While most meatless bacon uses soy and/or wheat protein, Atlast Food Co grows mushroom mycelium in trays via solid state fermentation to create ‘meaty’ fiber- and protein-rich slabs in a matter of days that can be cut and sliced into multiple shapes.
A spinoff from Ecovative, which uses mycelium in packaging, textiles, skincare and apparel, Atlast is raising money for a Series A round, director of marketing Andy Bass told FoodNavigator-USA.
“Right now we’re incubated within Ecovative and our R&D work is being funded by Ecovative, but we’re preparing for a full spin out of Atlast and speaking to a lot of investors in alternative proteins, so we expect to close our Series A round [$10-20m] in late April or early May.”
Atlast is talking to multiple players in the plant-based meat space about using developing products utilizing its mycelium slabs, but does not want to get tied into a financial partnership with a CPG investor that would limit its ability to supply a wider audience, he said: “We want to be a supplier to everyone, not just locked into one company.”
Nutritional composition and flavor
Atlast grows the mycelium on [food grade] “plant-based waste” but can alter its nutritional composition and flavor by adding additional nutrients to the growth medium, said Bass, who believes Atlast's technology can enable plant-based brands to tap into a major segment of the meat category – whole cuts – that has historically been closed off (most plant-based meat products are replicating processed meat products such as burgers, grounds, sausages and chicken nuggets).
“Part of our learnings have been that mycelium translocate vitamins and minerals and proteins from the feedsource into the mycelium fibers, so we’ve been beefing up nutrition that way rather than through adding things to the product after we’ve grown it. The same also applies to some flavors such as garlic.
“With the bacon product, we just have mycelium, salt, sugar, paprika, and liquid aminos [for a smoky flavor] and we cook it in coconut oil.”
Texture can also be adjusted through altering the environmental conditions as the mycelium grows, he said, noting that Atlast’s biofabrication processes enable it to tune the porosity, texture, strength, resilience, and fiber orientation of mycelium based on the desired performance characteristics of the material it is producing.
‘We think we have a really compelling product’
Atlast chose bacon as its ‘hero’ product but is working on multiple products in the plant-based meat space and beyond, said Bass.
“We’ve worked with chefs in the New York area to make dishes with mycelium including pastas, clams casino, a dessert dish where the mycelium was used as a crisp, and a BLT, and when we asked people to give us their feedback and rank the products, bacon was at the top of the list; you can cook it to create a chewy texture or to make it really crispy.
“We’re building up our food expertise, but what we’re really experts in is growing mycelium, so we’ve been working with Mattson to help us on the flavoring side and to help us understand what we need to do to get a product on the shelf, get the right shelf-life and so forth.
“The plant-based bacon alternatives are only about $30-35m of a $9bn market, so we feel there’s a big opportunity here as there hasn’t been a lot of progress made on [meat-free] bacon that really targets meat eaters.
“We’ve been in conversations with plant-based and [regular] bacon companies and people are telling us that it’s best in class, especially on the texture side, although we have more work to do on flavor, which is one of the reasons we’re working with Mattson. But we think we have a really compelling product.”
‘We think our product is awesome and we want to share that with consumers to get them excited too’
While Atlast is a b2b company, it is looking to launch some Atlast branded meatless bacon to the foodservice sector later this year in order to create some buzz and get more consumer feedback, said Bass.
“We’re a b2b provider of mycelium to CPG companies and foodservice companies, but we think our product is awesome and we want to share that with consumers to get them excited too, so we want to showcase what mycelium can do and get our name and branding out there, which we think will also help our b2b business.”
Regulatory status and scale up plans
Atlast is using existing edible mushroom strains which are GRAS (generally recognized as safe) when grown in conventional mushroom farms, but is still evaluating whether an existing GRAS determination for the mushroom cap will be applicable to its process, which uses the roots, said Bass.
“We’re working with consultants and still preparing a GRAS dossier.”
Asked about IP, parent company Ecovative has filed patents “around the production of this tissue type, which is universal to multiple strains of mycelium, as well as specific applications in food and specific process steps one might use to create various types of plant and cell based meats using our scaffolding,” said Bass.
From a manufacturing perspective, the plan is to build capacity to produce 100,000lbs/year in 2020, 1M lbs/year in 2021 and up to 10M lbs/year in 2023 through greenfield and contract production, said the firm, which is talking to four of the nation's five largest mushroom producers about potential growing partnerships.
Cell-based meat scaffolding
Ecovative has created a brand (Excell) focused on providing mycelium scaffolding for cell-based meat companies that want to create more complex 3D structures such as steaks. To date, it has supplied product to several cell-based meat companies looking to seed animal cells onto edible scaffolding that is robust enough to hold its structure but porous enough to be infused with growth media.
“We’ve had some people say it’s amazing,” said Bass, “and others that say my cells just don’t grow on it. Some of it’s due to cell type, some due to cell size, so there’s more work to be done.”