Discovered by co-founder Mark Kozubal as a microbe from volcanic hot springs in Yellowstone National Park, Fy is the fermented, versatile, protein-rich spring that Nature’s Fynd and CEO Thomas Jonas hope will become the next big thing in alternative meat and dairy products .

Finds of nature

As consumers feel more comfortable eating fake meat burgers that look, cook, and taste like the real thing, a food tech start-up backed by Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates is using mushrooms as its main ingredient to create alternative meat dishes.

Chicago-based Nature’s Fynd has raised $ 158 million in funding from investors such as Bezos, Gates, and Al Gore. The company’s meatless breakfast patties and hamburgers, dairy-free cream cheese and yogurt, and the company’s chicken nuggets are slated to hit grocery store shelves this year.

According to the Plant-Based Foods Association (PBFA), a trade group with more than 200 member companies, the alternative food sector skyrocketed in 2020, US retail sales rose 27%, and total market value rose to $ 7 billion. According to research firm NPD Group, shipments of scrap protein products from food services to commercial restaurants rose 60% in April year over year.

The emerging industry is led by Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, whose alternative meat burgers, chicken and sausage products have turned the US $ 733 billion food industry on its head. That has led Tyson Foods, Purdue, Hormel, Cargill and other traditional meat producers to launch their own products in this category.

Some alternative meat sales growth slowed amid the pandemic and restaurant closings. A recent report by JP Morgan claims that Dunkin ‘ditched its breakfast sandwich with a Beyond sausage patty from most restaurants, although no company has confirmed it (Dunkin’ and Beyond Meat have called back at press time.) Nevertheless, according to the consulting firm AT Kearney, a market share of 60% of global meat sales is forecast for plant-based and cultured foods by 2040.

Losing 1% of its total market is unlikely to shake meat producers very much, but eyebrows should be raised when the cost of old meat is falling. In mid-June, Beyond Meat sold for $ 6.40 a pound, getting closer to the price of traditional beef and making some headway on a long-term goal for Beyond Meat CEO Ethan Brown to achieve cost parity with traditional meat. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, beef pies sold for $ 5.26 a pound. Impossible Foods cut its restaurant prices twice last year, and in February the company cut retail prices by 20% and lowered the price of two quarter-pound patties to $ 5.49.

Nature’s Fynd was co-founded in 2012 – initially as Sustainable Bioproducts – by Thomas Jonas and Mark Kozubal, today Chief Executive and Chief Science Officer respectively. A few years earlier, Kozubal had unearthed a microbe, Fusarium strain flavolapis, from volcanic hot springs in Yellowstone National Park. He led a research and development team that formulated the microbe into what the company calls Fy, the fermented, versatile, protein-rich source for Nature’s Fynd products.

Fermentation has been used in the manufacture of bread, beer, wine, cheese, and other products for millennia and is now emerging as a major alternative protein platform with great potential to balance science with entrepreneurship, politics, and investment, according to the Good Food Institute. Still, Nature’s Fynd has some catching up to do. The British company Quorn, founded in 1985, has been selling its meat-free mushroom-based products in the USA since 2002. It was acquired by Filipino food manufacturer Monde Nissin for about $ 830 million in 2015, according to Reuters. And the field of other potential competitors is growing.

I don’t know anyone over 40 who says, ‘I should eat more meat.’

Thomas Jonas

Co-founder and CEO

Just as cows, chickens and pigs were domesticated as sources of protein centuries ago, “now is the time for this second domestication,” Jonas said in a recent interview. “Growing this microbe is an efficient way of making protein as well.”

Nature’s Fynd completes the evolutionary cycle and is building a 35,000 square foot factory on the site of the former Union Stockyards in Chicago, the epicenter of the 20th century meat packaging industry.

The climate-conscious food consumer

In addition to mushrooms, Nature’s Fynd is also a representative of the Sustainable Eating Movement, whose mission is to reduce the carbon footprint of global food systems, which are responsible for 34% of greenhouse gas emissions related to climate change.

“The challenge for this and future generations is to achieve more with less,” said Jonas. “Because with eight billion people the earth is not getting any bigger, its resources are dwindling and climate change is making it even more difficult to find land to grow crops for animal feed. The math just doesn’t work. The aim of our new protein system is to increase the efficiency of the entire protein chain. “

Consumer adoption is of course paramount to Nature’s Fynd’s business model. In February, the company launched a limited, direct-to-consumer tasting of its pies and cream cheese exclusively online. Chief Marketing Officer Karuna Rawal said the formal launch will focus on retailers initially, followed by food service partnerships. “It’s important that we start with retail and can tell our story to the consumer in a way that we can control the narration,” she said.

With that in mind, Nature’s Fynd packaging is adorned with an “Fy” badge, a la “Intel Inside”, to create brand recognition and loyalty.

With $ 158 million in funding from Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Al Gore and other investors, Nature’s Fynd meatless breakfast patties and hamburgers, non-dairy cream cheese and yogurt, and chicken-free nuggets are slated to hit grocery store shelves later this year.

Finds of nature

Unsurprisingly, the greatest appeal for alternative meat products is with younger consumers.

“Gen Zers and Millennials are the biggest buyers in plants,” said Sabina Vyas, director of strategic initiatives and communications at PBFA. “When your purchasing power grows, [food] Companies will have to adapt accordingly. “

63 percent of US consumers between the ages of 24 and 39 believe their nutritional needs can be fully met with a plant-based diet, according to a study by One Poll.

“I don’t know anyone over 40 who says, ‘I should eat more meat,'” said Jonas.

Chris Rivest, senior climate tech investor at Breakthrough Energy Ventures, which was founded in 2016 by Gates and a coalition of private investors concerned about the effects of climate change, said food is a commodity whose purchases are based on taste, nutrition and Costs.

He’s a fan of the mushroom and says he was “blown away” by products he tasted (Gates was similarly impressed during a “60 Minute” broadcast) and its nutritional value.

According to the company, the vegan protein contains all 20 amino acids, including the 9 essential amino acids, and a good proportion of fiber, vitamins and minerals, without cholesterol or trans fats. It says Fy has one-tenth the fat of ground beef and 50% more protein than tofu; twice as much protein as raw peas.

Rivest also believes the company can compete on costs. “We believe Nature’s Fynd model can undercut the cost of traditional protein sources,” he said. “That really sold us on this occasion.”

As with many startups, size will be critical to Nature’s Fynd’s success.

“We expect great demand for our a [manufacturing] So we have to act quickly and raise additional capital to move forward, “said Jonas.” We are competing with the meat industry that has been working on its supply chain for 300 years, so we have a lot of catching up to do. . “