‘Our food culture is changing at a rapid pace…’ Hormel Foods teams up with The Better Meat Co to develop meat alternatives featuring Rhiza mycoprotein

By Elaine Watson contact

- Last updated on GMT

Rhiza from the fermenter: 'It looks a bit like chicken...' Picture credit: The Better Meat Co
Rhiza from the fermenter: 'It looks a bit like chicken...' Picture credit: The Better Meat Co

Related tags: Hormel foods, Better Meat Co, Paul Shapiro, Mycoprotein, fungi, Microbial fermentation, Rhiza

Hormel Foods is dipping its toes further into the meat alternatives space via its venturing arm 199 Ventures, which is teaming up with The Better Meat Co. to bring new products to market featuring the latter’s Rhiza mycoprotein ingredient, a filamentous fungi-based meat alternative “that looks a bit like chicken.”

Launched in 2019, 199 Ventures​ connects emerging food companies and entrepreneurs with Hormel Foods to build strategic partnerships in four areas: Alternative proteins (meat alternatives, ingredients); food technology (novel ingredients, next gen food production, food safety, sustainability); fueling foods (sustaining snacking, personalized nutrition); and new business models (direct to consumer).

Under the deal, Hormel – which sells pea- and soy-based pizza toppings under the Happy Little Plants​ brand – will work with The Better Meat Co to develop a range of products featuring Rhiza, The Better Meat Co’s founder Paul Shapiro told FoodNavigator-USA.

“[Branding is] TBD.Right now we're focused on just showcasing the versatility of Rhiza in numerous applications. All the products will contain Rhiza, and some may include blends of Rhiza with plants.

As a global branded food company, we understand our food culture is changing at a rapid pace and people are curious and willing to try great tasting, plant-based proteins​,” added Fred Halvin, VP of corporate development at Hormel Foods. “We are excited to work with The Better Meat Co. team to continue to offer delicious and convenient mycoprotein and plant-based protein products.”

'​Hormel has early access to Rhiza to start product innovation today'

happy little plants
Hormel has a range of soy- and pea-based pizza toppings under the Happy Little Plants brand

'Asked about when the products might hit the market, Shapiro told us: “There are no guarantees in life, but it often takes larger companies some time to go from concept to commercialization. We're getting ready to build our full-scale fermentation plant soon, and will then be able to provide large quantities to major food companies seeking to create the next generation of animal-free meat.”

As for the ‘exclusive’ nature of the partnership, he said: “Demand for Rhiza right now far outstrips our ability to supply it. Hormel now has early access to Rhiza to start product innovation today.”

Speaking at a recent roundtable event​organized by Rabobank’s FoodBytes! platform, Bryan Kreske, General Manager at 199 Ventures, said that when it came to alternative proteins, Hormel had decided to open “our aperture to look at partners, emerging companies, startups, and entrepreneurs in, what I would sayare the generation two, three, and four in alternative proteins to leverage the work they’re doing and partner with us to find ways to collaborate and speed up our R&D efforts.”​

He added: “There’s just some stuff that we don’t have the experience or capability to do​..."

Neutral-tasting, whole food ingredient with 43% protein, PDCAAS score 0.96

Rhiza better meat co Chicken Cutlet
Pictured: Mycoprotein steak featuring Better Meat Co's ingredient. Picture credit: Better Meat Co

The Better Meat Co – which is best-known for providing plant-based meat enhancers – recently completed​ construction of a demo-scale 13,000sq ft mycoprotein fermentation facility in Sacramento to produce Rhiza, which is claimed to “work phenomenally both in ground meat form and whole muscle form.”

Shapiro has not yet shared the name of the micro-organism or confirmed how Rhiza will be labeled on ingredients lists, but says it is a type of filamentous fungi that feeds on sorghum- and potato-based feedstock to produce a pale-colored, neutral-tasting ingredient “that looks a bit like chicken​” with 43% allergen-friendly protein by dry weight (PDCAAS score of 0.96).

With a fibrous, meaty texture that does not require any significant downstream processing or extrusion to serve as an attractive meat alternative, Rhiza is a non GMO whole food fermented ingredient which can be made to order and harvested within hours, claimed Shapiro, who said the company does “add some plant fibers ​[to Rhiza] some times for textural modification.”

‘No fractionation, no isolation, and no extrusion…’

Rhiza - which will be “cheaper than beef, but not yet cheaper than chicken​” – is similar to Quorn in that it’s from the fungi family, but is “much meatier​,” Shapiro said.

It’s a simple thing that they enjoy doing, which is converting carbohydrates into proteins. So they take these low protein items (potato, sorghum), feast on them, and convert them into high protein products. The only processing we do is removing water, and possibly shredding it depending on the application. And then we might dry it or add oil or flavor, but this is a whole food.”

By contrast​plant-based meat alternatives are less efficient, he said: “Take pea protein. You've got to grow peas in a field, harvest them, dry them, turn them into powder, fractionate it to get rid of the fiber and the fat, and then isolate it so you get, say, an 80% protein powder, which doesn't have the texture of meat, so then you’ve got to put it through an extruder, which is going to use high amounts of heat and pressure to change the structure of the protein to make it more meaty.

“Whereas, what we do is produce a meat textured food through fermentation, with no fractionation, no isolation, and no extrusion, and it has a much meatier texture than the current plant proteins, and a better nutritional profile.”

‘Our organism is not new to the human diet’

While some other companies such as MycoTechnology​ ​ are using mycelium to ferment pea and rice protein, the end product in that case is fermented pea and rice protein, not mycoprotein, said Shapiro, who is in the process of putting together a GRAS determination for Rhiza, which will be submitted to the FDA.

What they're doing is using fermentation to improve plant protein. What we're doing is allowing the entirety of those feedstock ingredients to be consumed.”

Asked about regulatory hurdles, he said: “We don't anticipate any concerns. Unlike Quorn or Nature’s Fynd (both using organisms new to the food supply), ours is an organism that has centuries of human consumption history, just in a different format than this; our organism is not new to the human diet.”

Interested in meat, dairy, and seafood alternatives?

Checkout FoodNavigator-USA's FREE 'Disrupting the Meat and Dairy Case​' 3-part series:

Oct 13​​ (10am PT/1pm ET)​: Where next for meat alternatives? From plant-based burgers to fungi-fueled bacon -​ featuring Kroger, Atlast Food Co, Nature's Fynd, Nowadays, Oterra, and Roquette​

Oct 20​​(10am PT/1pm ET)​: Where next for dairy alternatives? From oatmilk to ‘real’ cheese (minus the cows)​​ - featuring Danone, NotCo, BioMilk, Change Foods, RSSL, and CP Kelco

Oct 27​​(10am PT/1pm ET)​: Where next for seafood alternatives? From tuna to shrimp​​ - featuring the Good Food Institute, Good Catch, Ocean Hugger, New Wave Foods, and Aqua Cultured Foods.

Find out more and REGISTER HERE.

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