Bonumose Inc., a Charlottesville startup specializing in table sugar alternatives, has raised $2 million toward a $10 million funding round after German flavor and fragrances producer Symrise AG signed a minority investment agreement with the company.
“The strategic investment from Symrise is part of a larger funding round that will be used for increasing sales, production volume, products in the product line and personnel,” said Bonumose CEO Ed Rogers.
Bonumose traces its origin back to 2016 as a venture to commercialize the enzymes innovation work of the company’s chief scientific officer, Daniel Wichelecki. While working at Cell-Free Bioinnovation in Blacksburg, he discovered a way to produce tagatose, a natural sweetener, from cornstarch. Typically, the simple sugar is only found in small amounts in nature like in dairy products, which has made it expensive to produce.
Bonumose, which was founded in 2021, bought the intellectual property rights to Wichelecki’s process from Cell-Free, and now the company’s patented production method seeks to drive down the cost of manufacturing tagatose as well as other rare sugars such as allulose. Rogers said so far, they’ve brought down the price of tagatose about five times from its selling price out of China and expects that scaling production will bring it further down.
In 2022, Bonumose built a new lab and manufacturing plant in Charlottesville and currently has around 30 employees. Rogers declined to disclose revenue.
The main hurdle for the company as far as scaling has been what it calls an “outdated labeling mentality” held in the United States in regard to rare sugars. In a May 2022 ruling, the Food and Drug Administration denied Bonumose’s 2018 petition to exempt tagatose from the “Added Sugars” designation on the basis that its calorie count, 1.5 per gram, is too high.
“The FDA does not dispute any of the health data about tagatose, but so far has purposely taken a position that is contrary to consumer health,” said Rogers. “We hope a reorganized Human Foods division within the FDA will rectify this big mistake.”
Bonumose claims that tagatose is 92% as sweet as conventional table sugar but only has 38% of the calories. Its ability to hold moisture is also similar to regular sugar, meaning it can attract water for purposes like baking. Bonumose markets tagatose as being safer for teeth, good for gut health and having a low glycemic index.
Despite the resistance from the FDA, the commitment from Symrise AG opens new possibilities for Bonumose, said Rogers.
“Symrise is one of the top four global flavor and fragrance companies. It has had a long appreciation for the taste and flavor benefits of tagatose going back 20-plus years,” Rogers said. “Symrise also has strong operations in other industries that are relevant to tagatose and other ingredients Bonumose plans to make, such as the pet food and animal feed industry.”
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