How ADM helps other fermentation companies grow and innovate

One hundred twenty years ago, in 1902, Archer Daniels Midland got its start as a linseed oil business in Minneapolis.

Through the decades, ADM has become a massive global company with 41,000 employees and a presence in nearly 200 countries. ADM is known for its wide array of agricultural products. And some of the businesses ADM has entered on its own — like amino acids, sweeteners, enzymes and biofuels — have led the company into the ever growing fermentation space.

Since ADM has enormous fermentation capacities and expertise, the company is also working with innovative smaller companies. Fermentation science has made so many advancements and innovations that the best way for ADM to serve its customers is not always for the company to work solely on its own, explained Senior Vice President of Strategy and Innovation Ian Pinner.

“We can either expand our existing platform, or we can think about investing in partners or partnering with [companies] through investments to almost use that as an extension of our existing platform,” Pinner said. “And so we do both. We develop internally things that we want to make sure that we’re keeping internal and developing internally, and then we’ll work with partners to use them as an extension of our science and technology platform.”

ADM and alternative protein partners

Through both capital investments and partnerships, ADM has worked with several food companies that use fermentation to create and perfect their alternative protein products. In 2019, ADM invested in animal-free dairy maker Perfect Day, about a year after partnering with them to scale and commercialize Perfect Day’s animal-free dairy proteins. The company participated in fermented analog maker Nature’s Fynd’s funding round in March 2020, animal-free collagen maker Geltor’s July 2020 funding round and animal-free cheese maker New Culture’s Series A funding round in November 2021. 

ADM Ventures, the company’s venture capital arm, was one of the leaders of a January 2021 funding round for fermentation derived carbon dioxide meat analog Air Protein, and co-led cultivated meat maker Believer Meats (formerly known as Future Meat Technologies) $347 million Series B round in December 2021.

Headshot of Ian Pinner

Ian Pinner

Permission granted by ADM


ADM works with companies involved in all stages of fermentation, Pinner said. They work with companies that have already created cultures and help them scale up. They use their expertise to help startups make their technology commercially viable. The company goes through potential formulations with the ingredients that companies are creating. They help create go-to-market and distribution plans. And they keep an eye on what fermentation startups are doing that could be useful to ADM’s other customers.

Pinner said that it makes more sense for ADM to leverage its deep well of equipment, reach and expertise to help startups using fermentation — like Perfect Day, New Culture and materials company Spiber — do new things. ADM could work on developing some of these new capabilities in house, but that would be way too much of a task — especially because it takes significant investments and expertise to do a good job on some of these products created by fermentation.

“Instead of needing to build and own all of that landscape, we’re able to zero in on what we think are good technologies and good management teams and then work with them,” Pinner said.

How ADM partnerships work

ADM does put a lot of funds into companies developing next-generation fermented products through its venture arm, but its work with startups goes beyond just investments. Pinner said that ADM is sometimes a scale-up partner, or helps startups figure out exactly what they need to do next.

“When we do make an investment, it’s because we think the technology is a winning technology,” Pinner said. “We like the team that we’re working with in the startup business, in the venture that we’re talking to. And it’s because a bit longer term, as the business grows, we want to become part of their strategy, and we’d like them to be part of ADM’s strategy as well.”

ADM has been both an investor and partner with animal-free dairy companies Perfect Day and New Culture. 

ADM started working with Perfect Day in its earlier years, before any products using Perfect Day’s animal-free whey protein were on the market. ADM helped Perfect Day on both scaling up and application development, Pinner said.