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Impossible Foods nabs some Canadian fast food franchises as it expands in North America

After rolling out in some of Canada’s most high-falutin burger bistros, Impossible Foods is hitting Canada’s fast casual market with new menu items at national chains like White Spot and Triple O’s, Cactus Club Cafe and Burger Priest.

While none of those names mean anything to yours truly, they may mean something to our friendly readers to the North. However, I have heard of Qdoba, Wahlburgers and Red Robin. And Canadian customers can also pick up Impossible Foods -based menu items at those chains too.

Since its debut at Momofuku Nishi in New York in 2016, the Impossible Burger is now served in 30,000 restaurants across the U.S. and is available in 11,000 grocery stores across America.

The Silicon Valley manufacturer of meat substitutes expects that Canada, the company’s first market outside of Asia, may become its largest market — second only to the U.S.

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Future Fields is tackling cultured meat’s biggest problem

One possible solution to cellular agriculture’s biggest problem — how to develop a cheap, humane, growth material for cultured meat — may have come from a conversation in line at a Tim Hortons in Alberta.

The husband and wife duo of Matt and Jalene Anderson-Baron were waiting for Timbits and coffee and talking about the technology behind their startup, Future Fields, when Jalene suggested a possible new growth medium.

Matt Anderson-Baron had hit a wall in his research, and the pair, which represented two-thirds of the founding triumvirate of Future Fields, were out for a snack. Along with co-founder Lejjy Gafour, the three friends had set out to launch a startup from Canada that could do something about the world’s reliance on animals for protein.

They recognized that the attendant problems associated with animal farming were unsustainable at a scale needed to meet global demand for meat. So the three turned their attention to cell-based alternatives to the meat market.

“It was all just our interesting crazy side project that we never thought would turn into a business,” said Jalene Anderson-Baron. “That has evolved into a successful business idea over the last year.”

Future Fields co-founders. Image credit: Future Fields

Initially, the trio had hoped to launch their own cultured meat brand to sell lab grown chicken to the world, but after four months spent experimenting in the lab, Matt Anderson-Baron and the rest of the team, decided to pivot and begin work on a new growth serum. All thanks to Tim Hortons.

“Our MVP was a chicken nugget. It worked out to be about $3,000 per pound… Which is obviously not a lucrative business model. Given that the aims was to produce something price comparable to meat,” said Anderon-Brown. “We shifted to focus on a new medium that would be economically viable. Originally we intended it for something that just we used. We didn’t realize at first the novelty of our product and how beneficial it would be to the industry. About eight months ago we decided to pivot and make that growth medium our product.”

Now, as it gets ready to leave the Y Combinator accelerator program, the company has some paid contracts in place and will be rolling out the first couple of pilot product lines of its cell growth material for shipment within the next month.

The potential demand for the company’s product is huge. Alpha Meats, Shiok Meat, Finless Foods, Memphis Meats, Meatable, Mosa Meat, Aleph Farms, Future Meat Technologies, Lab Farm Foods, and Eaat, are all companies developing lab grown alternatives to meat and fish. All told, these companies have raised well over $200 million. Some of the biggest names in traditional meat production like Tyson Foods are investing in meat alternatives.

Image Credit: Getty Images/VectorMine

“It’s about getting the price at scale. The companies that are using smaller volumes are bringing it down 10 to 100 times cheaper. We can do that. But our superpower is producing the growth medium at scale and doing it 1,000 times cheaper,” said Matt Anderson-Brown. “We’re talking about $2 to $3 per liter at scale.”

Future Fields’ founders didn’t say much about the technology that they’re using, except to say that they’re genetically modifying a specific organism by inserting the genetic code for specific protein production into their unidentified cell line to produce different growth factors.

The University of Alberta isn’t unique in its development of a Health Accelerator Program, but its equity-free approach allows startups and would-be bio-engineering entrepreneurs an opportunity to develop their businesses without fear of dilution.

