May 19, 2022

PARIS-EUROPE

Something Inside of Us Sleeps, The Sleeper Must Awaken

Why fermented meat analogs will steal the spotlight in 2022

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series on the trends that will shape the food and beverage industry in 2022.

Nature’s Fynd, which creates what it describes as a nutritious and versatile food protein through fermentation from a fungus found in a volcanic spring at Yellowstone National Park, has an unconventional brand story for a food company.

Chief Marketing Officer Karuna Rawal said the company has been doing research for years to gauge what consumers think of its origins, products and messaging. Before the pandemic, more than half of consumers said they were interested in food from the company, Rawal said. But as the pandemic has continued, the percentage of interested consumers has increased by double digits.

“I think people have been exposed a lot more to what’s happening in our environment,” Rawal said. “I think people are thinking about the connection between their food and climate change a lot more than we have in the past. I think all of those forces are combining to make this a prime opportunity.” 

Nature’s Fynd’s products — which currently include two varieties each of sausage patties and cream cheese — debuted in a few markets last year, but the company has reached the scale and capacity needed for a national launch this year. Several other companies that use fermentation to make meat analogs are also preparing for widespread 2022 product launches, including Meati Foods, Aqua Cultured Foods and Atlast Food

And Quorn, whose products predate the founding of plant-based meat giants Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, has plans for a new push this year that USA President Judd Zusel hopes will make it the leader in chicken alternatives. Its process of using fermentation to create a unique protein can make analogs with a more meat-like profile.

Quorn’s ChiQin Cutlets

Courtesy of Quorn

 

“You get the flavor, the texture, the same taste profile as real chicken, and that for us is a huge differentiator, and that’s why we feel like it really does create the best-tasting chicken alternative products,” he said.

Even Big Food is looking at fermented analogs for future meat-free products. Last year, Hormel’s venture arm, 199 Ventures, entered into an exclusive partnership with fermented meat analog maker The Better Meat Co. to develop meat alternative products and bring them to market.

Fermentation is old technology that humans have relied upon for millennia for food and beverages including beer, kimchi and yogurt. But the latest spin on it will bring new types of alternative products to consumers. Products made through fermentation also have an extremely low carbon footprint, can be produced quickly, and are relatively inexpensive. 

“Now we’re seeing an influx of alternative protein products that allow that sector to provide more choice to consumers,” said Emma Ignaszewski, corporate engagement project manager at The Good Food Institute. “And I think that’s quite a beautiful thing, that consumers are starting to have more and more choices in the alternative protein space.”

Why create analogs through fermentation?

While plant-based food is almost synonymous with meat, dairy and egg alternatives, it isn’t the only player in that game. GFI has called fermentation the “next pillar” of alternative protein. Through the process, companies can make protein material for meat and dairy analogs — known as biomass fermentation — as well as proteins identical to those created by animals that are used to create ingredients such as dairy and egg — known as precision fermentation.

GFI tracks startups in the fermentation space, and issued a report on the state of the industry in 2020. Ignaszewski said biomass fermentation companies represented eight of the 14 companies founded in 2019. In 2020, precision fermentation companies made up nine of 13 new players in the space. And now, the products from those startups are preparing to hit the market — and targeting a much wider audience than vegetarians and vegans.

“The proliferation of fermentation as a technology is paralleling the alternative protein industry’s new strategy of appealing to omnivore consumers,” Ignaszewski said.

Meati, which was founded in 2016, uses fermented mushroom mycelium — the fungi’s root structure under the ground — to make meat analogs. The company says its products can mimic the appearance, texture and taste of actual meat, but without the environmental, health and financial costs of a meal that came from an animal.

Co-founder and CEO Tyler Huggins said that Meati wants to create products that meat eaters will enjoy, with the same taste and experience as meat. But he said the company’s mission, realized through its products, goes farther than that.

“It had to be whole food nutrition, meaning minimally processed,” Huggins said. “This isn’t a man-made product using a bunch of ingredients that are off the shelf that make food together. This is really nature harnessed, and that’s really a key differentiator from us.”

A steak analog from Meati

Courtesy of Meati

 

Last year was a key period of ramping up for the Colorado-based startup. In July, Meati raised $50 million to expand and prepare to launch its whole-cut beef and chicken later this year.

Huggins, who grew up around his family’s bison farm in Nebraska, calls Meati’s fermentation facilities “ranches.” The company has operated its “pilot ranch,” which can produce the equivalent of a cow overnight, for some time. Some of the funds raised last summer are to build out Meati’s nearly 80,000-square-foot “mega ranch.” This facility, which Huggins said will start production in the second half of 2022, will have a final output capacity of 15 million pounds of product a year when it is completed.

“That’s where the scale gets to the point where we can get national distribution and really set the stage to be the market leader,” Huggins said.

Meati’s products are primed to hit grocery shelves and foodservice menus later this year, Huggins said. He couldn’t go into detail, but said Meati is working with groups and people known in the industry — including thought leaders in the food and nutrition space and “like-minded brands.” Some partnerships — starting with foodservice — will be announced in the coming months, Huggins said.


“We’re seeing an influx of alternative protein products that allow that sector to provide more choice to consumers. And I think that’s quite a beautiful thing, that consumers are starting to have more and more choices in the alternative protein space.”

Emma Ignaszewski

Corporate engagement project manager, The Good Food Institute


Nature’s Fynd, which was founded as Sustainable Bioproducts a decade ago, also spent last year getting ready to have a huge 2022. In July, it raised $350 million — the second largest single funding haul of any food tech company last year — to help lay the groundwork for this year. Its sausage and cream cheese analog products went up for sale, first as an extremely limited offering online, and then later in the year at regional grocery store chains Berkeley Bowl, Mariano’s and Fairway Market. 

Rawal with Nature’s Fynd said the company has plans to accelerate that expansion, growing its presence at these chains and expanding into other geographic locations. Nature’s Fynd hopes to have “a pretty significant presence” by the end of 2022, she said.

Nature’s Fynd uses biomass fermentation of the fungus Fusarium strain flavolapis to create a protein it calls Fy, which is used as an ingredient. CEO and Co-Founder Thomas Jonas has said it has diverse application potential in food and beverage.