Artificial foods, from microbe to meat, yogurt and chicken nuggets

Artificial foods, from microbe to meat, yogurt and chicken nuggets

Bezos and Gates are backing fake meat and dairy products made from fungus as the next big protein alternative.

As consumers become more accustomed to eating fake-meat burgers that look, cook, and taste like the real thing, a food tech startup backed by Jeff Bezos and Bill Gates is using fungus as a key ingredient to create alternative meat products. .

Chicago-based Nature’s Fynd has raised $158 million in funding from investors including Bezos, Gates and Al Gore. Meat-free breakfast patties and dairy-free cream cheese will hit store shelves later this year, while other lean foods, including hamburgers, chicken-free nuggets and yogurt, are in the works.

According to the Plant Food Manufacturers Association (PBFA), a trade group of more than 200 member companies, the alternative food sector has exploded in 2020, with U.S. retail sales up 27% and total market value reaching $7 billion. Meanwhile, shipments of alternative protein products from foodservice distributors to commercial restaurants rose 60% in April compared to the same period last year, according to research firm NPD Group.

The rising industry is led by Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, whose alternative-meat burgers, chicken and charcuterie devastated the $733 billion U.S. food industry. This prompted Tyson Foods, Perdue, Hormel, Cargill and other traditional meat producers to launch their own products in this category.

Nature’s Fynd was founded in 2012 – originally as Sustainable Bioproducts – by Thomas Jonas and Mark Kozubal, who are now CEO and Chief Scientist, respectively. A few years earlier, Kozubal discovered a microbe, a strain of Fusarium flavolapis, in the volcanic hot springs of Yellowstone National Park. He led the research and development team that turned the microbe into what the company calls Fy, a fermented, versatile, protein-rich source for Nature’s Fynd products.

According to the Good Food Institute, fermentation has been used to make bread, beer, wine, cheese and other products for thousands of years and is now emerging as a key alternative protein platform with great potential.

Established in 1985, Quorn, a British company, has been offering meatless mushroom-based products in the US since 2002. It was acquired by Philippine food manufacturer Monde Nissin in 2015 for about $830 million, according to Reuters. And the field of other potential competitors is growing.

Just as cows, chickens and pigs were domesticated centuries ago as sources of protein, “Now is the time for this second domestication,” Jonas said in a recent interview. “Growing this microbe is an efficient way to produce an equally high-quality protein.”

Completing the evolution, Nature’s Fynd is building a 35,000-square-foot factory on the site of former stockyards in Chicago, the epicenter of the 20th century meatpacking industry.

In addition to fungi, Nature’s Fynd also represents the sustainable food movement, whose mission is to reduce the carbon footprint of global food systems, which generate 34% of climate change-related greenhouse gas emissions.

“The challenge for this and future generations is to learn how to do more with less,” Jonas said. “Because with eight billion people, the Earth is not getting bigger, its resources are depleting, and climate change is making it even more difficult to find land to grow crops to feed animals. The goal of our new protein system is to increase the efficiency of the entire protein chain.”

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