Future Fields has already raised a small, pre-seed round of $480,000 from a group of undisclosed angel investors and the Grow Agrifood Tech Accelerator out of Singapore.

And company has the capacity to produce a few hundred liters of its growth factor, according to Gafour, and is working on plans to scale up production to hit tens of thousands of liters per month over the next year.

For Gafour and his compatriots, the cellular agriculture industry has already reached an inflection point, and the next steps are less about scientific discovery and radical innovation and more about iteration and commercialization.

“With the inclusion of a growth media solution, the core pieces are in place, and now it’s a matter of understanding the efficiencies in being able to scale it up,” said Gafour.

Still, there are other components that need to be developed for the industry to truly bring down costs to a point where it can compete with traditional meat. Companies still need to develop a scaffolding to support the growth of protein cells into the muscle and fatty tissues that give meat its flavor. Bioreactor design needs to improve as well, according to Matt Anderson-Baron. “It’s the wild west. There’s so many things still to be done.”

And there are many companies working on these technologies as well. Glycosan, Lyopor and Prellis are all working on building tissue scaffolding that can be used for animal organ development.

“The vision oif our company was to accelerate this industry and move the industry along,” said Jalene Anderson-Baron. “At first we didn’t realize the potential of our technology. We thought that everyone would overcome that roadblock around the same time. As we were speaking with other companies and speaking with investors who had been in touch with other companies, we realized this was the key piece to move the industry forward.”

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From bioprinting lab-grown meat in Russia to Beyond Meat in the US, KFC is embracing the future of food

From a partnership with the Russian company 3D Bioprinting Solutions to make chicken meat replacement using plant material and lab-cultured chicken cells to an expansion of its Beyond Fried Chicken pilots to Southern California, KFC is aggressively pushing forward with its experiments around the future of food.

In Russia, that means providing 3D Bioprinting with breading and spices to see if the company’s chicken replacement can match the KFC taste, according to a statement from the company. As the company said, there are no other methods available on the market that can allow for the creation of complex products from animal cells.

“3D bioprinting technologies, initially widely recognized in medicine, are nowadays gaining popularity in producing foods such as meat,” said Yusef Khesuani, co-founder and managing partner of 3D Bioprinting Solutions, in a statement. “In the future, the rapid development of such technologies will allow us to make 3D-printed meat products more accessible and we are hoping that the technology created as a result of our cooperation with KFC will help accelerate the launch of cell-based meat products on the market.”

Image: Beyond Meat

Closer to its home base in the U.S., KFC is working with the publicly traded plant-based meat substitute developer Beyond Meat on an expansion of their recent trials for KFC’s Beyond Fried Chicken.

Continuing its wildly successful limited trials in Atlanta, Nashville and Charlotte, KFC is now setting its sights on the bigger markets in Southern California, near Beyond Meat’s headquarters in Los Angeles.

Beginning on July 20, KFC will be selling Beyond Fried Chicken at 50 stores in the Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego areas, while supplies last, the company said.

Unlike the 3D bioprinting process used by its Russian partner, Beyond Meat uses plant-based products exclusively to make its faux chicken meat.

Beyond Fried Chicken first appeared on the market last year in Atlanta and was made available in additional markets in the South earlier this year. The menu item — first available in a one-day consumer test in Atlanta — sold out in less than five hours, the company said.

“I’ve said it before: despite many imitations, the flavor of Kentucky Fried Chicken is one that has never been replicated, until Beyond Fried Chicken,” said Andrea Zahumensky, chief marketing officer, KFC U.S. “We know the east coast loved it, so we thought we’d give those on the west coast a chance to tell us what they think in an exclusive sneak peek.

Beyond Fried Chicken nuggets will be available as a six or 12-piece à la carte or as part of a combo, complete with a side and medium drink starting at $6.99, plus tax.

Meanwhile, KFC’s Russian project aims to create the world’s first lab-made chicken nuggets, and plans to release them this fall in Moscow.

