Motif Foodworks: “Emerging Technologies and Innovations in this Space Demonstrate That Animal-Free Options Will Only Get Better and Better”

Mike Leonard Motif Foodworks
Mike Leonard ©Motif Foodworks

Motif FoodWorks is an ingredients company which uses food science to uncover what makes the food we love so good—at a molecular level—and recreate those attributes without using animal products. The company partners with food and nutrition companies to make their plant-based products better tasting, more nutritious, and better for the planet.

Since rebranding from Motif Ingredients to Motif Foodworks last summer, the company has announced a series of developments, including a partnership with The University of Queensland, a new Boston headquarters, and the securing of $27.5M in funding.

We spoke with CTO Michael Leonard who offered us his deep insight into the vegan market.

What is the greatest challenge involved with the production of plant-based meat?
Most people decide whether or not they like something after the very first bite.  Brands know they only have one shot to win over consumers who expect their plant-based foods to taste and feel like the real thing. If a plant-based burger or sausage has an unfamiliar texture or doesn’t taste as good as its animal-based counterpart, consumers likely will not go back for seconds.  Delivering the taste, texture, and appearance that consumers expect, all at the same time, is one of the biggest challenges facing plant-based meat designers and manufacturers.

When it comes to our preferences for food, there’s still a lot we don’t know. That’s why Motif is focused on uncovering the attributes of what makes food so good—and unlocking the science behind those properties—so that we can recreate them, and help to bring tastier plant-based products to consumers.

Motif Foodworks

Does plant-based pork present any particular challenges (in comparison to beef)?
Like with any other plant-based meat product, texture remains a notable weak spot in plant-based pork and one of the biggest sensory gaps consumers identify when compared to its animal-derived counterpart.  The interactions between fat, protein, and water in plant-based pork products are different from what you’d find in a plant-based beef product, and it’s important to understand how to optimize these interactions in order to deliver the right texture, appearance, and taste for consumers.

One of Motif’s top priorities is to address this texture gap, and our recent partnership with the University of Queensland will give us the opportunity to tackle these challenges and create ingredients that will improve attributes like taste and texture in plant-based foods. Working alongside some of the best sensory researchers in the world, we’re focused on testing and identifying new formulations that will improve the texture of plant-based meats, so we can help make products like animal-free sausages and pork taste and perform better.

What type of new meat alternative do you think we’ll see hit the market next?
Over the last several years, we’ve seen the plant-based protein space explode as more and more players make the leap into plant-based products. There are plenty of new opportunities and emerging technologies in this space to create animal-free meats—like chicken and seafood—that taste just as good, if not better, than their animal-based analogs.

One particular product there was a lot of buzz around this past holiday season—I don’t think anyone has quite nailed plant-based turkey just yet. I expect we’ll see some new and innovative products in turkey as well in time for the next Thanksgiving holiday.

What are your predictions for the vegan market in the coming years?
With more plant-based foods and hitting the market, we can expect the plant-based movement to grow, offering more choices for vegans, flexitarians and plant-curious carnivores alike. At Motif, we see a long-term opportunity to fine-tune the experience of eating plant-based products—honing the texture, taste, and appearance—of eating everything from plant-based burgers to animal-free cheese and yogurt.

Motif Foodworks
©Motif Foodworks

Ultimately, we feel that plant-based food is much more than a passing fad.  Emerging technologies and innovations in this space demonstrate that animal-free options will only get better and better, and consumers will be able to increasingly incorporate these foods into their regular diets without compromising on the eating experience.  Motif will play an important role in advancing these technologies and innovations thorough our molecular food science-based approach to ingredient development.

What are Motif’s plans for 2020 and beyond?
We’re currently focused on delivering on the promise of our current product pipeline, continuing to build a world-class R&D organization, and securing commercial partnerships with food brands, research institutions—like the University of Queensland—and other partners that want to share in delivering our mission.