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Cultivating Cocoa: Kokomodo Emerges From Stealth and Secures Funding

Courtesy: Kokomodo
Courtesy: Kokomodo

As the future of chocolate becomes increasingly uncertain due to the impacts of climate change, a new player has emerged with a revolutionary approach to preserving this beloved commodity. Kokomodo, a startup based in Rehovot, Israel, is at the forefront of this movement, innovating to protect both cocoa from climate change and the climate from the adverse effects of traditional cocoa production. Armed with a $750,000 investment from The Kitchen FoodTech Hub and the Israeli Innovation Authority, Kokomodo aims to produce cell-based cocoa for the food and beverage, supplements, and cosmetics industries.


The Challenge: Cocoa and Climate Change


The cocoa industry is facing significant challenges due to climate change. Scientists predict that a third of cocoa trees could perish by 2050 due to extreme weather events and changing climate conditions. This has already led to devastating harvests and record-high cocoa prices, with a tonne of cocoa reaching over $12,000 in April, up from under $2,500 in January 2023. The situation is dire in major cocoa-producing regions like Ivory Coast, where deforestation has resulted in the loss of over 85% of forests since 1960.


Cocoa production itself also has a significant environmental impact. It ranks just behind beef in terms of atmospheric pollution, and the cultivation of cocoa beans carries a high carbon opportunity cost, meaning a substantial amount of carbon is released from native vegetation and soils to make way for cocoa farming.


Kokomodo’s solution to these challenges is to produce cocoa using cellular agriculture technology. By deriving its climate-resilient product from the cells of premium cocoa beans grown in Central and South America, Kokomodo is working to ensure a steady supply of high-quality cocoa while minimizing environmental impact. The company has completed lab-scale production and is now moving towards pilot-scale production to reach price parity with conventional chocolate.


According to co-founder and CEO Tal Govrin, the next steps involve producing biomass in scalable bioreactors to increase production volume and optimize the process. Within 18 to 24 months, Kokomodo plans to produce hundreds of liters of cell-based cocoa in bioreactors, moving closer to commercial-scale production.


Funding and Future Plans


The recent funding round will allow Kokomodo to focus on several key areas: expanding production capabilities, engaging with potential clients, broadening its product range, and navigating regulatory landscapes. Govrin emphasizes the importance of client engagement and regulatory compliance in their strategy to bring cell-based cocoa to market.


Kokomodo’s approach is not just about producing cocoa but also about promoting fair trade, preserving cacao varieties, and shortening supply chains. Amir Zaidman, chief business officer of The Kitchen FoodTech Hub, highlights that Kokomodo supports various causes, from cacao preservation to ethical trade practices.


The Technology Behind Kokomodo


Kokomodo’s technology involves sourcing premium cocoa cells from Latin America, known for its high-quality beans. By obtaining different varieties and genotypes, Kokomodo aims to harness the natural variance and create a diverse cell library. These cells are then cultivated using advanced cellular agriculture technology, resulting in a thriving cell culture that is harvested and processed in bioreactors.

This method ensures that Kokomodo’s cocoa retains the authentic flavors and textures of traditional cocoa while capturing its nutritional and health benefits. Govrin asserts that its technologically systematic approach guarantees the quality and authenticity of its cocoa, providing a product that matches the genuine taste and characteristics of real cocoa.


Overcoming Challenges in Cell-Based Cocoa Production


One of the biggest challenges for any cellular agriculture company, especially one in the volatile cocoa market, is cost. Despite the skyrocketing prices of traditional cocoa, achieving price competitiveness remains a significant hurdle. However, Govrin is optimistic about the potential for cell-cultured cocoa to be price-competitive due to two key trends: the scalability of cell-culture production and the increasing economic and environmental pressures on traditional cocoa farming.


As climate change, diseases, and reliance on a few producer countries like Ghana and Ivory Coast continue to impact traditional cocoa cultivation, cell-cultured cocoa offers a more sustainable and resilient solution.


Targeting Premium Brands and Regulatory Compliance


Kokomodo is targeting premium brands that prioritize sustainable and ethical cocoa products. The company’s first product, a high-value cocoa powder, can be integrated into various products, including chocolate, beverages, spreads, and protein bars. The goal is to provide custom-fit cocoa for diverse market demands.


Before commercializing its products, Kokomodo must navigate regulatory barriers in different countries. Govrin indicates that launching in the US might be more feasible due to the simpler and quicker self-affirmed GRAS process compared to the EU’s novel food regulations. Kokomodo is working with regulatory advisors to build a robust regulation strategy and application process.


Kokomodo is among a handful of companies pioneering cell-based chocolate production, positioning itself alongside Israeli startup Celleste Bio, US-based California Cultured, and Finnish giant Fazer. Unlike companies creating cocoa-free alternatives, Kokomodo focuses on cultivating real cocoa cells to produce authentic cocoa products.


Govrin emphasizes that Kokomodo’s approach ensures the preservation and availability of real cocoa, leveraging science and technology to bring a sustainable and health-beneficial product to the market. With climate change threatening the future of cocoa, Kokomodo’s non-agricultural solution offers a promising path to ensuring the survival of this vital crop for future generations.


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