Matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionisation time-of-flight mass spectrometry (MALDI-ToF MS) has been exploited extensively in the field of microbiology for the characterisation of bacterial species, the detection of biomarkers for early disease diagnosis and bacterial identification. Here, the multivariate data analysis technique of partial least squares-discriminant analysis (PLS-DA) was applied to 'intact cell' MALDI-ToF MS data obtained from Escherichia coli cell samples to determine if such an approach could be used to distinguish between, and characterise, different growth phases. PLS-DA is a technique that has the potential to extract systematic variation from large and noisy data sets by identifying a lower-dimensional subspace that contains latent information. The application of PLS-DA to the MALDI-ToF data obtained from cells at different stages of growth resulted in the successful classification of the samples according to the growth phase of the bacteria cultures. A further outcome of the analysis was that it was possible to identify the mass-to-charge (m/z) ratio peaks or ion signals that contributed to the classification of the samples. The Swiss-Prot/TrEMBL database and primary literature were then used to provisionally assign a small number of these m/z ion signals to proteins, and these tentative assignments revealed that the major contributors from the exponential phase were ribosomal proteins. Additional assignments were possible for the stationary phase and the decline phase cultures where the proteins identified were consistent with previously observed biological interpretation. In summary, the results show that MALDI-ToF MS, PLS-DA and a protein database search can be used in combination to discriminate between 'intact cell' E. coli cell samples in different growth phases and thus could potentially be used as a tool in process development in the bioprocessing industry to enhance cell growth and cell engineering strategies.