Popularizing lab-grown meat could have a significant impact on climate change according to reports. The company cited statistics indicating that growing meat from cells could cut in half the energy consumption involved in meat production and reduce greenhouse gas emissions while dramatically cutting land use.

“Crafted meat products are the next step in the development of our ‘restaurant of the future’ concept,” said Raisa Polyakova, general manager of KFC Russia & CIS, in a statement. “Our experiment in testing 3D bioprinting technology to create chicken products can also help address several looming global problems. We are glad to contribute to its development and are working to make it available to thousands of people in Russia and, if possible, around the world.”

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Mexico City’s Jüsto raises a $12 million bridge round for its delivery-only grocery stores

Jüsto, the Mexico City-based, delivery-only grocery store chain, has raised another $12 million in financing as it looks to expand its now pandemically relevant business of “dark stores” across the country.

The COVID-19 pandemic is changing consumer habits and increasing the use of delivery services across the world, and consumers in Mexico are no different.

A recent Nielsen study cited by the company found that 11 percent of respondents had purchased fresh food online for the first time in 2020, as lockdowns in cities across the world restricted movement for everyone but essential workers — with 70 percent of those surveyed saying they’d do it again within the year.

“Despite Covid-19 dramatically accelerating the curve of adoption of e-commerce, the penetration rate of e-grocers is still less than 1 percent,” in Latin America, according to Jüsto founder and chief executive, Ricardo Weder, in a statement. “That means there’s an enormous opportunity—and all the right conditions—to disrupt the grocery industry in Latin America.”

With the new bridge round, Jüsto’s financing has hit just over $20 million in less than a year. Part of that can be attributed to the pedigree of the company’s founder.

Weder was instrumental in Cabify’s growth in Latin America, according to Rodolfo Gonzalez, a partner at Foundation Capital, which led the firm’s investments into Jüsto. Gonzalez also saw the opportunity in the company’s business model.

“We’ve seen that type of model of warehouse and D2C for groceries be very successful in other geographies,” Gonzalez told Crunchbase, when Jüsto announced its previous $10 million seed round. “But that model didn’t quite exist in Mexico yet.”

Other investors in Jüsto’s round include Mountain NazcaFEMSA VenturesQuiet Capital, and 500 Startups.

The Mexican company prides itself on selling both local and international brands in categories, including fresh produce, dry goods, personal hygiene and beauty care, home and cleaning goods, beverages, organic food, and pet supplies.

“We have these darkstores and hold the delivery,” says Manolo Fernandez, a spokesperson and member of Jüsto’s founding team. “At traditional supermarkets the fill rates are lower and the product is less fresh. One of our core tenets is to reduce waste. We don’t have fruits and vegetables sitting outside in the store.”

Jüsto also claims that its prices come in at roughly equivalent to those of a regular supermarket. The company has delivery options ranging from express delivery, same day, and next day delivery.

The company isn’t the first startup to look at unused real estate and internet shopping habits and see an opportunity.

Darkstore is a company that has raised nearly $30 million to convert empty space into third-party fulfillment centers. Istanbul’s Getir, which recently raised $25 million from Sequoia’s Michael Moritz, is doing the same thing. And Samokat has adopted a similar strategy in Russia, promising over 3,000 SKUs and an under-45-minute delivery time fulfilled via their urban darkstores.

These companies are focused on being third-party logistics players for delivery rather than creating their own brands, but Jüsto shows that there’s an opportunity for purpose built direct to consumer grocery businesses to use the same infrastructure and create actual brand loyalty.

We have the technology, talent, and infrastructure to scale our expansion to more cities in Mexico and begin our international expansion, beginning with Colombiam” Weder said. 

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Workforce training app developer Poka adds strategic investor Schneider Electric

Poka, a workforce training app and software service for industrial companies, has added SE Ventures, the venture capital arm of the European energy and automation conglomerate Schneider Electric to its roster of backers.

The company has raised over $23 million in funding so far for its application and software services package that provides training and tips for workers on the factory floor.

The company said it would use the new funding to expand its global marketing through new distribution strategies and speed up its product development.

