US cocoa-free chocolate producer Voyage Foods has raised US$52M in funding, The Star reported from a Bloomberg news report.

The California food tech start-up, which had now raised a total of US$94M, had also signed a distribution agreement with global agribusiness giant Cargill, the 8 May report said.

Voyage Foods’ chocolate is made with blended vegetable oils, sugar, grape seeds and sunflower protein. The company’s portfolio also includes a peanut-free spread from a mix of seeds, sugar, legumes and palm oil, a hazelnut-free Nutella-style spread and bean-free coffee.

According to company founder Adam Maxwell, there is a growing market for its products due to increasing demand for commodities such as coffee beans and cocoa and extreme weather disrupting production, reducing availability.

Coffee and cocoa alternatives could help to bridge the gap between supply and demand, Maxwell said in an interview, with substitutes becoming “a material per cent of these global commodities as the world evolves”.

The company markets its products to consumer goods and food service companies as substitutes for the ingredients. Since last year, Walmart had also stocked its products and sales were growing annually.

As part of its plans to scale up its business, Voyage was building a new facility in the US Midwest, The Star wrote.

Commenting on the distribution agreement signed between Cargill and Voyage, Cargill’s category director of chocolate confectionery and ice cream Anne Mertens-Hoyng said Voyage’s products “offer more stable pricing and reliance on raw materials that are less subject to market volatility”.

While plant-based meat replacements are new on the market and cell-based ones can be expensive and difficult to produce, cocoa replacements have several advantages, according to Gil Horsky, founding partner at venture capital company Flora Ventures and the former head of Mondelez International’s venture capital arm.

They could replace more expensive cocoa and chocolate was simpler and easier to mimic than meat, Horsky said.

In addition, rather than replacing chocolate completely, the idea was to fill the gap between supply and demand, he added.

Although Flora had not invested in a chocolate alternative to date, Horsky said the company had plans to do so.

Meanwhile, other start-ups were also creating substitute chocolate products, the report said. For example, Italy-based Foreverland was using carob as a replacement, while London’s WNWN Food Labs was selling cocoa-free chocolate bars and Israel’s Celleste Bio was using cell-culture technology to produce cocoa powder and cocoa butter.