California-based startup MeliBio recently unveiled the world’s first real honey made without the use of bees. The startup uses a process that replaces bees with its proprietary technology to produce honey that is identical to the real thing but without harming bees or the environment. Founded in 2020, the startup has raised $1.5 million in pre-seed rounds from investors in the United States, Europe, Asia, and Australia, and has scaled production of its vegan honey to serve multiple clients as an ingredient manufacturer.
“MeliBio is founded with the mission to make food in a way to save our planet Earth by ending our use of bees in honey production, and thereby helping to restore bee biodiversity amongst native and wild bees worldwide,” Darko Mandich, CEO and Co-Founder of MeliBio, said in a statement. “Scientific advancements have created a very exciting position where humans can finally make one of their favorite foods without the use of animals.”
MeliBio previewed its animal-free honey (featured in a selection of baklava) at an event attended by more than 100 climate and food technology innovators in Berkeley, CA. The startup has scaled the manufacturing of its innovative bee-free honey enough to start working with clients in foodservice and business-to-business (B2B) customers for deliveries starting from the end of 2021, and the beginning of 2022.
At scale, the implications of MeliBio’s bee-free honey are enormous as companies that previously relied on honey—for instance snack company KIND, General Mills’ brand Honey Nut Cheerios, or even beauty and cosmetics brands—can consider switching to an identical alternative that does not harm bees or the environment. “Honey is an ingredient found in every product category, from food to beverage and personal care products for which MeliBio is now providing a plant-based option,” Mandich said. “By bringing delicious, nutritious, and real honey made without bees to the market, we are shaping our present and future in a way that is better for bees and for humans.”
Why honey is not vegan
Honey is not vegan because it is exploitative of bees, especially on the industrial level. Bees work hard to create honey as their source of nutrition by collecting the nectar from flowering plants and converting it to honey, the insects’ primary source of carbohydrates. Honey provides bees with the energy for flying, colony maintenance, and general daily activities.
In commercial honey production, bees are exploited for their pollinating abilities, transported to areas where they are able to consume only mono-nutrients from single crops, are exposed to pesticides, and no longer hibernate. The queen bee is often artificially inseminated and has her wings removed to prevent her from leaving the hive and colonizing a different one. Honey is then taken from bees who are instead fed a nutritionless sugar water and many times, bees suffer from wing diseases due to selective breeding.
While honey is not a critical food source for humans, bees are crucial for maintaining biodiversity and ecological balance. In 2020, the global honey industry was valued at $9 billion and the broken system is putting bees, and the world’s ecosystems, in danger. Luckily, in addition to MeliBio’s innovative solution, a number of other vegan honey brands are also working to give bees a break.
While many vegans use agave syrup in place of honey, closer approximations of honey made from dates, apples, and other plants are already on the market. Earlier this year, The Single Origin Food Co (Sofco) secured $1.1 million in seed funding to expand the growth and availability of its signature product, Vegan Un-Honey. Made with only natural plant-based ingredients and fortified with organic flower pollen, it delivers a new superfood alternative to traditional honey without disrupting the lives of honey bees.
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