There are many ways to describe what a chocolate bar is.
It is a daily indulgence, appreciated by people all over the world. It is a blend of fermented, roasted and emulsified cocoa beans with sweeteners and dairy products.
But it is also the product of an industry that has problems with child labor and the exploitation of workers. Due to global warming, cocoa growing regions around the world can also become too hot for trees to continue to thrive.
Adam Maxwell sees all of these aspects of chocolate. But because he is a food scientist, he can also describe it as a collection of molecules: fats, sugars, polyphenols, fibers, proteins. As the former head of R&D for molecular spirits company Endless West, Maxwell used food science and chemistry to reverse engineer alcoholic beverages. And he wondered if he could do that for chocolate too.
“You know, compassionate consumption. Really fair-trade chocolate. Chocolate for the future. It tastes great, you don’t miss anything,” said Maxwell.
Maxwell’s new venture, Voyage Foods, was able to reverse engineer not just chocolate, but coffee and peanut butter as well. And today he emerges from years of stealth operations, revealing his abilities to the world. It has already received $ 5.7 million in funding, with a cycle that ended in February. Maxwell, who is the CEO of Travel, said a Series A funding round is underway that will help the products get to market.
Currently, Voyage Foods plans to be a CPG business and will start launching products in November. Eventually, Maxwell said, Travel could also become an ingredient supplier, creating its reverse-engineered products for large manufacturers.
“We’re really trying to see where the most impact can be made at scale,” Maxwell said.
How to reverse engineer food?
Maxwell said Voyage Foods is a different type of CPG company.
“Voyage Foods is a food technology company, and at the most primitive level, what we’re really trying to do is separate food from its raw material,” he said. “Think of things like chocolate without cocoa, peanut butter without peanuts, coffee without coffee. And make them in a more efficient, healthier way. [or] less risk for human consumption. ”
Voyage Foods uses chemistry to create a new version of food. Its scientists are digging in and finding out what are the most basic molecules that make up the vital parts of coffee, chocolate, and peanut butter. They look for these molecules in other food sources and combine them with other ingredients to create a finished product that looks like the real thing.
Currently, Maxwell said Travel Foods is looking for these molecules in cheaper staple crops or recycled food processing waste. Since these components are at the molecular level, Maxwell said it doesn’t matter what the initial entry is. He is more interested in recreating relatively affordable food so that it is accessible to everyone.
Maxwell said this process shouldn’t seem so strange, considering how common food products have been made for generations.
“A cocoa bean… doesn’t taste like a chocolate bar,” Maxwell said. Taste, texture, and function all come from fermentation, roasting, and other processing. The basic ingredient, however, comes from the cocoa tree.
While the process may seem high-tech, Maxwell said the product’s ingredient lists are clean labels, with no chemical names. But the components may seem a bit strange for the product. For example, the ingredient list for chocolate includes grape seed, sunflower seed flour, sugar, shea butter, salt and natural flavors, he said.
The unique process means that Voyage Foods must have its own dedicated manufacturing facilities. No co-packager can do what Voyage Foods does, Maxwell said. The company’s plant is currently under construction in California, he said.
But despite the products’ unconventional origin, the facility looks like any other factory that processes coffee, chocolate or peanut butter, Maxwell said. Manufacturing equipment is all commonly used elsewhere, and employees won’t necessarily need extensive food science knowledge.
Why chocolate, coffee and peanut butter?
While chocolate, coffee, and peanut butter are all popular foods, they are also somewhat of a problem.
The societal and environmental issues of chocolate, Maxwell said, made it the primary focus of Voyage Foods. Coffee has similar problems, he said. It is cultivated in regions threatened by global warming. Supply chain issues and raw material prices could also threaten the coffee supply, but the drink continues to gain popularity.
“It’s really responding to the supply and demand curve to ensure that people continue to enjoy the ritualistic experiences of having an affordable cup of coffee in the morning,” Maxwell said.
Beyond preserving the consumer’s morning cup of coffee or the periodic indulgence of chocolate, Voyage Foods’ work to de-bone the drink and the sweet could actually help preserve some of the more endangered varieties. Maxwell’s former company, Endless West, took inspiration from the existence of a Napa Valley wine considered too valuable to taste and the question of how it could be recreated. Voyage Foods could do the same, Maxwell said: Find a way to recreate the distinctive taste and mouthfeel of an endangered crop so that it is still available, even if climate change puts an end to its special species.
Peanut butter has little to no social or sustainability issues attached to it. However, due to the prevalence of severe allergies to peanuts, it is one of the most banned foods in school cafeterias and public restaurants. According to Food Allergy Research & Education, approximately 6.1 million people in the United States are allergic to peanuts. During this time, family members, classmates and colleagues are less likely to have peanut products to protect them from an allergic reaction.
Because Travel Peanut Butter isn’t made from actual peanuts, it looks and tastes the same, but it’s allergen-free, Maxwell said.
“If you want to bring peanut butter and carrots to your office or school, this is the safest option – even if you don’t have a peanut allergy – for everyone around you. “, did he declare.
Next step of the journey
Getting Voyage Foods out of stealth has been a long process, said Maxwell. There has been some work figuring out how to bone chocolate, coffee, and peanut butter. It became necessary to obtain patents, develop the manufacturing plant and plan product launches.
Today “is a relief for everyone in the business whose friends have no idea what they do for a living,” Maxwell said with a laugh.
The company is currently working on the design of its packaging, which will make it clear to consumers what it contains and how it was made, Maxwell said. Voyage Foods pays special attention to posts about peanut butter because peanuts are such a problematic allergen.
Peanut butter will be the first product to launch, first being available at select retailers and restaurants and then direct to consumers in November, Maxwell said. The company’s chocolate is expected to launch in the first quarter of 2022. And the coffee, sold in ready-to-drink or liquid concentrate form, will launch early next year.
Meanwhile, Maxwell expects conversations with companies interested in using travel ingredients to begin in the near future. The company stayed in deep stealth mode because Maxwell wanted to make sure it had all the necessary patent protections. After all, he said, other companies have been working on similar projects.
Voyage Foods will also continue to work to recreate other food products. Although he declined to share details, Maxwell said future products would also be chosen for their impact on climate, health and affordability.
Since the company started, Maxwell said the R&D time for the products has decreased significantly. It took about three years to develop the chocolate product, but less than a year for coffee and peanut butter. Maxwell said the company has learned a lot from chocolate and adapted it to other products.
Maxwell hopes the company will be well received by consumers as well. He has experience in this area across Endless West. While the company’s spirits performed well in the tasting tests, consumers were not universally welcoming. Maxwell believes that the different nature of food products can help travel deals.
“Based on the fact that we have so much transparency given the food label, and we have such a clean set of ingredients, I think as long as we can tell the story of what’s really going on, … people will be disarmed and not afraid of it, ”he said.