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Why one startup says fungi-based meat is the next wave of alternative proteins

·Senior Reporter
·5 min read
In this article:
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A new startup is looking to disrupt the plant-based meat market.

Meati, founded in 2019, creates alternative meat made from mushroom root, a superfood protein similar to the root structure of mushrooms.

"We think we're the third and final wave of alternative proteins," said Tyler Huggins, Meati co-founder and CEO. The executive, who earned his doctorate in environmental engineering in 2016, emphasized that the taste and experience of Meati is "unmatched," adding that he would describe the brand as neither "plant-based" nor "lab grown."

"We're whole-food protein," he stated. "That's the key — producing foods with a simple ingredient list that's highly nutritious."

The goal from the beginning was stainable food production...Tyler Huggins, Meati Co-Founder & CEO

The brand's whole-cut "chicken" cutlets, sold through both retail and direct-to-consumer channels, contain 17 grams of protein per serving (2 cutlets), as well as other key vitamins found in traditional animal-based items — like Vitamin B, Zinc, and Iron.

The company will drop a limited number of its brand new "steak" protein through its website beginning Monday. Its last product drop (April) sold out in just 20 minutes.

(Courtesy: Meati)
(Courtesy: Meati)

In order to create the alternative meat, the company described the process "like a brewery on the front-end" and "cheese processing" on the back-end. The entire process takes four days from start to finish, and creates a comparable level of meat to what a full cow would produce.

"It's not high tech — it's nature," Huggins said, emphasizing that each product contains only four to six ingredients. To compare, a Beyond Meat (BYND) burger has 18 total ingredients.

"We cultivate the mushroom roots in nutrient-rich water where it grows freely. We then harvest it, gently form the different cuts and flavor, then it's done," he explained, adding "It's alive during the whole process. This is true whole food from nature that's flavored and ready to go."

[Meati] is a supply chain solution...Scott Tassani, Meati President

The company, which currently operates out of a pilot ranch in Boulder, Colorado, is preparing to commission its first mega ranch this summer.

The mega ranch is expected to produce more than 45 million pounds of products annually.

"We're a supply chain solution," said Scott Tassani, Meati president. He credits the brand's "super clean" production operation, in addition to the limited number of ingredients, for allowing it to deliver a "vertically integrated manufacturing process" that helps alleviate supply chain concerns.

The company plans to run a pilot retail program this summer with the goal of achieving a national retail footprint by early 2023. In addition to retail, the company aims to lock in several key food service partners and be in 10,000 locations by year-end.

As for pricing, Meati says its products (which retail at $7.99 for two chicken cutlets and $9.99 for two steak filets) are consistent with the premiums consumers see with other alternative protein brands like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, although its pricing is still more expensive compared to traditional meat.

Yet, "with all of the inflationary pressures, that gap is getting smaller, so it's less of a premium over time," Tassani noted.

 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' latest CPI print, traditional chicken prices soared more than 18% in April compared to the same period last year. Ground chuck saw an increase of 15.3% year-over-year.

So far in 2022, grocery store prices have risen at least 1.0% month-over-month.

'Democratizing protein'

U.S. plant-based food sales grew two times as fast as animal-based food sales in 2020
U.S. plant-based food sales grew two times as fast as animal-based food sales in 2020

U.S. plant-based food sales grew two times as fast as animal-based food sales in 2020, totaling $7 billion, according to the latest Good Food Institute industry report. Within that category, plant-based meat crossed the billion-dollar mark, expanding by 45% in dollar sales from 2019.

Today, the traditional U.S. meat market sits at $170-plus billion with alternative protein sales coming in at roughly $1.6 billion.

Meati's Tassani doubled down that alternative protein "will easily represent 5% of the category in the next five to six years," underscoring the company's goal of securing $1 billion in run-rate sales by the year 2025.

(Courtesy: Meati)
(Courtesy: Meati)

Overall, Meati says its mission is to deliver "sustainable food production" and "democratize protein" for all.

"It's crazy that we live in the most industrialized, wealthiest country in the world; yet, access to high-quality, good nutrition is still not fully accessible," Huggins lamented.

"What we want to do here is diversify the differences," the executive continued, explaining the company is not-anti animal-based products.

Instead, Meati aims to "elevate animal-based protein to a level that it's celebrated, provide ethical treatments to animals, pay farmers and ranchers equitably, and help supplement the market."

 

According to a recent study by the international journal, Nature, eliminating animal meat consumption and embracing more plant-based alternatives can help prevent deforestation, in addition to curbing greenhouse gas emissions and alleviating excessive water use.

The study projected that substituting just 20% of traditional meat consumption with alternative options will cut "annual deforestation and related CO2 emissions roughly in half, while also lowering methane emissions."

"We would argue this is the the most efficient and healthiest way to feed the planet," Meati's Huggins said.

He explained that the brand's identity "is based off of first principles, essentially taking the sun's energy and producing protein."

"How do you work with nature? How do you guide biological processes in such a way that can be beneficial, working with nature versus against it, in order to make a more sustainable future?"

As for the critics who might not be super jazzed when it comes to eating fungi-based meat?

Huggins chuckled, "Trying is believing."

Alexandra is a Senior Entertainment and Food Reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @alliecanal8193 or email her at alexandra.canal@yahoofinance.com

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