Zero Acre Farms Backed By Branson, Coldplay, and Downey Jr.

zero acre farms oil

Zero Acre Farms, a San Francisco startup, has a major mission: to disrupt vegetable oils with a fermented, more sustainable, and healthier alternative. According to the company’s founders, their palm oil and maize oil substitute would help battle deforestation and the slew of health problems that our reliance on cheap vegetable fats has caused—over 20% of daily calories currently originate from these oils.

In a Series A round managed by Lowercarbon Capital, the startup secured $37 million from a number of high-profile investors, including Coldplay, Robert Downey Jr.’s FootPrint Coalition, celebrity chef Dan Barber, Dr Andrew Weil, and Richard Branson and his family.

Vegetable Oils

According to Zero Acre, vegetable oils are responsible for up to one-fifth of all dietary calories, which are applied to everything from snacks to pans before cooking. These all-pervasive fats are wreaking havoc on our health. The company sells a vegetable oil alternative made through fermentation and microbe feeding that has more nutritional content and a lower carbon impact. “It’s like creating beer, only instead of ethanol, the bacteria generate a lot of oil and fat,” CEO and co-founder Jeff Nobbs told TechCrunch.

The Potential of Fermentation 

Zero Acre has chosen certain microorganism strains that can store oils and fats. They may generate large amounts of clean oil if they are fed the correct diet. “We’re not creating a synthetic oil that’s ‘only’ better for the environment… It’s a new category of oils and fats, we can make compositions that are more suitable for food and better for people. It’s a 1:1 replacement, not like using almond flour instead of wheat flour — you just use it instead of whatever product you’re replacing,” Nobbs stated.

This explanation is necessary, and Nobbs has taken great effort to sell the product to a certain demographic. It would be very hard to take over the big companies given the scope of commercial oil activities, particularly palm oil. To compete in terms of cost, a fermented product would now require tremendous scale, which is why Zero Acre has focused on the ethical consumer demographic—those who buy organic fruit, fair trade items, and more expensive plant-based products. Chefs might be a good target market, too, because the product emits fewer toxic vapors at high temperatures.

The fermentation process, according to Nobbs, is a succession of incremental modifications to discover the ideal production conditions. “Little things can have a big effect… We have a whole platform around finding those optimal parameters. There’s still a lot of research to be done, but we’ve had some breakthroughs, and I think we’re working with the world’s best organisms for this,” he told TechCrunch

Zero Acre has been able to scale for production at this early level by avoiding the complications of precise fermentation. It can now produce thousands of liters of fermented oil, with a market debut planned for this year. At this time, branding and packaging are unknown, but they will be backed by the funds.

Fat Alternatives

Zero Acre isn’t the first startup to focus on the fat industry. Palm-free palm oils and animal-free fats are being recreated by a growing number of food innovation businesses across the world. To create a unique product, some people are using previously abandoned food items like fruit pits. Others are moving to horticulture techniques in order to maintain the animal basis while eliminating the brutality of production.

Source: “A Microbe-Made Vegetable Oil Alternative? Coldplay, Branson & Downey Jr. Back Zero Acre Farms In $37 Million Series A”


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