Since 2014, Poka has been selling its services to companies including Bosch, Danone, Mars, The Kraft Heinz Company, Johnson & Johnson and Stanley Black and Decker, the company said.

Previous backers of the Quebec City, Canada -based company include Robert Bosch Venture Capital, Groupe Leclerc, and CDPQ, according to the company.

For Poka, demand is driven by the combination of increasing automation and an aging workforce creating a skills gap in industrial facilities.

Poka was designed specifically to address the challenges and needs of large global manufacturers — many of whom are clients of Schneider Electric,” said Poka chief executive Alex Leclerc in a statement. “Our partnership gives us global reach within our target markets and provides value to our joint customers by offering them a more complete path to digital transformation.”

For SE Ventures general partner Grant Allen, the replacement of aging technologies around communication and knowledge-sharing in manufacturing facilities represented an obvious investment opportunity. “The tools and systems used to communicate, capture and share knowledge in commercial production facilities are largely outdated, leaving workers without the necessary information to be effective and safe,” said Allen.

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Ooni’s Koda 16 pizza oven is the rare kitchen gadget that delivers on its promise

Ooni (nee Uuni), has been around for a few years now, but its latest oven, the Koda 16, launched in March. Just like everyone else, I’ve been cooped up at home for weeks with nothing but all of the projects I would get around to one day.

At the top of my list was learning how to make decent pizza at home (we don’t have many decent pizzaiolo’s in my town). I’d been hearing about the Ooni oven for a while — mostly via Neven Mrgan’s great Instagram feed — so I spring for the Koda 13” and started firing some pies.

I was immediately enamored with the eye popping results. Chewy, crispy, well cooked Neapolitan-style pizza within 30 minutes of taking it out of the box. And I’m not exaggerating. After a couple of pizza launching disasters (this is not as easy as it looks, people), I was eating the product of my own hands and the Ooni’s 800+ degree baking surface. While not even an advanced amateur chef, I have always had somewhat of an aversion to single-use gadgets. Technique always wins, right?

The problem with that thinking is that it is really impossible to cook true Neapolitan pizza at home in the US because our ovens just don’t get hot enough. A ton of experimental dough situations have resulted in a few workable New York style pizza recipes for 500 degree ovens. But for thinner crusts there is zero substitute for that true 800-1000 degree cooking environment.

The Ooni delivers that in under 20 minutes attached to a bog standard propane tank. It’s brilliant.

Ooni co-founder Kristian Tapaninaho started messing around with building a decent pizza oven in 2010. He got into making home pies and realized that there was pretty much no way to do it other than building a large, expensive oven in his back yard. He began prototyping what became the company’s original oven in 2012, and he says that the original oven’s design stemmed from a super simple yet super obvious (in hindsight) design constraint: what could they ship affordably?

Due to shipping restrictions, it had to be under 10kg and had to fit in a certain footprint. Every piece of design work on the first oven stemmed from those constraints. Why, for instance, does the Ooni oven have 3 legs? Because the 4th one would have put them over weight.

Within those constraints, the original oven took shape — delivering that super high-heat surface with a simple wood-fired unit that more than doubled its original funding goal on Kickstarter. Kristian and co-founder Darina Garland defined this high-heat, high results at-home outdoor pizza oven market at scale, along with other later entrants like Roccbox.

I had a bit of a chat with Kristian about how Ooni was doing lately, with the specter of coronavirus and the new business realities that have resulted.

“This COVID-19 situation began for us in mid January as our suppliers started informing us that they were delaying return to work from Chinese New Year,” Kristian said. “At the time the worry was if we’d have enough supply for the summer which is of course peak season for us. As our supply chain was restarting, it was clear that we’d have similar lockdowns in our main markets as well. Overall, however, we started the year at a strong inventory position which helped buffer any interruptions.”

He says that Ooni was lucky given that the initial production run of the Ooni 16 was already in warehouses by the time things got really hairy in Edinburgh and the surrounding areas. And the team was fairly ready for the new challenge of stay-at-home work.

