Joywell Foods nets $25M from Kraft Heinz VC and others for sweet protein commercialization

Dive Brief:

  • Sweet protein company Joywell Foods closed an oversubscribed $25 million Series B funding round led by Piva Capital. Kraft Heinz’s venture arm Evolv Ventures also participated for its second investment in the company. Other investors include B37 Ventures, Global Brain Corporation, Khosla Ventures, SOSV’s IndieBio and Alumni Ventures.
  • The company will use this funding to scale up its products for commercialization as well as accelerate its research and development. 
  • Joywell Foods is one of many companies using technology to recreate naturally occurring substances to sweeten foods and beverages. Unlike many that concentrate on sugars, Joywell creates sweet proteins.

Dive Insight:

As many consumers look for healthier alternatives to sugar that are still natural, Joywell Foods has tapped one that is somewhat less common. The company uses a proprietary microbial fermentation process to recreate sweet proteins found in rare tropical fruits and berries. These proteins are 2,000 to 5,500 times sweeter than sugar, so less is needed to create a similar flavor.

According to Joywell Foods’ website, it recreates proteins found in the serendipity berry, katemfe fruit, oubli fruit and miracle berry; the company said these proteins are identical to what can be found in nature. All four of these fruits originate in West Africa. The company has created small-batch beverages using these sweet proteins in Lemon Lime, Cherry Ginger and Mint Berry flavors, but it’s unclear when they may hit the market.

The super-sweet, taste-bending reputation of the miracle berry helped inspire the creation of Joywell Foods. One of the company’s founders discovered the berry’s miraculin protein as he searched for a way to help his grandmother enjoy foods after chemotherapy hampered her ability to taste, according to Joywell Foods’ page on IndieBio. Miracle berry “flavor tripping parties” have been a trend among well-heeled foodies for years, demonstrating the way that the protein can rewire taste buds.

Joywell Foods isn’t trying to make strange combinations palatable, but instead is harnessing these sweet proteins to replace other sweeteners. Because they are proteins, they don’t spike blood sugar or insulin levels. They also digest like other proteins, not causing any potential intestinal distress. And, as CEO Ali Wing pointed out on a panel at FoodBytes by Rabobank last year, they are proteins — meaning they wouldn’t be counted as “Added Sugars” on a Nutrition Facts panel.

The company also touts its ecological advantages as a selling point. According to Joywell’s press release, each percentage point of sugar consumption reduction results in 650,000 fewer acres of sugar cane fields. In 2020, more than 26.4 million acres were devoted to sugar cane worldwide, and nearly 1.9 billion tons of sugar produced, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

While the more high-intensity sweet proteins Joywell is making may not be able to replace sugar completely because of the sweetener’s other functional abilities, the proteins may be a valuable tool in manufacturers’ arsenal to formulate good-tasting food with less sugar.

With the backing of the venture arm of one of the biggest CPGs, there could be many opportunities to bring these proteins into products. While these sweet proteins have been known for years, companies are only now finding ways to produce them so they can be used as food and drink ingredients. In an interview with Food Navigator last month, Wing said the company is currently concentrating on bringing its protein-sweetened beverages to market, but it also has some CPG partners. There are certainly many opportunities for Joywell both in the CPG space and the ingredients space, and it may be able to become a player in both.