore potentially new and interesting microbial combinations called supercultures that provide new functionality, flavors, and more.
And this week, a company called Shiru, which uses machine learning and precision fermentation to create analogs to animal-based ingredients, raised $17 million. Like Kingdom, Shiru is using AI to rapidly develop a massive proprietary database, only Shiru’s dataset is the first to focus on “protein identity with protein-related food function.” The company mines its database with machine learning to identify novel ingredients that replicate “the taste, texture, gelation, foaming, emulsification, and binding abilities of animal proteins.”
In short, both companies are using AI to build next-generation ingredient platforms and, in doing so, are hoping to accelerate the process of ingredient development by an order of magnitude over a purely wet lab approach.
And they’re not the only ones. Climax Foods, led by Google’s former head of data science, is building plant-based cheese by analyzing data sets using machine learning to figure out what novel tastes and textures a set of particular raw ingredients and isolates will yield. Brightseed is analyzing plant molecules using AI to understand and isolate new phytonutrient compounds and, you guessed it, build a database from which they make predictions about how these new compounds may impact health.
It’s an exciting time in the world of future food. As advances in AI and cutting-edge biotechnology continue to merge and yield new food building blocks at a breathtaking pace, we’ll be watching for the next Kingdom Supercultures and Shiru to emerge over the next year.
If you are the next company in this space, drop us a line. We’d like to hear from you.
And now for the rest of this week’s funding news.
Pure Harvest Smart Farms – $65 Million: UAE-based precision agriculture firm Pure Harvest Smart Farms has raised $64.5 million in funding. Today Pure Harvest operates three farms in the UAE and is developing new farms in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Pure Harvest’s crops include tomatoes, leafy greens, and strawberries. The funding brings the company’s total invested capital to USD 271.6 million, which the company claims is the MENASA (Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia) region’s largest agtech investment.
Grubmarket – $145 Million – Grubmarket, a B2B and B2C digital supply chain company, has raised $145 million Series E. The company, which operates an online marketplace for fresh produce, offers managed warehousing and supply chain operation services across North America, and has a variety of cloud software for food wholesalers and farms, is on track for a $1 billion annualized run rate. The company plans to use the funding to expand into new markets (and hopefully to improve its website, which does not look at all like a website of a company close to $1B in revenue).
Aqua Cultured – $2.1 Million: Alt-seafood startup Aqua Cultured has raised $2.1 million in pre-seed funding. Unlike many other alt-seafood startups using a straight plant-based or cell-cultured approach, Aqua Cultured uses microbial fermentation techniques to create whole-muscle cut seafood alternatives. The company has developed formulas for tuna, whitefish, squid, and shrimp that leverage its novel fungi as the primary ingredient. Investors include Supply Change Capital, Aera VC, Sustainable Food Ventures, Hanfield Venture Partners, Lifely VC, Conscience VC, Kingfisher Capital, Big Idea Ventures. $2.1 million, a nice pre-seed raise, is even more impressive considering the company only started last month.
Cometeer – $35 Million: Cometeer, a company that makes frozen coffee pucks and sells them in packs via a DTC-by-mail model, has raised a $35 million Series B. The company’s pucks consist of 10x strength frozen coffee which are dropped into hot water to make a drinkable cup of Joe. The pucks aren’t cheap at $64 for a box of 32, or $2 a pop. You can see Ashlen Wilder’s review of Cometeer here.
Gorillas – $1B: We have a few more details on the nearly $1 billion in funding for Gorillas we wrote about early this month. The company raised an almost $1 billion in funding, with Delivery Hero leading the round with $235 million in funding in exchange for 8% of the company. While that seems like a whole lotta capital, the company’s going to need it as it continues to build out a warehouse and dark store network that is already in 55 cities across Europe and the U.S.
N!CK’s – $100 Million – Better-for-you food company N!CK’s has hauled in an impressive $100 million in funding in a round was led by Kinnevik, Ambrosia and Temasek. Others throwing their hat in the N!CK’s ring include Gullspang, fellow Swedish food standout Oatly, Peak Bridge, Capagro and Nicoya. The company uses proprietary sweeteners and other ingredients to make ice cream, protein bars, and cookies. N!CK’s plans to use the money to accelerate its North American and European growth by expanding its product portfolio and doubling N!CK’S store count in 2022.
Fabric – $200 Million – Fabric, a maker of robotic micro-fulfillment solutions for grocery and e-commerce retailers, announced today they have raised $200 million in a Series C funding round. The new funding puts the company’s valuation at $1 billion. Formerly called Common Sense Robotics, Fabric works with large online grocers and retailers such as Walmart, Instacart, and FreshDirect to build automated micro-fulfillment centers via a mix of fulfillment-as-a-service and hybrid ownership models. The company’s solution involves an intricate blend of robotics, vertically stacked storage of products, and human operators and packers that help package up the final delivery and handoff to delivery drivers.