Rick Prostko, Managing Director, TIP, North America shares why TIP invested in Motif – and how he believes the future of food is an appetizing prospect

Today, Teachers’ Innovation Platform (TIP) together with funds and accounts managed by BlackRock, co-led a $226 million funding round for Motif FoodWorks.

TIP is part of the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, a C$221 billion plan that invests for the retirement security of teachers in Ontario, Canada. TIP invests in late-stage venture and growth equity investment opportunities in the likes of SpaceX, Epic Games, Attabotics – and now Motif.

Rick Prostko, Managing Director,
Teachers’ Innovation Platform, North America

“For the sake of your health and that of the planet, modify your eating habits by switching to a diet of sustainable, plant-based foods.”

I’m hearing that sentiment shared with greater frequency and often from people I don’t expect. When it comes to the topic of food, suggesting that our seemingly insatiable appetite for meat may be unhealthy (or unsustainable) is a surefire way to a heated debate. Fortunately, resolving this argument is not the objective today. What I hope to do is find some common ground on the subject, with respect to what I believe is one of the principal drivers of consumers’ food choices: taste.

Whether one supports a transition to a more heavily plant-based diet or not, taste plays a critical role in what consumers choose to eat. I feel strongly that consumers should have nutritious and sustainable food options that serve as alternatives to today’s mainstream diets. However, success requires more than augmenting consumer choice. Driving consumer adoption requires innovation efforts that change the experience consumers have at their plates. 

It’s this belief that’s led to TIP’s investment in Motif. 

Human behavior is complex

Humans need to eat in order to survive, but that’s not how most of us think about it*. Ingrained in the human experience is the ritual of coming together and breaking bread. There’s a concept referred to as “the joy of food”: capturing our desire to eat for reasons beyond sustenance. We eat for comfort, nutrition, and sometimes simply for the sake of the experience itself. And, as much as food unites us, food can also be a topic of heated debate. Others are quick to weigh-in with respect to what, and how, we “should” be eating. 

So how do people actually decide what to eat? 

What people aren’t doing en masse is going online and searching for “the ideal human diet” (incidentally, Google returns 63.8 million results, so there is a lot to read on the topic if you are so inclined). Buried in these results are reports warning of the dangers of animal protein-laden, “western” diets. Doctors and nutritionists citing rising obesity rates, skyrocketing cardiovascular disease, and the increasing prevalence of childhood type 2 diabetes. There appears to be mounting evidence that the diets we’ve come to love, don’t love us back. 

While I personally come away from this research convinced that I should eat more of a plant-based diet, that veggie burger just doesn’t transport me back to my favorite 4th of July BBQ—and therein lies the problem with mainstream adoption. Available plant-based foods, largely, fall short of consumer expectations. Consumers are creatures of habit, seeking familiar foods with flavors that are part of their existing diet or they follow taste and convenience as a guide. Sadly today, taste is often “engineered” in highly processed foods featuring combinations of protein, fat, salt and sugar designed to drive consumption vs. serving nutrition. To break this cycle, we need to apply the advanced science of food engineering to drive more nutritious consumption habits.

Start playing with your food!

We all heard it from our parents growing up: “Stop playing with your food and eat your vegetables!” Fortunately, for all of us, there’s a team of talented food scientists at Motif FoodWorks who ignored the first part of this lecture. A spin-out of renowned synthetic biology pioneer Gingko Bioworks in 2019, Motif’s team of scientists and food engineers hunkered down in their R&D lab and began playing with our food. Leveraging the advanced techniques of precision fermentation, materials science and soft-matter physics, in just a few years, Motif’s brewed up a series of proprietary technologies with the potential to transform plant-based foods. 

Taste, texture, and color (after all, the eye eats before the stomach) all play key roles in how consumers experience food. The challenge with developing delicious plant-based foods lies in the complexity required to manipulate these traits and deliver the desirable, familiar, outcome. This is where Motif shines. Motif provides modern food manufacturers an opportunity to partner with a highly-specialized team of researchers and food scientists, capable of quickly addressing these fundamental food traits. Motif has designed their platform to address the unique needs of their partners, whether they’re looking for individual ingredients, ingredient systems, or entire finished formulations. 

This unique recipe, pairing talented food scientists with a technology platform designed to accelerate scientific innovation, is attracting some of the most forward-thinking food manufacturers to the table.

A tastier tomorrow

With our investment in Motif’s Series B round, we’re investing at an earlier stage than is typical for TIP. In this instance, we were motivated by the combination of Motif’s visionary management team, the strength of their technology platform and the traction they’ve demonstrated in solving some very specific issues with plant-based foods. 

We believe Motif’s contributions towards taste, texture and nutrition have the potential to increase consumer adoption of products in this category. And when I say increase, that’s underplaying the significance of shifting consumer demand: the plant-based protein market is a $25B category and is growing 4x faster than the animal protein market. Our research suggests that it is increasingly difficult to find consumers who, for either health or environmental reasons, don’t signal a desire to change their eating habits to include more plant-based foods. In fact, two out of three Americans say they would eat more plant-based foods (instead of meat) if plant-based foods tasted better.  

As I’ve outlined, there is a lot to consider around this topic, but Motif’s objective is clear: create plant-based foods that people crave. This means foods that are more nutritious and environmentally sustainable, but most importantly, foods that taste great. We’re thrilled to partner with Motif on this mission and look forward to tastier and more nutritious versions of the foods we love.  

*It’s important to acknowledge that millions face the challenge of food security. According to the World Food Program, in spite of enough food being produced to feed everyone, one in nine or 821 million people on the planet go to bed on empty stomachs. Even more, one in three, suffer from some form of malnutrition. Please consider taking an active role in helping organizations in your community, or globally, address these challenges (https://www.foodaidfoundation.org/world-hunger-statistics.html).