US –   Alternative protein ingredients company Benson Hill is launching two new business segments — Ingredients and Fresh — to help it meet growing demand for plant-based foods.

The Ingredients unit will use Benson Hill’s work developing a genomic map for yellow pea to create new varieties.

The company says its new products will have reduced off-flavors, higher protein content and will require less water, energy, and money to produce.

The Fresh segment will develop and commercialize differentiated produce and functional foods by applying Benson Hill’s CropOS technology platform to its large grower base, distribution network and the retail relationships of its wholly owned subsidiary, J&J Family of Farms.

Analysts at FoodDive note that Benson Hill’s new business units demonstrate the company is ready to tackle two of the greatest opportunities to restore the potential of plants — increasing protein content and developing food as medicine.

One plant that has been a focus for Benson Hill is the yellow pea. The company is working  to eliminate its bitterness, which would reduce the need to add sweeteners and salt to food.

 It’s also aiming to boost the quality and quantity of yellow pea protein, upping its competitive potential against animal alternatives.

With its Fresh segment, Benson Hill will be chasing the potential of food as medicine, or what it has described as “the growing convergence between the produce and pharmacy aisles.”

The new business units are launching as Benson Hill is flush with cash and expertise.

In October, the company announced a Series D funding round of US$150 million co-led by GV, the venture capital arm of Google parent Alphabet, to bring the total amount raised to $280 million.

US$3.1 billion was invested in alternative proteins in 2020

Meanwhile, a recent analysis by the Good Food Institute has revealed that a record US$3.1 billion was invested in alternative proteins in 2020.

This is more than half of the total US$5.9 billion invested in this sector during the last decade — and three times more than in 2019, according to the report.

The growth of alternatives comes as investors put more money toward helping secure cutting edge food tech companies, as well as helped fund companies focused on more sustainable food.

Many companies in the sector received their biggest ever investments in 2020. Several have already paid off in terms of expansions, facilities, products and new advancements.

Leading the pack was Impossible Foods, which had two enormous funding rounds close last year: $500 million that closed in March and $200 million that closed in August.

On the fermentation side, Perfect Day brought in the most cash, topping off a US$300 million Series C funding round with $160 million in July.

For cell-based meat, Memphis Meats received the largest funding haul with a $161 million investment , which increased its total funding eight-fold.

2020 also saw Singapore become the  first country to grant regulatory approval for cell-based meat.

While no cell-based meat has received regulatory approval in the United States yet, industry watchers say it could happen later this year, and Memphis Meats has been working with regulators to be one of the first to sell it here.

“This is yet another signal of the significant potential the private sector sees in this rapidly growing global industry,” GFI Director of Corporate Engagement Caroline Bushnell said in a blog post.

“While the amount is record-breaking, alarge-scale shift toward alternative proteins will be critical to mitigating the environmental impact of food production, meeting the Paris Climate Agreement, and sustainably feeding a growing global population.”

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