Lever VC, a leading global alternative protein venture capital fund whose partners were early investors in Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, and Brinc, a global venture accelerator firm, announces today the launch of a joint investment fund and accelerator to support plant-based, cell-cultivated meat and dairy companies across China. The fund is supported by Lever Foods, a Shanghai-based consultancy that advises on the alternative protein space.Corporate partners include the venture capital arms of food and beverage leaders COFCO and Yili, national industry trade group the China Plant-Based Foods Alliance, and top global alternative protein ingredient and services companies Givaudan, Cremer, and others.
The Lever China Alternative Protein Fund will invest 40 million RMB over the next four years in entrepreneurs and early stage alternative protein companies focusing on the burgeoning mainland Chinese market, with Brinc providing a comprehensive three-month accelerator program on a rolling basis for interested portfolio companies at their new 3,500 sqm space in Guangzhou. Up to 160 million RMB is available in potential follow-on funding from the Lever VC Fund, for a total available investment pool of 200 million RMB.
“With the right backing and support, alternative meat startups can bring forth fundamental and lasting change to our global food system.” said Manav Gupta, CEO of Brinc.
Lever VC Partners, Lawrence Chu and Nick Cooney, were early investors in Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods, Memphis Meats, JUST, and other leading plant-based, cell cultivated meat and dairy companies. Lever VC, headquartered in Hong Kong, was the first non-mainland VC fund to invest in alternative proteins startups in the mainland, and the first to invest in cell-cultivated meat in China.
In 2019, backed by Artesian, Brinc launched Asia’s first Food Technology accelerator program focusing on founders working to create cutting-edge solutions for a more sustainable food supply. As part of that program, Brinc continues to invest $80,000 USD per company with follow on capital waiting from teams that demonstrate traction.
“We will now be extending that platform to China focused founders who will be able to make a difference with localised products in what is poised to become the world’s largest alternative meat market, thanks to our partnership with Lever VC,” Gupta said.
In addition to funding, Brinc provides mentorship, networking, access to experts, food scientists, retailers, investor matching, a customised curriculum, technical onsite training, an international startup perks package, and on-going support to help their startups to get to the next level.
A full overview of the program can be viewed in this two minute video:
Since the inception of the program, Brinc has invested in fifteen food tech startups including Phuture Foods, Grounded, and Avant Meats:
Phuture Foods has developed a plant-based alternative to pork that has a complete amino acid profile and is Halal certified. Like traditional pork, Phuture’s pork alternative can be prepared in a variety of ways from minced to a patty. Phuture was a part of Brinc’s Spring 2019 Food Technology Accelerator Program in Hong Kong during which we supported in the refinement of their product formulation. Phuture have since gone on to secure a top tier co-manufacturing partner to scale up production and raise US$1.5M from leading strategic investors.
Grounded’s mission is to make everyday functional products natural by using only real ingredients straight from nature. Launched in 2016 with the UK’s first range of low sugar cold-pressed quenchers, Grounded has added a new line of 100% natural, plant-based protein shakes to their range of products. The team was a part of Brinc’s first Food Technology Accelerator Program in Hong Kong. Grounded have since secured a large manufacturer for 100% recyclable paper based packaging and engaged in commercial conversations with UK-based national gym and retail chains, and Brinc supported them in closing a seed round with top tier investors and industry leaders, which include LeverVC, VegCapital and Artesian.
Avant Meats is a Hong Kong-based cellular agriculture technology startup that develops safe, high quality and sustainable fish based products for the Asian market. Their products include marine collagen-based beverages, skincare ingredients, as well as fish maw and other edible products. Avant was a part of Brinc’s Fall 2019 Food Technology Accelerator Program in Hong Kong and showcased their proof of concept “Fish Maw” at Food’s Future Summit. Avant Meats has raised a large pre-seed round of 800,000 USD from a consortium of top tier investors including Lever VC and CPT Capital, established a laboratory at the Hong Kong Science & Technology Park and received multiple requests for samples from companies globally.
Brinc is excited to partner with Lever VC to expand their Food Technology program into China. Lever VC will run due diligence on high-potential plant based startups. Once investments are made, Brinc will leverage its expertise in the market to support these startups to take advantage of opportunities in China.
Startups will receive support with:
- Technological Development — Education on food production, supply chain and formulation of best practice around food development.
- Supply Chain — Tangible sourcing and support from Brinc’s build division.
