With cocoa prices rising and sourcing scarce, companies are looking to alternatives and raising more than $110 million in equity funding, according to a recent report.

By S.L. Fuller

4 startups taking the cocoa out of chocolate

Prostock-Studio via Getty Images

A global cocoa shortage has sent chocolate prices skyward. The International Cocoa Organization pointed to production declines in two countries that produce the most cocoa — Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana. Over the past year, futures on the Nasdaq have soared from a low of $2,600 per ton to a high of $11,064. 

“We have seen some shifting away from chocolate to other products, whether that’s cookies or salty snacks,” J.P. Morgan analyst Ken Goldman said in a research report. “We think chocolate’s losing a bit of share, so consumers are certainly reacting to higher prices.”

Soaring commodity prices are expected to come down eventually, the bank said. But food companies are coming up with longer-term solutions. J.P. Morgan said some are developing recipes that require less cocoa. And forward-looking businesses are looking to cut cocoa altogether — without giving up on chocolate products. 

A handful of startups are pioneering “cocoa-free” chocolate, as Crunchbase reported. Instead of cultivating or harvesting cocoa beans, these products are made with synthetic or otherwise lab-grown ingredients. The report called out four companies that have raised more than $110 million so far, collectively, in recent months. 

Voyage Foods, founded in 2021, recently closed a round of $52M, bringing its total funding to $94M. The funding was mainly from prior investors, co-led by Level One Fund and Horizons Ventures. The company has raised the most equity in the game thus far, according to Crunchbase. Along with cocoa-free chips and melting wafers, Voyage Foods also uses proprietary technology to make nut-free spreads and bean-free coffee. It achieved national distribution with Walmart in October of last year. 

Germany-based Planet A Foods has raised the second-most equity on the list at just over $43.3 million. Also founded in 2021, the company uses its own tech to ferment plant-based ingredients for products such as ChoViva Concentrate and ChoViva Butter. Together the two make cocoa-free chocolate; the latter on its own can be a replacement for palm oil.

Third on Crunchbase’s list is California Cultured, headquartered in West Sacramento and founded in 2020. It has raised $4 million in equity for its sustainable coffee and chocolate products. The process is similar for both: extracting cells from varieties of cacao and coffee beans and then grows them in large tanks that mimic their natural habitats. Though it doesn’t have any commercially available products yet, the first will be cocoa powder. 

Nukoko, based in the U.K., is last on the list. It was officially launched in January 2023 and has garnered more than $1.9 million in equity funding. The company uses technology that replicates the fermentation process that is typically used to turn cocoa beans into chocolate, but it uses beans native to the U.K. instead of cocoa beans. Though Nukoko doesn’t have any products on the market yet, its website says some are coming soon.



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