Joywell Foods raises $25 million to bring sweet protein to market

When consumed in moderation, sugar isn’t bad for us, and humans’ ability to detect sweetness is hardwired into our DNA, but with the abundance of sugar in today’s foods and beverages, we’re getting more than what we should Companies have created alternatives to sugar over the years, such as Stevia, while others have harnessed technology to find new ways to sweeten foods in a healthier way. Some of them include Supplant, DouxMatok, MycoTechnology, and Sensient. Food tech startup Joywell Foods has been in the business for nearly a decade, building a sweet protein platform and is about to bring its first products to market, fueled by a $25 million cash infusion in Series B funding. The round was led by Piva Capital, with participation from B37 Ventures, Global Brain Corporation, and existing investors Khosla Ventures, Evolv Ventures, SOSV’s IndieBio, and Alumni Ventures. As part of the investment, Piva partner and co-founder Adzmel Adznan will join Joywell’s board. The new investment brings Joywell’s total funding to $38 million since the California-based company’s inception in 2014 by Alan Perlstein and Jason Ryder. Joywell uses a proprietary microbial fermentation process to produce sweet proteins that are nearly identical to those found in exotic fruits and berries. Although these proteins taste like sugar, and are about 2,000 times sweeter than sugar, they don’t affect blood sugar levels or gut microbiomes, CEO Ali Wing told TechCrunch. “We’re biologically predisposed to crave sugar, so it’s not something we should feel too bad about,” he added. “If you really look at current consumption, over 70% of consumers are actively looking to reduce sugar in their diets and the main culprit for that is daily added sugars. We just need to solve it differently, and that’s the beauty of the technology and what we’re doing.” When Wing joined the company about a year ago from the health industry, Joywell only had one protein. It now has about half a dozen fruit-derived proteins, such as serendipity berry and katemfe fruit, and is working on a wide range of products. Wing said he couldn’t explain exactly what those products were, but the company is already working on beverages and canned foods, like chocolate, and will essentially be able to fit into any food category that includes sugar. As well as providing a healthier alternative, Joywell also aims to be more sustainable, saying that “for every one percent reduction in sugar production, approximately 650,000 acres of sugarcane fields are saved.” The company isn’t generating revenue yet, so Wing couldn’t talk much about growth metrics, but he did say he’s joined to lead Joywell’s commercialization, and that the new funding will accelerate R&D and scale-up efforts. “A lot of what I’ve done in my nine months here is a lot of consumer testing around multiple product formulations to generate information for launch,” he added. “The most important next steps are very much in the regulatory process and we have several regulatory milestones in front of us. We are also adding proteins and we will build a pipeline around them.”