Meat… from mycelium? Fungi fueled startups Meati Foods and Atlast Food Co raise cash to make Holy Grail of alt meat: whole cuts

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Pictures courtesy of Meati Foods and Atlast Food Co
Pictures courtesy of Meati Foods and Atlast Food Co

Related tags Meati Foods Atlast Food alternative protein

Meati Foods and Atlast Food Co - two fungi-fueled startups blazing a trail in the alternative meat market with ‘whole cut’ products made from mycelium, the fibrous root structure of mushrooms – have both announced significant funding this week as they scale up production ahead of large-scale commercial launches.

Unlike most players in the meat alternative space, who are making processed products such as burgers, sausages and grounds, typically from extruded soy, pea or wheat, Green Island, NY-based Atlast Food Co​ and Boulder, CO-based Meati Foods​​ are growing slabs of fungi-based meat that address a largely untapped segment of the market: whole cuts (think steak, chicken breasts, bacon etc).

Atlast Food Co has announced a $40m Series A round led by Viking Global Investors* to fund commercial-scale production of whole cut fungi-based meat to b2b customers and expand distribution of its consumer brand MyEats; while Meati Foods has raised $18m to scale up production ahead of a nationwide consumer launch in 2022.

Atlast Food Co: We're addressing a segment that's really very underserved in the alternative protein space

Atlast Food Co – which launched ‘MyBacon’ at a co-op in Albany to test consumer reaction late last year​ – says its latest cash injection will enable it to build ‘Farm One,’ an 80,000sq ft mycelium production facility next to its New York-based HQ that will become operational in 2022 to serve b2b customers.

A spinoff from Ecovative Design​, ​which uses mycelium in packaging, textiles, skincare and apparel, Atlast has already entered into multiple b2b partnerships and sold its planned capacity through 2023, ​president Stephen Lomnes told FoodNavigator-USA.

Farm One will support millions of pounds of ingredient production, but the longer-term plan is to bring hundreds of millions of pounds of this ingredient to market by 2025. And we're on a very fast path to be able to do that.”

He added: “The big things that have resonated with our particular investors in this space is that we're addressing a segment that's really very underserved in the alternative protein space. They are really no credible options for addressing whole cuts, which accounts for something like 80% of the market.”

Atlast slabs
Atlast’s mycelium grow in layers just 30 microns thick, which is close to the fiber size of muscle meat, says the company, which says it can fine-tune the porosity, texture, strength, resilience, and fiber orientation by adjusting various parameters. Picture credit: Atlast Food Co

Cost competitive

The mycelium are grown over several days in trays via solid state fermentation to create meaty slabs that can be cut and sliced into multiple shapes. As oyster mushrooms are a wood digesting species, they can be grown on byproducts from the paper industry along with some additional nutrients.

“When we step back and look at the cost per pound of production, we’re already at a cost position that's competitive to or better than pork belly slabs.”

Mycelium = mushroom

While most consumers probably haven’t heard of mycelium, and don’t recognize the white foamy-looking slabs of ‘meat’ on the website as very ‘mushroom-like,’ mycelium are still mushrooms, said Lohmes, pointing to the strapline on Atlast’s website​: Mycelium = mushroom.

Eben Bayer Ecovative CEO
“We’ve designed our process to fit into existing white button mushroom farms with beds 100 feet long and 10 or 20 feet wide. So you’ll get 100-foot long slabs of mycelium meat, and we’ll go in and slice it into pork belly-like sections that can go into a high-speed meat slicer, and we’ve tested that, and so you can get to economics that are very competitive with pork belly.” Eben Bayer, CEO, Atlast. Picture credit: Atlast Food Co

They are simply cultivated in such a way that they don’t produce fruiting bodies (dome shaped cups), but instead form fibrous slabs, he said.

Atlast​ is using edible oyster mushroom strains which are GRAS (generally recognized as safe) when grown in conventional mushroom farms, and are substantially​ similar on a molecular and structural basis​, so do not require a new GRAS determination, claimed Lomnes.

Meat made to order

As for the consumer proposition, mycelium isn’t an extracted protein isolate, or something produced by a genetically engineered microbe, or a novel micro-organism being harvested for the first time, but something we already know, understand, and eat, he claimed.

