Building a better bean – Benson Hill raises $150 million in Series D Funding Round to accelerate food innovation on global scale

November 1, 2020 |

In Missouri, Benson Hill announced the close of a whopping $150 million Series D funding round led by Wheatsheaf Group and GV (formerly Google Ventures). The company’s food innovation engine CropOS taps nature’s genetic diversity to develop and commercialize healthier and more sustainable food and ingredient options that benefit farmers, food companies, and ultimately, consumers. This funding will accelerate the food tech company’s efforts to deploy its platform technology, expand partner development across the supply chain, and scale product commercialization efforts.

In today’s Digest, details behind the financing, how they plan to scale commercial operations and take its CropOS across multiple food and ingredients markets starting with soybeans, and more.

The Funding

Let’s start with the investors who are making this happen. The $150 million Series D funding round was led by Wheatsheaf Group and GV (formerly Google Ventures).

The funding round attracted diverse investors recognizing the company’s strategic business model and potential to impact the health and well-being of people and the planet through advances in the food system. New and returning investors included Argonautic Ventures, Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec (CDPQ), Emart, GS Group, Louis Dreyfus Company, iSelect Fund, Fall Line Capital, Mercury Fund, Prelude Ventures, Prolog Ventures, S2G Ventures, and additional strategic and family office investors.

With this new round of funding, Benson Hill will continue to advance Cloud Biology and its innovation engine CropOS, amplify partner development efforts, continue to recruit top talent, and propel the commercial launch of the first Ultra-High Protein soybean varieties in 2021, among other product launches. According to their press release, the company’s portfolio of high-quality soybean varieties delivers a full range of in-demand premium attributes, including better digestibility, heart-healthy omega fatty acids, and higher protein that serve the plant-based food, healthy oils, animal feed and aquaculture markets.

The Tech Behind CropOS

Benson Hill leverages Cloud Biology, a discipline combining the power of data science, machine learning and AI techniques with plant biology and genomics. CropOS is the platform that makes this discipline actionable, significantly accelerating the precision and speed of product development. According to their press release, Benson Hill’s technology platform and collaborations empower the creation of healthier and more sustainable feed, food and ingredient options that consumers are seeking, while also delivering strong crop performance that farmers demand.

Reaction from the stakeholders

“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.”

“We are excited to contribute to the scale-up of Benson Hill’s work to advance a sustainable future of food by realizing the value creation potential of technology-enabled innovation,” said Max Clegg, Head of Louis Dreyfus Company’s corporate venture capital program, LDC Innovations. “The power of genomics and genetic diversity is largely untapped, and we believe that the company’s technology and collaborative model unlocks efficiencies and new product differentiation for stakeholders across the value chain, from farmers to end-consumers.”

“The plant-based protein movement is global in scale,” said Hewie Kang, CEO of Emart, Shinsegae Group. “Benson Hill’s product innovations, particularly in the area of protein and nutrient density, are poised to help further accelerate the adoption of plant-based alternatives. Our investment reflects a strategic intent to help realize the vision of delivering a steady stream of more sustainable and healthy food options to a global consumer.”

“As a society, we’re at a crossroads made more evident as the pandemic has revealed strengths and vulnerabilities in our food system,” said Matt Crisp, Benson Hill CEO. “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 recognize the urgency and opportunity of this moment to think collaboratively and modernize food production.”

Background on the Big Players

In case you aren’t familiar with some of the investors mentioned, they are worth noting for their food and agriculture space experience.

Wheatsheaf Group

In case you aren’t familiar with Wheatsheaf Group, they invest in food and agriculture businesses and with one of the largest and longest established investment teams in the sector, Wheatsheaf partners with its portfolio companies to create efficiencies in the production and distribution of food; developing innovative business models and technologies to deliver affordable, nutritious and safe food that sustains both human health and the health of the planet. Wheatsheaf Group is part of the Grosvenor Estate.

Louis Dreyfus Company (LDC)

LDC is a merchant and processor of agricultural goods with activities that span the entire value chain from farm to fork, across a broad range of business lines (platforms). Since 1851, its portfolio has grown to include Grains & Oilseeds, Coffee, Cotton, Juice, Rice, Sugar, Freight and Global Markets. LDC helps to feed and clothe some 500 million people every year by originating, processing and transporting approximately 80 million tons of products. Structured as a matrix organization of six geographical regions and eight platforms, the company is active in over 100 countries and employs approximately 18,000 people globally.

About Emart

Emart, a Korea-based company, is a multi-format retailer that includes Emart Hypermarkets, Emart Traders, a warehouse retail model, Shinsegae Food, which owns manufacturing facilities, food distribution channels, international restaurant and beverage franchises, Emart24 convenience stores, Emart Everyday small grocery stores, upscale mall complexes, Starbucks Korea, and SSG.COM (online mall). Apart from Korea, Emart also has retail footprints in Asia including Vietnam, Mongolia, Philippines and China. In the U.S., Emart operates premium grocery stores under the name of Bristol Farms, Metropolitan Market, New Seasons Market and others through its subsidiary Good Food Holdings.

Bottom Line

Benson Hill is not a new name for The Digest readers, as we can go back to 2015 when we reported their $7.3 million Series A financing, their 2016 launch of CropOS, the 2016 announcement of a partnership with the National Corn Growers Association to unleash corn innovation. But more recently this year, The Digest reported in March that they have plans to release Ultra-High Protein soybean varieties in the 2021 crop year, and in June we reported that they contracted 30,000 acres to advance its cutting-edge soybean varieties through partnerships in the consumer food, animal feed and aquaculture markets. And let’s not forget they made The Digest’s Hot 50 in 2020 as a first-time debutant.

Our prediction is that we will be seeing a lot more from Benson Hill, thanks in part to this whopping $150 million round of funding and 2020 not slowing them down one bit.

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