The promise of alternative meat products has been under scrutiny lately, with articles in Bloomberg and the Washington Post questioning if it’ll ever be truly embraced by consumers. Other news like the drop in Beyond Meat’s stock price and mass layoffs at Impossible Foods have cast further questions on the industry’s future.
Amid all this scrutiny, however, Fable Food, an Australian startup that makes plant-based meat out of mushrooms, announced its latest funding round, a Series A of $8.5 million led by Singaporean venture firm K3. Other participants included Greg Creed, former global CEO of Yum! Brands, the parent company of KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, and Peter Singer, a Princeton professor and well-known animal rights activist and SaladStop! founders Frantz Braha and Adrien Desbaillets. Existing investors Blackbird, AgFiunder and Aera VC also returned for the round, along with vegan TV personality and podcaster Osher Günsberg and his wife Audrey Griffen.
TechCrunch last covered Fable Foods when it announced its $6.5 million seed funding in August 2021. Since then, it has expanded in Australia and started entering international markets like the United Kingdom, the United States, Singapore, New Zealand and Canada, said co-founder and CEO Michael Fox.
Next month, Fable will launch its mushroom burger slider patties at STK Steakhouse as the chain’s first plant-based option. The startup’s go-to-market strategy is to work with top chefs and F&B businesses in for main segments: restaurants, premium quick service restaurant chains, meal kit companies and value-added manufacturing to retail, like Whole Foods who use Fable Foods’ products in their ready-to-eat burritos.
Other startups that make plant-based meat out of mushrooms include Meati, the Mushroom Meat Co. and MyForest Foods. Fox explained that Meati and MyForest Foods ferment mycelium to make their meat alternative products. “We love what the mycelium-based companies are doing and we cheer them on, but at Fable we use agriculturally grown shiitake and agaricus mushrooms,” Fox said. “We’re using the fruiting body of the fungi as opposed to the mycelium. Humans have eaten mushrooms for tens of thousands of years and we’ve farmed them for thousands of years. They’re evolved to be highly nutritious and delicious because the fungi wants us to eat them to help spread their spores.”
As for the recent coverage about the lackluster performance of plant-based foods, Fox is sanguine.
“The Bloomberg article and others are right in that meat alternatives as a category aren’t yet meeting the needs of the consumer in taste, price or health. They don’t yet taste as good as animal meat, they’re more expensive than animal meat and consumers aren’t sure that the ingredient decks are healthier than animal meat,” he said.
He added that while most meat alternatives on the market are made with soy beans or peas, Fable’s shiitake and white button mushrooms have an advantage for several reasons. For one thing, they contain more glutamates and “meaty, umami flavors.” Their chitin cellular structure can also be cooked in ways that mimic the texture of animal meats.
“Mushrooms are very flavorful with their natural umami flavors, and the mushrooms we use naturally have the fleshy fibers that give meaty bites you typically get from animal proteins,” he said.
Fable Food’s funding will be used on research and development, with more mushroom-based meat product in the works. Fable also plans to enter more international markets, focusing on North America, the United Kingdom and Singapore.