Nature has already created some of the most compelling full cut alternative meats in the form of wild specialty gourmet mushrooms that consumers have been consuming for millennia. What we’ve done is figure out how to domesticate them and grow them very rapidly so instead of taking months, we grow them in a matter of days into these large vegetative slabs instead of mushroom shaped formats with the fruiting bodies.

You literally cannot tell the difference from a compositional perspective between that and the fruiting body of an oyster mushroom.”

MyBacon: Six ingredients

From a culinary perspective, the white fibrous slabs are a great medium for multiple kinds of meat from bacon to chicken to beef steak, he claimed.

So to go from the raw ingredient to our bacon product, we use just six ingredients: mushroom mycelium, coconut oil, organic cane sugar, sea salt, natural flavors and beet juice for color.”

MyBacon from Atlast Food Co
“I’ve been stocking MyEats’ MyBacon since November 2020 and it continues to sell out every week, usually in 48 hours. The product tastes so much like bacon we decided to sell it alongside the real thing rather than with the other plant-based ground meat…” Mo Durr, Meat Department Manager, Honest Weight Food Co-op (an Albany, NY based grocer and the first retailer to stock MyBacon) Picture credit: Atlast Food Co

Meati Foods: Urban ag for protein…

Meati Foods – which raised $28m last year​ and expects ‘limited launches’ this year – says its latest cash injection ($18m in debt financing from Silicon Valley Bank and Trinity Capital Inc), will enable it to produce millions of pounds of product in a production facility dubbed the ‘Urban Ranch’ by next year.  

At scale, it will be able to produce the meat equivalent of 4,500 cows every 24 hours, said the firm, which was founded in 2019 by CEO Tyler Huggins and CTO Justin Whiteley and grows its mycelium in bioreactors using submerged fermentation technology.

Our one-of-a-kind production process is nearly perfected, and now the challenge is making whole cut mycelium-based meats at the scale required to make Meati available to people across the country​,” said VP of Finance Tim Thomson. “Our team is on the right path and we’re confident about our aggressive go-to-market timeline​.”

According to CEO Dr Tyler Huggins, who spoke to us last year, Meati is “extremely efficient to produce, with a very similar amino acid profile to beef, plus it has the fiber and vitamins and minerals you only find in plants, so probably it’s one of the most nutritious single ingredients out there.”​  

Meati: ​We have a PDCAAS score of 1, which is similar to eggs and milk’

Inherently high in protein and fiber, the fungi can be grown highly-efficiently in fermentation tanks fed with "a cheap carbon source like sugar,​​" Huggins explained.

 “It’s got no inherent flavor and it’s bright white with long fibrous filaments that mimic muscle structure. It’s also really high in protein. We’re at greater than 60% by weight protein and we have a PDCAAS score of 1, which is similar to eggs and milk; there are few single plant-based proteins like this."​​

Tyler Huggins cropped
Meati Foods CEO Dr Tyler Huggins: 'We’re at greater than 60% by weight protein and we have a PDCAAS score of 1...' Picture credit: Meati Foods

When it comes to growing conditions, he said, “We’re using a submerged fermentation process ​[whereas Atlast uses solid state fermentation, growing its mycelium in big trays], so we’re growing our mycelia in a process similar to brewing beer in fermentation tanks, so the speed of growth is incredible, we’re talking about a 18-hour batch time.​​

“As we harvest it we can realign the fibers in different orientations, making chicken breasts or beefsteak, which is harder if you’re using solid state approach. We harvest using a mechanical process, and it’s a whole food, so we’re not extracting proteins.”​​

“People are looking for something new and exciting, and I think we’re going to see a whole new category of fungi-based products, which is awesome.”​​

*Other backers in Atlast's Series A include 40 North, AiiM Partners, Senator Investment Group, Stray Dog Capital, Footprint Coalition, and leaders and founders of food and CPG companies, including Applegate, Stonyfield, and Whole Foods.  

4.5oz of Meati steak offers 25g complete protein, more than one third of daily fiber needs, and contains essential vitamins and minerals, claims the company. Picture credit: Meati Foods

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