This month, Chicago-based startup Nature’s Fynd (formerly Sustainable Bioproducts) raised $45 million in venture debt and equipment financing to bring its innovative vegan products—made with the help of volcanic microbes found in Yellowstone National Park—to market. In 2008, Nature’s Fynd co-founder Mark Kozubal, PhD, stumbled upon the microbe while researching fungal life forms that can survive extreme conditions for NASA. Since then, Kozubal has been isolating the microorganisms, feeding them glycerin and starches, and fermenting them in a laboratory setting to create “Fy,” an animal-free complete protein that contains all nine amino acids and is high in fiber and vitamins. The startup is using Fy to create products such as nuggets, hot dogs, hamburgers, and more.
From microbes to meat
The use of microbial fermentation to create meat and dairy analogues is highly efficient as it requires less land, no soil, and no animal slaughter and can produce protein around the clock, whereas meat production is tied to animal biology. “There is this growing realization that microbes are pretty damn efficient. They make great protein and they do it really fast, you don’t have to plant a seed and harvest it six months later, and you can completely control the environment,” Nature’s Fynd CEO Thomas Jones told Foodnavigator-USA. “There is a revolution going on in protein production and in the future I don’t think people care if the ‘cells’ are from cows or microbes. No one is attached to killing cows, as [Impossible Foods founder] Pat Brown would say, they just like the meat.”
The startup—which has raised $113 million to date—is currently working with retailers to determine which products to commercialize and plans to release new meat and dairy alternatives in 2021.
Food advocacy group The Good Food Institute recently named “fermentation” as a third pillar, next to plant-based and cell-based, in the animal alternatives industry, and its picking up steam. In July, California-based startup Perfect Day—which uses microbial fermentation to create dairy-identical products—closed a $300 million Series C round, marking the largest investment made in the fermentation industry to date. Over in Belgium, Jaap Korteweg and Niko Koffeman —who sold their meat brand The Vegetarian Butcher to multinational conglomerate Unilever in 2018—launched startup Those Vegan Cowboys earlier this year with the mission of creating next-level vegan cheese through microbial fermentation. Currently, Those Vegan Cowboys are on a “bounty hunt” which offers a €2.5 million ($2.9 million) reward for anyone that finds a specific strain of fungus that feeds on grass and makes casein without the cow.