Amid pandemic, Rebellyous Foods snares $6M for plant-based nuggets — and plans its next pivot

Alan Boyle
Rebellyous Foods’ nuggets are meant to be a healthier, less expensive and equally tasty alternative to chicken nuggets. (Rebellyous Foods Photo / Kristie Middleton)

Seattle-based Rebellyous Foods says it has raised $6 million in investment for a production operation that turns a blend of wheat, soy and other plant products into nuggets that taste like chicken.

The startup’s founder and CEO, former Boeing engineer Christie Lagally, argues that Rebellyous and other producers of plant-based meat substitutes should become more mainstream as the lessons of the global coronavirus outbreak sink in. She noted that China’s “wet markets” are thought to have played a role in transmitting the virus from animals to humans.

“Bird flu, swine flu, and now COVID-19 demonstrate that keeping large numbers of animals in close contact with one another presents a tremendous risk for global health,” Lagally said today in a news release announcing the funding round. “However, to transition away from our heavy dependence on meat, it’s critical that we make plant-based meat affordable and widely available through innovative production technology.”

Her goal is to produce plant-based meat that outdoes animal meat in affordability as well as taste and nutrition. The first customers on the target list were cafeterias at school and hospitals — including Cornish College of the Arts and Swedish Medical Center, which number among the company’s first clients. But the pandemic has caused Lagally to rethink the business model.

“As a nimble and mission-driven startup, it’s our objective – and our responsibility to our investors – to be as impactful as possible,” she told GeekWire in an email. “In the current climate, the reality is that food service sales are lagging, and there’s no indication of when things will turn around. We remain steadfast in our mission to meet the demand for plant-based, ready to heat and serve solutions for food service when in-cafeteria service resumes.”

Lagally said Rebellyous had planned to expand into the market for consumer packaged goods down the line, after gaining a strong foothold in the food service market. “However, given current circumstances, we’re planning to imminently begin a soft launch in retail, starting with a limited-time offering of our Rebellyous Nuggets in the Seattle area,” she said.

Founded in 2017 as Seattle Food Tech, Rebellyous moved into new digs in West Seattle last November. It’s scaling up its operations to stand out in an increasingly competitive market that also includes bigger ventures such as Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat.

Rebellyous says the new investment will accelerate the development of its replicable food production system. The money will also go toward beefing up the company’s 11-employee staff and ramping up product development.

The Series A funding round was led by Clear Current Capital, Fifty Years and Liquid 2 Ventures. Other participants in the round include Agronomics as well as Vulcan Capital, which was established by Paul Allen, the late co-founder of Microsoft. The $6 million round brings total investment to $9.9 million, Lagally told GeekWire.

Ela Madej, founding partner of Fifty Years, was added to Rebellyous Foods’ board as part of the latest round.

“It’s our mission at Fifty Years to partner with companies solving the world’s biggest problems,” Madej said in a statement. “We have been Rebellyous’ early supporter, and I can’t be more excited to join the company’s board. We need a pandemic-proof food system that can meet the nutritional needs of our growing human family. We’re also happy to support job creation in a time when many other businesses are having to lay off workers.”

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