High-protein peas to be developed by France’s Roquette and Israel’s Equinom

French maker of plant-based ingredients will also co-invest $4 million in Equinom startup, which uses DNA sequencing and algorithms to produce superior legumes

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Illustrative image of green peas (ValentynVolkov; iStock by Getty Images)
Illustrative image of green peas (ValentynVolkov; iStock by Getty Images)

Roquette, a French family-owned company and a maker of plant-based ingredients and new vegetable-based proteins, has signed a partnership agreement with Israel-based Equinom Ltd. to jointly develop new pea varieties with high protein content.

The French firm will also co-invest, with Fortissimo Capital, $4 million in the Israeli startup to support its further growth. Fortissimo Capital, an Israeli private equity fund, is already a shareholder in Equinom.

The deal marks the start of the activities and investments of Roquette in Israel, the statement said.

“Through this collaboration, Roquette is able to be involved on the cutting edge of new non-GMO plant variety development addressing industrial needs and consumer expectations,” the companies said in a joint statement.

Founded in 2012, Equinom is an Israeli-based technology seed breeding company that combines classic breeding with genomics and bio-informatics, using DNA sequencing and algorithms to develop a faster and more accurate way to breed plants. The technology has produced a set of non-GMO legumes that are said to have 50 percent more protein than varieties currently on the market, and other superior varieties of sesame and quinoa products.

Illustrative image of legumes (monticelllo; iStock by Getty Images)

The agreement signed by Roquette and Equinom is multi-year, for the development of high-protein and high-yield pea varieties at can be grown and marketed worldwide.

Equinom will use the investment to further develop products that are essential to new food applications, complementary to animal-based nutrition, the statement said.

“This investment represents a great partnership and a major step forward in the implementation of the group’s strategy in plant-based proteins,” Pascal Leroy, Vice-President of Roquette’s Pea and New Protein business line, said in the statement: “It enables Roquette to position itself as a pioneer in the whole value chain for plant-based proteins. By contributing to develop new responsible and sustainable high-protein pea production thanks to this collaboration, we are demonstrating our goal of offering products increasingly tailored to the needs of food, nutrition and health markets, and to better answer a growing customer and consumer demand.”

Equinom is a “highly innovative company” that will enable Roquette to provide its customers globally with “high-quality plant-based ingredients.”

Foodtech — the art of using technologies to make healthier food or streamline distribution and developing the next generation of food and beverages — is a growing trend around the world. According to the database of Start-Up Nation Central, a non-profit that tracks the tech industry in Israel, there are some 266 active startups working in the field. Recent exits of Israeli companies in the food segment have raised Israel’s profile in this sector.

PepsiCo said in August it would buy SodaStream for $3.2 billion in cash, while the US firm International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF) said in May it will purchase Israel’s Frutarom, a maker of flavors and fragrances for use in food, beverages and pharmaceuticals, for $7.1 billion, in the second largest deal ever for an Israeli firm. Meanwhile, in July, Dutch signed an accord to buy online food marketplace 10bis for $157 million.

“The agreement with Roquette is a major milestone for Equinom, and its investment in our company is a vote of confidence in our technology and its ability to transform the plant-protein market,” Gil Shalev, Equinom founder and CEO.

The deal, he said, “will guarantee the full commercialization of Equinom’s high-protein pea varieties. It will also facilitate the introduction of additional plant protein to market and enable Equinom to attain its mission of increasing the production of high-quality, sustainable food ingredients that are changing the types of foods consumed.”

To date, Equinom has signed a number of breeding contracts with global leaders in the food industry. These include a multi-year contract with Sabra Dipping Company, LLC, a joint venture of PepsiCo, Inc. and Israel’s Strauss Group Ltd., as well as a commercialization agreement with Mitsui of Japan.

Roquette currently operates in over 100 countries, has a turnover of around 3.3 billion euros and employs 8,400 people worldwide.

Fortissimo has invested in a number of Israeli firms, and its exits include, among others SodaStream, Kornit Digital and Dip-Tech.

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