Innovation Fueling 15 Most Well-Funded Startups

Martín Caballero

Venture capital firms are hungry for innovation.

A list compiled by market research firm CB Insights of the 15 most well-funded venture capital-backed food and beverage startups, which together have raised a total of $1.49 billion, reveals the increasing value placed on brands that are offering healthier choices and disrupting established categories like meat and dairy and innovating with plant-based offerings.

Two out of the top three spots on the list feature startups focusing on using plant-based proteins. Hampton Creek, which markets a line of plant-based egg substitutes and condiments, topped the list with $240 million in total disclosed funding. The San Francisco-based company, which has been mired in controversy in recent months and in the midst of rebranding as “Just”, sells its products in over 20,000 stores nationwide.

Impossible Foods, a maker of of animal-free meat substitutes that has captured plenty of media headlines as well as investors, ranked third on the list, with $183 million in total disclosed funding. The brand, which completed its most recent funding round last December, is backed by the likes of Khosla Ventures, Bill Gates, GV (formerly Google Ventures) and Horizon Ventures.

There was also room on the list for two companies pushing to expand the cold-pressed juice market in markedly different ways. Counting Coca-Cola, Boulder Brands Investment Group and actor Leonardo DiCaprio among its investors, Suja Life ranked in second place with $196 million in total disclosed funding. Along with several lines of cold-pressed fruit and vegetables juices, the Oceanside, Calif.-based brand has introduced coconut drinking vinegars and probiotic waters in recent years.

Meanwhile, Juicero has taken the opposite approach, allowing consumers to make their own fresh cold-pressed juice at home with its $400 tabletop appliance. Despite weathering criticism following a recent Bloomberg story that revealed its fruit and vegetable packets could be squeezed into juice by hand, the company has raised $100 million in total disclosed funding from GV, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, First Beverage Group, Thrive Capital and others.

Other brands on the list ranged from the boutique — like high-end roastery Blue Bottle Coffee of Oakland, ranked fifth with $116 million in total disclosed funding — to the truly disruptive, like Soylent, the futuristic plant-based meal replacement smoothie that has captured the imagination of Silicon Valley VC firms to the tune of $72 million in total disclosed funding, including $50 million from a Series B financing round led by GV just last month.

Yet most brands on the list share the common theme of using plant-based ingredients to create better-for-you food or drinks. Ripple Foods, makers of plant-based non-dairy milk products, brought in $44 million in total disclosed funding, ranking fourteenth on the list, followed by plant-based foods startup Beyond Meat with $40 million. In beverage, notable names include Body Armor Nutrition, the coconut water-based sports drink led by vitaminwater co-founder Mike Repole, which landed in the number 10 spot with $55 million raised, and Califia Farms, makers of a line of nut milk-based drinks, in the twelfth spot with $50 million.

The brands on the list are supported by a range of investors, ranging from Academy Award-winning actors like DiCaprio and Jared Leto to large-scale VC firms. Kholsa Ventures, GV, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers are all listed as backers for multiple startups included on the list.

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