Alt-choc venture Nukoko pioneers fava bean confectionery with research funding boost

An enterprising trio of cocoa-experts has claimed a global first in using scientific research technology to create what is believed to be the world’s first chocolate alternative created from domestic fava beans, reports Neill Barston.

Known as Nukoko, the venture has emerged with $1.5 million in seed funding, led by Oyster Bay Venture Capital, supported by grant funding that it hopes will enable the scaling-up of its ambitious business model.

The start-up was founded in 2022 by chocolate entrepreneurs Ross Newton and Kit Tomlinson alongside what they enthusiastically describe as a ‘rockstar’ cocoa research scientist Professor David Salt.

As the entrepreneurs noted, the timing of their launch comes amid a major spike in cocoa prices that has caused significant market disruption seen rates more than doubled in the past year, with figures trading upwards of $8,000 a tonne.  This has been attributed to a combination of factors such as adverse weather patterns due to climate change, poor harvests impacted by ageing cocoa stock prone to viruses, and other wider issues that have included farmers feeling forced to sell off land to illegal gold miners.

According to the recently-created Nukoko team, they have been motivated by the fact that conventional chocolate production methods carry a significant impact on the environment, notably contributing towards deforestation and elevated levels of CO2 emissions. With cocoa supplies clearly under pressure that has reduced the quantities within the global market, they believed the time was right for an additional source of alternative product ingredients.

So in response, they have devised a fermentation process that closely mimic traditional cocoa fermentation, which has enabled them to make a comparatively unlikely transformation of fava beans into a chocolate alternative, which is claimed to be more sustainable.

Moreover, as the team noted, in utilising fava beans, a nitrogen fixing plant commonly used as a rotational crop in agriculture, Nukoko’s chocolate alternative produces up to 90% less CO2 emissions than chocolate without the need for further deforestation, nor does it have any related child labour issues. Their ‘bean-to-bar’ alt choc boasts 40% less sugar and a host of positive nutritional benefits such as high protein, fibre, and antioxidants inherent in the fava bean.

Nukoko has gained substantial traction since winning a place on prestigious biotech program IndieBio in New York (2023), being named in the Foodtech 500 (2024), and securing development agreements with the Coop group, a leading Swiss food company with over 2,500 retail sites.

‘’We have worked in the cocoa industry for over 10 years, and we love it but the chocolate industry as we know it is in trouble. We’re on the back of a 3-year supply deficit resulting in a cocoa price that is crippling the manufacturers and impacting consumers.’’ says founder Ross Newton.

His colleague, Professor David Salt believed there was significant potential with its sector innovation, which is boosted by the fact around 740,000 tonnes of fava beans are reportedly harvested in the UK on an annual basis, making for a ready supply on the company’s doorstep.

‘’At Nukoko we want to provide a viable alternative to chocolate, that is from a trusted ingredient with a natural and planet positive production process. We believe that being a true and authentic ‘bean-to-bar’ manufacturer, that uses fava beans not cocoa beans to make our chocolate alternative, sets us apart and resonates with consumers’.

‘’Nukoko’s ability to provide a 1:1 replacement for cocoa and chocolate to the manufacturing market with a natural, plant-based product that is more sustainable, cost-effective and healthier than chocolate is transformative. We are on a mission to make a profound difference and drastically reduce the impact of the chocolate industry on the planet.’’ states founder Kit Tomlinson.

“Ross, David and Kit are the type of entrepreneurs that we are looking for – humble and extremely ambitious at the same time. Their unique approach to creating a cocoa alternative is both incredibly tasty and sustainable.” says Philip Stark, Principal at lead investor, Oyster Bay Venture Capital.

Furthermore, the company added that the investment will allow Nukoko to scale up their process to industrial scale production ahead of market launch, as well increase the R&D headcount to develop their ability to flavour match varying cocoa flavour profiles. It aims to forge a range of B2B and retail partnerships, building relationships with major brands in order to help drive greater industry sustainability.



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