Cooks Venture raises $10 million in Series A funding

Cooks Venture has raised $10 million in Series A funding led by SJF Ventures and Cultivian Sandbox, with participation from Larry Schwartz and John Roulac.

At its most basic level, Cooks Venture provides a proprietary breed of chicken to grocery stores for consumption. The company also lists Fresh Direct and direct online sales to its distribution channels. But it’s far more complex than that.

For one, Cooks Venture spent years researching the genetic lines of chickens to develop its own breed of heirloom chickens. Why? Cooks Venture chickens grow more slowly, can live in a wider range of climates, get sick less frequently, and most importantly, can thrive on a much more diverse diet than your average chicken.

These features breed (see what I did there?) their own benefits. For one, this proprietary breed (called Pioneer breed) can be sold to emerging nations that perhaps can’t afford to build state-of-the-art temperature-controlled facilities or don’t have access to tons of corn (but do have access to yucca or quinoa) for feed. Cooks Venture also color sexes its chickens, making it easier for a farm without advanced infrastructure to quickly tell the difference between male and female chickens, which have different uses.

Secondly, feed for livestock is a huge source of demand on the agricultural industry, but much of that demand is for a small number of grains, like corn.

With Cooks Venture Pioneer chickens, which can eat a wide variety of foods, farmers can practice regenerative agriculture and run a biodiverse farm with a reliable place to sell those yields.

As part of the fundraising deal, Cooks Venture has also partnered with FoodID.

The platform tests for the presence of antibiotics and other adulterants in near real time, providing a solution to the problem of label fraud.

Cooks Venture founder and CEO Matt Wadiak (cofounder of Blue Apron) explained that the USDA runs what is called a follicle test, “and one of the issues [they’ve] determined with this kind of testing is that the thresholds for those tests will never lead to a positive test.”

He said the same animal (that wouldn’t test positive in the USDA’s test) would be found to test positive for various proteins and antibiotics when submitted to FoodID’s mass spectrometer test. Moreover, your basic mass spectrometer test takes a few weeks to offer results, which by then means that the flock has already been slaughtered and is in the midst of being processed and sent off to stores. The FoodID test can be done in near real time.

Wadiak says that food fraud is one of the biggest challenges to Cooks Venture, which goes above and beyond to provide healthy chickens to customers. If other products can simply fake it, it’s all the more difficult for Cooks Venture to stand out at the point of sale.

Cooks Venture says that, through this partnership, it’s the first company in America to test for synthetic inputs and the only company that can independently validate that it never uses antibiotics and provides verified non-GMO feed to its birds.

The company has significantly expanded since its $12 million fundraise in September 2019, serving broad swaths of California, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Seattle, Oregon, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the Northeast.

The Cooks Venture team is made up of about 240 people, 42 percent of whom are female and 52 percent of whom are people of color. The leadership team, made up of 11 people, includes six women and two people of color.