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A FUNGI FUTURE: Why fermented meat analogs will steal the spotlight in 2022

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Currently, fermented meat analogs tend to be lumped in with plant-based products. We explain that this is not plant, not animal, but a third kingdom called fungi, and most people know a little bit about fungi.

MEGAN POINSKI: While plant-based food is almost synonymous with meat, dairy and egg alternatives, it isn’t the only player in that game. GFI has called fermentation the “next pillar” of alternative protein. Through the process, companies can make protein material for meat and dairy analogs — known as biomass fermentation — as well as proteins identical to those created by animals that are used to create ingredients such as dairy and egg — known as precision fermentation.

GFI tracks startups in the fermentation space, and issued a report on the state of the industry in 2020. Ignaszewski said biomass fermentation companies represented eight of the 14 companies founded in 2019. In 2020, precision fermentation companies made up nine of 13 new players in the space. And now, the products from those startups are preparing to hit the market — and targeting a much wider audience than vegetarians and vegans. “The proliferation of fermentation as a technology is paralleling the alternative protein industry’s new strategy of appealing to omnivore consumers,” Ignaszewski said.

Meati, which was founded in 2016, uses fermented mushroom mycelium — the fungi’s root structure under the ground — to make meat analogs. The company says its products can mimic the appearance, texture and taste of actual meat, but without the environmental, health and financial costs of a meal that came from an animal. Co-founder and CEO Tyler Huggins said that Meati wants to create products that meat eaters will enjoy, with the same taste and experience as meat. But he said the company’s mission, realized through its products, goes farther than that.

Meati’s products are primed to hit grocery shelves and foodservice menus later this year, Huggins said. He couldn’t go into detail, but said Meati is working with groups and people known in the industry — including thought leaders in the food and nutrition space and “like-minded brands.” Some partnerships — starting with foodservice — will be announced in the coming months, Huggins said…

Quorn, whose fermented analogs made from mycoprotein have been on the U.S. market since 2002, is doubling down here given the stratospheric rise of plant-based meat products — especially chicken alternatives. Quorn’s parent company, noodle giant Monde Nissin, has invested heavily into raising the profile and improving the offerings for the fermented analog brand in the United States…

While plant-based meats have a bright health halo, research has shown they aren’t necessarily much better for consumers than products that come from animals. Fermented analogs, on the other hand, may have much deeper health benefits than animal- or plant-based options. Quorn, which has actively funded and participated in health and nutrition research on mycoprotein for more than three decades, has found it is good for muscle growth and contributes to lowering cholesterol. Mycoprotein is high in dietary fiber, low in fat and a source of nutrients including riboflavin, folate, phosphorus, zinc, choline and manganese, Quorn’s research has found…

The production method for fermented meat analogs also can provide it with an advantage over plant- and animal-based options. Nature’s Fynd’s 35,000-square-foot facility, which opened in February 2020, is 10 minutes from downtown Chicago, Rawal said. Construction is underway on a second 200,000-square-foot facility nearby, which the company has said will be able to produce three to five times as much protein…

Currently, fermented analogs tend to be lumped in with plant-based products. They are usually shelved together, and most data firms capturing product sales information include fermented products in the plant-based category. And with only one major player in the fermented space — Quorn — there haven’t been any big efforts to differentiate the segment, though communicating food tech to consumers is an issue companies are working through…

Rawal said Nature’s Fynd has had many discussions about whether to “ride the plant-based wave” or try to be its own type of product… “We explain that this is not plant, not animal, but a third kingdom called fungi, and most people know a little bit about fungi,” Rawal said. “So I think once we start educating, it becomes very clear that people are much more open and willing, frankly, than we would have assumed, even five years ago”…

Aside from the products already on the market or almost there, Ignaszewski with GFI predicts food made through fermentation will be used for many applications in years to come. Fermented items could be mixed with existing plant-based products as well as cell-based meat and fats, creating ingredients and altogether new hybrid alternative protein products.

Rawal with Nature’s Fynd expects to see fermented products expand this year because she says the benefits — from a taste, nutritional and sustainability standpoint — are becoming apparent to everyone. As more products come to the market, she said consumer demand for them is likely to grow. And that will potentially drive other players to get into fermentation. SOURCE…

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