“Much of our team comms already happened over Slack so the team’s been really quite well setup for working from home,” he told me. “We have great relationships with our 3rd party logistics providers and while they’ve been incredibly busy, they’ve been able to maintain a good level of service, at least in the grand scheme of things.”

In addition, Ooni has just launched the Fyra, an updated version of the original Ooni 3. It’s a wood pellet powered design that offers a similar “get up and go” quick pizza path. The wood brings an additional smoky flavor, of course. At 23 pounds, it’s a super portable wood version of the gas stoves I’ve been playing with.

Yeah, but how does it work?

Once Kristian saw that I was playing with my Ooni 13 he offered to send the newly launched 16″ model over to play with. I jumped at the chance to make a bigger pie.

My experiences with the Ooni ovens so far have been nothing short of revelatory. Though I’ve pondered indoor options like the Breville Smart Oven, I knew in my heart that I wanted that brilliant taste that comes from live fire and the high heat that would let me enjoy super thin crust pizzas. I’ve now fired over three dozen pizzas in the Ooni and am coming to know it a bit better. Its recovery time, rotation needs and cooking characteristics. I have never used a more enjoyable cooking utensil.

I’ve tried a few dough recipes, because I know I’ll get questions about it, but I’ve used two to good effect. Ooni’s own recommended dough (though I hydrate a bit more) and this Peter Reinhart recipe, recommended to me by Richie Nakano.

The pizzas that result are bursting with umami. The oven enables that potent combination of cheese, sauce and randomly distributed carbonization that combines into the perfect bite. Your pie goes in somewhat pedestrian — whitish dough, red sauce, hunks of fresh mozzarella — and you see it come to life right in front of your eyes.  Within 60-90 seconds, you’ve transmogrified the simple ingredients into a hot endocrine rush of savory, chewy flavor.

As I mentioned before, the setup is insanely simple. Flip out the legs, put it on an outdoor surface with some support and attach a propane tank. An instant of lighting knob work and you’re free to step away. Fifteen minutes later and you’ve got a cooking environment to die for. The flip down legs make the 13” model super great for taking camping or anywhere you want to go to create your own pizza party. Ooni even sells a carrying case.

The design of the oven’s upper shell means that all of the heat is redirected inwards, letting the baking surface reach 850 degrees easily in the center, up to 1000 degrees near the back. The Koda 16 has such an incredibly roomy cooking surface that it is easy to see to the sides and around your pizza a bit to tell how the crust is rising and how the leoparding is coming along. Spinning your pie mid-cook is such an important part of this kind of oven and the bigger mouth is smashing for this.

Heck I even cooked steak in it, to mouth watering results.

“Our core message has always been ‘great restaurant quality pizza at home’ and while the situation is what it is, more people spending more time at home looking for great home cooking options has been strong for our online sales,” Kristian said when I asked him about whether more people were discovering Ooni now. “Pizza making is a great way to have fun family time together. It’s about those shared experiences that bring people together.”

This mirrors my experiences so far. I’m not precisely ‘good’ at this yet, but I’m plugging away and the Ooni makes even my misses delicious. This weekend I was even confident enough to hold a socially distanced pizza pick-up party. Friends and family put in their orders and I fired a dozen pies of all kinds. Though I couldn’t hug them, I could safely hand them a freshly fired pizza and to most Italians like me, that’s probably better.

In my mind, the Ooni Koda pulls off a rare trifecta of kitchen gadgets: It retains the joy and energy of live flame, delivers completely on its core premise and still remains incredibly easy to use. Highly recommend.

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Impossible Foods confirms $500 million fundraising, has raised $1.3 billion in total

Impossible Foods, the privately held meat replacement challenger to publicly traded Beyond Meat, said it has raised roughly $500 million in its latest round of funding.
The new investment brings the company’s total haul to $1.3 billion since it was founded nearly nine years ago.
The new financing led by Mirae …

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