Benson Hill, Founder and CEO, Matt Crisp sits down with Talking Plant Protein to discuss the next generation of soybean production. Benson Hill, which is becoming a publicly traded company through a SPAC merger, uses proprietary software, CropOS®, to engineer more nutritious ingredients while not sacrificing yield. Benson Hill exceeded acreage target for the 2021 growing season in partnership with farmers across the country.
Nicole Astra: Welcome to Talking Plant Protein. Today my guest is Matt Crisp, founder and CEO of Benson Hill. Now, Matt, it's no secret everything I read about your work, sustainability is truly the focus. And I want to ask what inefficiencies did you see that really sparked innovation for Benson Hill?
Matt Crisp: Yeah. Well, thanks for having me on Nicole. So sustainability, you nailed it. And the food production system hasn't necessarily engendered sustainable solutions as much as it's engendered the degree of scale.
Matt Crisp: And so when we look at using the natural genetic diversity of plants, what we're really trying to do is tap into the opportunities to create quality, not just quantity. And in doing so, uniquely we're able to link the interests, the benefits of farmers and growers with the interests and the demands of consumers. And again, in a remarkably productive quantity over quality setting we've had some negative side effects. And that commodity system is great for addressing things like food security, but we don't often talk about nutrition security. And so that was really a wide open opportunity in our minds.
Matt Crisp: I think the major seed companies that have invested in a very small number of crops through innovation and through breeding for now decades haven't really cracked the code of linking up with the consumer interests. They're principally interested in serving their customers, which are the farmers and rightfully farmers desire to get more yield and more farm yield productivity and more profit per acre. But that's profit per acre that we can actually enhance if we can bring consumer-driven value back to the farm at the same time. And so we really dedicated ourselves to tapping into that natural genetic diversity, innovating some crops, some of which have seen innovation in the past, and many of which have not.
Nicole Astra: So let's dig into that a little bit deeper because science and technology is not only changing the food system, but food itself. So I want to talk about CropOS and the foods that you have essentially genetically enhanced for more nutritional value.
Matt Crisp: Right. Well, and so you mentioned CropOS which is really the centerpiece of our strategy as an innovation food tech company, short for Crop Operating System. And it's really a data-driven platform that's helping us tap into that natural genetic diversity. And essentially say, look, even within crops like soybean which is a major focal point for us in the near term, we've got a tremendous amount of genetic diversity that we've left behind over the course of breeding for yield. And so that diversity brings with it enhanced nutritional profiles, better tastes and flavor profiles. It can actually help us. And in some cases reduce the processing that's required because we're going back to the beginning, back to a better seed in the field and producing something that's a more whole ingredients solution, right. Rather than rely on a system to process what it is that it's been given.
Matt Crisp: And so what CropOS is doing is it's looking at the outputs of these crops, the ingredients that they make, the food that they ultimately are formulated to consume. And we're looking at attributes of that, we're looking how does this taste? What is the texture profile? What's it's functionality? And we're linking those pieces of information, phenotypic information sometimes we say, back to the crop, back to the seed. And we're using that to select out of millions or tens of millions of possible breeding combinations, which are the ones that allow us to get from where we are right now to where we want to go.
Matt Crisp: And again, bring in a lot of that genetic diversity that's been left and lost over time. And of course it might go without saying, but that linkage isn't just in the food, but it's back to how this crop performs in the field. In climatic conditions that are rapidly evolving, we need to create more resilience, not just for nutrition in the food system, but for the crops that growers are producing as well.
Nicole Astra: I want to encourage our viewers to head to your website because we could do a whole show around CropOS and what you're doing, what you're building, and there's some really great resources on your websites. I want to point people there. But let me ask the hard question. There is a belief in our industry that soy production is going to decrease as alternative protein production increases and that there are more nutritious options out there. And what do you say to that?
Matt Crisp: Yeah, no, it's a great question. And what I'd point out is when you think about the nutrition profile of soy, there's a reason why it's really globally used in places like Asia, maybe even more so than in Europe and in the United States. When we think about the wholeness of the protein, the amino acid profile that's there, it's actually the best out there.
Matt Crisp: And to boot, this is in part due to historical breeding, it is remarkably productive. I mean, we can produce more soy protein per unit input than any other crop that's out there. Now, to your question though, is it falling out of favor? I think relative to the interest in additional alternative plant proteins, you're going to see other crops come in as we can innovate in them. Yellow peas are a great example, really popularized in the past years. Chickpeas, lentils, these are other alternative sources of protein, which at the surface don't have as whole of a nutritional profile, but they can be augmented with various other sources of protein, rice protein, wheat protein, what have you.
Matt Crisp: And so is soy falling out of favor? We actually don't think so. We're seeing a tremendous amount of demand, but that demand is really catalyzed in our opinion, by the fact that we're not producing your commodity bean, right. The commodity bean has instilled practices in the food system that just holistically are not as environmentally sustainable, that are not as aligned with consumer demands and values. And so we say, look, we can go back to the beginning. We can produce something that is just as productive, just as nutritious. Oh, by the way, it's got a lot less of a water and energy intensive footprint. Well, now you're really starting, I think, to better align with the values of the modern consumer and what they're asking for in the system. The last point I'd say here too is, this isn't just the genetic diversity within a crop as I was alluding with yellow peas and others.
Matt Crisp: There's a lot of genetic diversity that we can learn from in a lot of species outside of the ones that we're working in right now. And that becomes a data question and it becomes a choice answer. We're trying to supply choices, non-GMO choices, but eventually we'll have gene-edited opportunities and use of CRISPR, a new technological approach to further accelerate breeding. But if a consumer has a certain desire or a certain preference for a different type of protein source, I'd love to be able to supply that in the future as well.
Nicole Astra: You are a very busy man, and we appreciate your time today, but before I let you go, I want to congratulate you on a successful Series D raise. I want to find out what that has done for Benson Hill over the last several months and specifically ask, why did you think it was time to go public?
Matt Crisp: Yeah, sure. So last year we raised the Series D as you mentioned, it was a really successful outcome for us in what was a pretty bumpy 2020 for all of us. We were able to bring in new strategic investors. We were able to bring in global investors, sustainability investors, financial and technical focused investors. I mean, it ended up being a remarkable syndicate. And when the dust settled from that, late last year, we looked at the opportunity to gear shift into the next stage of growth, and what would really be required for us to do that and really have the kind of impact that we think we can on the food system. And as a board, there was a consensus view that now's the time, and there's a unique opportunity and the SPAC market to look at an alternative way to go public.
Matt Crisp: And we began meeting with advisors and hit the gas on that in the first quarter. So we've announced publicly the merger and pending merger with Star Peak II, traded today under STPC. And later this quarter, it's our expectation and we've remained optimistic about this outcome to finalize that deal and be listed on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker BHIL. And proceeds from this IPO will really help us accelerate into further commercial scale and a great deal of the technological investment that we really do think is poised to help us modernize, improve the food system.
Nicole Astra: We wish you all the best. Thanks again, Matt.
Matt Crisp: Yes. Thank you so much for having me. Take care.