Robert Downey Jr. Backs New Eco-Friendly Vegan Cheese Company
Robert Downey Jr. just endorsed a new vegan cheese company that makes dairy-identical cheese without any animals. Nobell Foods - a food technology company focused on replicating dairy proteins - is spearheaded by Magi Richani who has been developing the dairy-alternative production method for four years. The new cultured cheese company discovered how to recreate the genetic code for an integral protein in dairy, casein. The company uses soybeans and other grow plants to extract the casein protein, allowing the company to replicate the cheesy dairy textures.
This month, Nobell secured a $75 million Series B funding round from venture capital firms Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Andreessen Horowitz, and Downey Jr.’s own Foot Print Coalition Ventures [FPCV]. The investment round put the company’s total valuation at $100 million, giving the company resources to begin its widespread production and distribution. Before this month, the company hosted its Series A funding round in 2019 where it initially raised $25 million. The total support will give Nobell Foods the foundation to change both the plant-based market and the dairy market in general.
“Given the stresses, our planet faces from population growth and climate change we need to find new ways to feed the world. Many fine folks are working to harness the power of plants, but substitutes for some foods, like cheeses, rarely mimic the delectable distinguishing characteristics convincingly,” Downey Jr. said. “Magi Richani and her Nobell team are putting the eco in queso...milking a crop instead of a cow. FPCV wholeheartedly supports the product and believes its quality.”
Nobell Foods claims to be able to make any type of cheese product with its cruelty-free casein products. The company will be able to replicate consumers’ favorite cheese and dairy products without using cow, goat, or other animals’ milk. Richani also highlights that the company’s production methods will reduce carbon emissions by 90 percent when compared to conventional factory farming. Nobell Foods aims to redesign dairy production to remove animal cruelty in food production, but also to facilitate a sense of environmental consciousness among consumers.
The start-up revealed that it will begin with reproducing mozzarella and cheddar cheeses for its flagship product line. The company is expecting that its product will enter the market sometime next year. Consumers will soon be able to find Nobell’s animal-free cheese at restaurants, including pizza shops, across the United States. Richani believes that her method will be able to combat factory farming, providing the world with a cheaper and more sustainable method of producing cheese.
“Plants are the cheapest way to make proteins, and if we can change their profile so they’re making any protein we want, we can compete with a cow,” Richani said. “Cows are commoditized at a large scale and dairy is subsidized by the government. And we can still compete, and not just compete—eventually, we can undercut that price structure, because of the fact that we’re working with plants.”
Nobell Foods joins a growing list of companies that believe that casein proteins and cultured development will define the future of food. San Francisco start-up New Culture designed a method to grow casein proteins through a proprietary process, where the protein clusters are kept in fermentation tanks to make cheese. New Culture expects that its commercial debut will happen in 2023, starting at San Francisco Bay pizzerias and eventually the national market.
Another California-based company Perfect Day uses animal-free whey to replicate cheese instead of the casein proteins. The startup produces dairy-identical whey proteins by inserting cow DNA into microflora, fermenting the product to create a base for dairy substitutes. Perfect Day has developed several dairy products using this method including ice cream, cheese, and milk.