Cloud Biology is changing the way people snack: ‘We’re producing high oleic soybeans, which means you can enjoy those chips in a healthier way’

By Gill Hyslop contact

- Last updated on GMT

Benson Hill has developed non-GMO soybeans that contain 50% higher protein than conventional soybeans, which it hopes to roll out next year. Pic: GettyImages/Chadded2557
Benson Hill has developed non-GMO soybeans that contain 50% higher protein than conventional soybeans, which it hopes to roll out next year. Pic: GettyImages/Chadded2557

Related tags: Benson Hill, genomics, genetic diversity, crop breeding, Artificial intelligence, Health and wellness, Snacks, Protein, high oleic oils, Non gmo

Benson Hill has raised $150m in Series D funding round to scale up its AI-backed crop design platform that supports the development of healthier and more sustainable ingredients.

The funding round – led by Wheatsheaf Group and GV (formerly Google Ventures) – will help accelerate the Missouri food tech’s efforts to deploy its CropOS engine across multiple food and ingredients markets.

The company leverages Cloud Biology, which combines data science, machine learning and AI techniques with plant biology and genomics. CropOS makes this actionable, delivering strong crop performance that farmers demand, empowering collaborations to create healthier and more sustainable ingredients, and significantly accelerating speed of product development.

Explaining CropOS

Historically, breeding is a blend of science and chance – a lengthy and expensive process where outcomes often come with tradeoffs, such as compromising protein content to optimise yield.

According to Benson Hill, CropOS changes this by enabling greater control and precision in proprietary phenotyping, predictive breeding and environment modelling algorithms.

It claims the platform enables the breeding of plants that are productive and highly nutritious, while influencing characteristics such as taste and texture. Sustainability is also improved by breeding plants capable of doing more, with less.

Benson Hill has developed, among other ingredients, varieties of non-GMO soybeans that contain 50% more protein than conventional soybeans, which it hopes to commercialise next year.

The Ultra-High Protein soybeans deliver a full range of in-demand premium attributes, including better digestibility, heart-healthy omega fatty acids and, of course, higher plant-based protein.

“We’ve bred soybeans with competitive yields and high oleic oil, enabling healthier and better tasting fried foods and baked goods along with greater production efficiencies,”​ claims the company on its website.

At a crossroads made more evident by the pandemic

Matt Crisp, Benson Hill CEO, added, “As a society, we’re at a crossroads made more evident as the pandemic has revealed strengths and vulnerabilities in our food system.”

“Food choices that create enjoyment, make us stronger and help preserve our environment need to be accessible to everyone, and the power of plant diversity and technology innovation can help fuel that evolution.

“We’re grateful for the growing coalition of investors, stakeholders, farmers and partners who recognise the urgency and opportunity of this moment to think collaboratively and modernise food production.”

Benefitting society and the environment

The funding round – led by Wheatsheaf and GV – also attracted a diverse group of new and returning investors, including Argonautic Ventures, Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ), Emart, GS Group, Louis Dreyfus Company (LDC), iSelect Fund, Fall Line Capital, Mercury Fund, Prelude Ventures, Prolog Ventures and S2G Ventures.

“As a firm, we are focused on investing in innovation that delivers the right calories and nourishment for a growing global population in a less commodity-driven food system,”​ said Stephan Dolezalek, executive director at Wheatsheaf Group.

“We feel the culture and partners propelling Benson Hill forward will have a significant impact on the health and sustainability challenges that burden our current food system in a way that benefits society and our environment.”

Max Clegg, head of LDC’s corporate venture capital programme LDC Innovations, said the power of genomics and genetic diversity remains largely untapped.

“We believe [Benson Hills’] technology and collaborative model unlocks efficiencies and new product differentiation for stakeholders across the value chain, from farmers to end-consumers.”

Hewie Kang, CEO of Emart, Shinsegae Group, added Benson Hills’s protein and nutrient dense product innovations are poised to further propel the global plant-based movement.

“Our investment reflects a strategic intent to help realise the vision of delivering a steady stream of more sustainable and healthy food options to a global consumer,”​ said Kang.

Wheatsheaf Group invests in food and ag businesses that have a far-sighted perspective in delivering lasting commercial and social benefit. Wheatsheaf Group is part of the Grosvenor Estate.

LDC is a merchant and processor of agricultural commodities – ranging from grains & oilseeds, to coffee and cotton – leveraging its global reach to deliver 80 million tons of products to help feed and close over 500 million people annually.

Emart is a Korean multi-format retailer that includes hypermarkets and convenience stores, traders and a warehouse retail model, a food manufacturing facility, restaurant and beverage franchises, an online mall and Starbucks Korea. Its retail footprint expands across Asia, as well as in the US, operating under the names Bristol Farms, Metropolitan Market, New Seasons Market and others.

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