WNWN Food Labs, which is bringing cocoa-free chocolate to market, has raised $5.6m (£4.5m) in financing to scale up its manufacturing and bring branded products to retail this year.
The round was led by PeakBridge, a foodtech VC firm investing in innovative, scalable, climate- and health-focused companies with protectable technologies. PeakBridge, a core member of EIT Food, invests globally in early-stage and Series A companies, having a long-term positive impact on food systems.
FoodLabs (formerly Atlantic Food Labs) extended its commitment with follow-on investment. The round also included participation from Geschwister Oetker Beteiligungen Group via its subsidiary Martin Braun-Gruppe, Mustard Seed Maze, PINC, Investbridge AgriTech, and HackCapital.
WNWN will use the investment to scale up manufacturing and add headcount as it prepares for a UK retail launch later in 2023.
“This blend of VCs gives us deep and strategic food tech experience to make a significant positive impact, and with PeakBridge’s partnership and team, we are well on our way to create a tastier, more ethical future of food,” said WNWN CEO Ahrum Pak. “This investment is also very timely given the new European ban on cocoa linked to deforestation, as WNWN can reduce the cocoa supply chain’s strain on the planet and on cocoa farmers entrenched in poverty.”
WNWN employs a proprietary fermentation process to transform widely available plant-based ingredients like cereals and legumes to create cocoa-free choc that tastes, melts, snaps and bakes just like chocolate. Its formula is vegan, caffeine-free, gluten-free, palm oil-free, lower in sugar than comparable products, and safe for dogs since it contains no theobromine. Cocoa-free WNWN products produce 80% less carbon emissions than conventional chocolates, based on an internal lifecycle analysis.
“Ingredient innovations like WNWN’s are key to building a more resilient, equitable, sustainable food system, and this in turn opens the doors to other goals like responsible production and consumption,” said Erich Sieber, founding partner at PeakBridge. “Not only does WNWN’s product have the potential to offer health benefits and address sustainability concerns, but it also opens up a world of exciting flavor possibilities. We are confident that WNWN will lead the charge in this category and are proud to be part of this journey.”
“This funding is a validation of our science and our ability to scale,” said WNWN CTO Dr. Johnny Drain. “With demand for chocolate said to be increasing year over year, conventional supply chains can’t keep up, at least not at the expense of the planet and human dignity.”
WNWN has already released two cocoa-free chocolate products via direct-to-consumer channels to test its concept. Both its dark choc thins and Waim! bar, its take on the classic Daim bar, sold out immediately—a positive signal to future retail partners.
Since the product launches the company has taken on a new facility that increased its production space eightfold. With its expansion, WNWN has begun supplying partners with ingredients and finished products for projects like curated gifts and high-end restaurants and bars.
Consumers are increasingly concerned about deforestation, habitat destruction, and unfair labor practices in the conventional chocolate supply chain. More than a million child laborers are estimated to work in Ivory Coast and Ghana, where three-quarters of the world’s cocoa is grown.
Cocoa crops are also vulnerable due to climate change, including rising temperatures and reduced rainfall, which has led experts to predict chocolate shortages in the coming years.