Blue Apron co-founder raises $10M to breed a superior chicken

31 Jul 2020

For decades the American poultry breeding business has been dominated by Cobb and Aviagen. However, Cook Ventures, a new breeder focused on slow-growth, heirloom chickens, may give its two major competitors a run for their money.

Cook Ventures, which is owned by Matthew Wadiak, the co-founder and former chief operating officer of Blue Apron, raised $10 million in a series A funding round led by SJF Ventures and Cultivian Sandbox. Additional participation came from Larry Schwartz and John Roulac, the executive producer of the upcoming documentary on regenerative agriculture, Kiss the Ground. The funding will be used to expand the commercialization of the company’s chickens on a national scale as well as strengthen its regenerative crop management program. The company already provides its birds to markets in California, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Seattle, Oregon, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the Northeast, according to TechCrunch.

Blue Apron co-founder raises $10M to breed a superior chicken

In addition to the funding, Cook Ventures announced a partnership with Food In Depth (FoodID), a company that strives to provide transparency and accountability for food safety claims. According to FoodID’s co-founder Bill Niman, “They are the first company in the United States with a fully verified claim that their meat is truly antibiotic-free."

Wadiak’s chicken farm is seeking to upend standard practices in broiler chicken breeding, and it is an effort that is 10 years in the making. The Blue Apron co-founder purchased the vertically integrated chicken producer with its independent genetics operations that focus on selective breeding rather than genetic engineering for an undisclosed amount in 2018. Since then, he has worked to bring heritage breeds with improved taste and stronger resilience to illness, climates and diet diversity to the world.

Currently, 99% of the chicken consumed in the United States comes from either Tyson-owned Cobb and privately held Aviagen. These multibillion-dollar companies dominate the $28 billion market, according to Forbes. However, this dominance comes from price rather than flavor as the breeds sold by these genetics companies are known to be tasteless and are prone to woody textures.

Alan Kelley, managing director at SJF Ventures, said in a statement that the taste of the Cooks Ventures breeds prompted the VC investment. "Seeing Cooks Venture's chickens exhibit unusually healthy, vibrant attributes at one of the company's farms was a powerful moment for us. It helped us to understand why consumers rave about the flavor of Cooks Venture's chickens and why a pasture-raised environment is a fitting place for these unique birds to roam and grow," he said.

Cooks Ventures is an independent genetics operation that approaches breeding from a traditional standpoint rather than genetic modification in order to improve animal welfare for birds and create a strong natural pathogenic resistance for food systems. These heritage breeds also participate in regenerative agriculture efforts.

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