Motif FoodWorks was founded with the goal of making plant-based food ingredients so that other companies could create new alternatives to meat products.
But as part of its efforts to sell those ingredients, Boston-based Motif ended up producing its own food for taste tests and trade shows. And it turns out the company was quite good at it, said Jon McIntyre, Motif’s chief executive.
“Those products are pretty much superior to what’s in the market,” he said. “People who tasted them were like, ‘Why aren’t you selling them directly?’”
Now, Motif is doing just that. The company said Wednesday that it will to start selling plant-based products to food service providers, distributors, and retailers, starting with beef, pork, and chicken alternatives.
Previously, Motif only sold plant-based ingredients, so companies had to work with it to figure out how to incorporate them into their recipes. McIntyre said the “development of those relationships is slow,” taking between nine and 30 months.
By making its own food, Motif plans to go directly to restaurants — and the groups that sell to restaurants — with a finished product. While plant-based ingredient sales are still projected to account for more than three-quarters of Motif’s revenue, McIntyre said that could “flip very quickly” if the company signs a contract with a major food service company or restaurant chain.
So far, Motif sells two ingredients: One called “hemami,” which mimics the taste and smell of meat, and another called “appetex,” which gives plant-based food a texture similar to animal tissue. These ingredients are in Motif’s new food products.
Food service providers and restaurants can buy Motif’s animal-free burger patties are already available, and the company plans to start selling animal-free ground “beef” and “pork sausage” patties later this year. Plant-based “chicken” is expected to be available in 2023.
Motif’s decision to start selling food comes at a time when more restaurants are looking to offer vegan and plant-based alternatives.
But there’s a good chance customers won’t know if a national chain or restaurant decides to sell Motif’s food, McIntyre said. Businesses that work with it will not need to disclose the source of their plant-based food.
“You see Burger King is selling the Impossible Burger, others are selling the Beyond Meat burger,” McIntyre said. “Some [restaurants] are like, ‘If I go out and promote those brands, I’m not promoting my brand.’”
The company is also in the middle of a patent dispute with Impossible Foods, which claims Motif allegedly copied its process for making alternative “meat” products. Last month, Motif challenged the claim by suggesting Impossible Foods’ patent should be revoked.
Boston-based Ginkgo Bioworks, a cell programming company, spun off Motif in 2019 to commercialize its plant-based food business. Since then, Motif has raised $345 million from investors, including an undisclosed amount announced Wednesday that came from Robert Downey Jr.’s Footprint Coalition, which invests in “high-growth, sustainability-focused companies.”
Last year, Ginkgo received $20.2 million from services it provided to Motif, according to the publicly traded company’s annual filing. Ginkgo also received $52.2 million for future services that have not yet been provided.
Motif, which employs about 80 people, leases space from Ginkgo in the Seaport District and is expanding into a 65,000-square-foot facility in Northborough.