- Commercialisation — Facilitate distribution opportunities and corporate engagement with Asian food companies to successfully take foods to market.
- Fundraising — Guidance on best practice on fundraising in China and access to Brinc’s investor network in the region.
Chinese vegetarian products have had a long history in China with a fast-growing consumer base over the years. According to market research 90% of individuals that try plant-based meat are committed to re-purchase and recommending it plant based meat alternatives to friends. Many traditional vegetarian food brands have been producing and selling their products for decades. In 2019, the price of pork in China was affected by the African swine epidemic which drove further adoption & interest in this space. In parallel, China is the world’s largest soybean planting country & has a large volume of soybean exports every year — soybean is one of the main raw materials in artificial meat. We believe this is an advantage for Chinese entrepreneurs to be able to look not just at finished products but also at the entire supply chain.
In the recent years there has been an explosion in localised applications of plant-based meat to dishes showcasing the appetite China has for these products including:
Yantai Shuangta Food and Zhen Meat have developed pea protein meat mooncakes and other products. Many startups began to join the cultivated meat vertical
Hong Kong plant-based meat brand OmniPork launched their food products on Tmall in November 2019
“China is already the world’s largest market for alternative protein products, and consumer interest is rising quickly,” said Lily Chen, program manager with Lever Foods. “We look forward to supporting great entrepreneurs as they launch and scale innovative and delicious products — be that plant-based meat and dairy products, or real meat and dairy protein produced from fermentation or cell cultivation.”
According to Good Food Institute, China’s alternative meat market market is currently estimated to be valued at $910 million, while China remains the world’s biggest consumer of meat with a retail value equal to roughly $170 billion annually. In recent year, there has been an explosion in localised applications of plant-based meat to dishes showcasing China’s growing appetite for these products. Additionally, Chinese authorities recently outlined dietary guidelines to help consumers cut meat consumption by as much as 50%. Such a radical lifestyle shift for the population will transform the food industry and create a huge platform for meat alternatives, particularly as China’s demand is projected to account for 35% of the world’s total protein market consumption by 2025.
Learn about Brinc’s partnership with GFI in 2019 with the launch of the The Good Food Startup Manual. The manual is a 100+ page step-by-step instruction manual for entrepreneurs who want to set up their own plant-based or cell-based protein startups.
In fact, this shift towards a plant-based lifestyle change has already taken off in China. Large corporations including Starbucks Corp and Yum China’s KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell have begun to add plant-based food to their menus and introducing promotions. Industry analysts predict that China’s alternative protein market will grow to be worth about $21 billion by 2025.
By 2050, forecasts predict alternative proteins will make up one-third of the world’s protein consumption. This shift has been rapidly enhanced by the COVID-19 pandemic as consumers look for new alternative protein sources following suspected links between coronavirus and animal foods.
The program will be hosted online & offline (recognising challenges for movement during COVID). The offline components will be run out of Brinc’s newly opened 3,500 square meter office in Guangzhou:
The Lever China Alternative Protein Fund and Brinc Accelerator are now accepting applications for both general funding and accelerator support on a rolling basis. The first program will begin in the Fall this year. More information is available online at www.brinc.io/food-cn and www.leverfund.cn/en
Lever VC is a Hong Kong-based venture capital fund investing in early stage alternative protein companies in China and around the world. It is the first traditional VC fund focused exclusively on the global alternative protein sector, with a growing portfolio of companies across Asia, Europe and North America. Learn more at http://www.LeverVC.com.
Lever Foods is a Shanghai-based consulting company that helps leading domestic and international food companies, startups, and investors identify and take advantage of opportunities in the alternative protein space. Learn more at https://leverfoods.com/en/.
Brinc is a different breed of venture capital and accelerator platform. Core to their business is the belief that some of the world’s biggest challenges can be solved by entrepreneurs, who they like to call GAME CHANGERS. Brinc believes that deep technology focused startups can fundamentally change how we move, what we eat, how we feel and where we live for the better if they are given the right backing. That’s what Brinc believes they are here for. To support and mentor founders and their teams from across the world and provide investment to help them grow.
Brinc currently operates ten multi-disciplinary accelerator programs across six countries and has made 144 investments. Brinc & Artesian have also come together recently to launch the BrincArtesian EMDE Access Fund which will also be able to provide follow on co-invest and provide follow on capital with Lever VC once live. Learn more at www.brinc.io.