Israeli startup Chunk Foods is gearing up to launch whole cuts of plant-based meat in the US foodservice market this summer after raising a sizeable seed round ($15 million) late last year to expand its fermentation-based platform.
The investment—from backers including Fall line Capital, The MIT E14 fund, and Robert Downey Jr. ‘s FootPrint Coalition—will be used to expand the team and complete construction of a plant in Israel with the capacity to manufacture millions of steaks annually by the summer.
Solid state fermentation: ‘The unique thing is our ability to control the micro-texture’
Chunk Foods ferments soy flour (rather than concentrates or isolates) with food-grade microorganisms in a proprietary solid state fermentation process, founder and CEO Amos Golan told AFN.
This is cheaper than using high-moisture extrusion or submerged fermentation (which requires expensive steel fermentation vessels and downstream processing technology), and is highly tunable, claimed Golan, who raised $2 million in a pre-seed round in 2021.
“The unique thing is our ability to control the micro-texture within the whole cut, to the point where we can control the direction of the fibers, the thickness of the fibers, the thickness of the cut, the size of the cut, the color, almost any lever you can pull to change the character of the final product.
“We also don’t use any binders or gums, but the product is still super juicy, and holds water and fat very well, until they are released in your mouth, so you get a juicy, mouthwatering experience. It’s completely different to tempeh.”
Flavor: More meaty notes, fewer ‘beany, grassy notes’
Beyond texture, however, the fermentation process also contributes significantly to the flavor of the product, he said: “The product has more meaty notes and less beany grassy notes you can get with plant proteins.”
Labeling is still under discussion and will vary according to the market, but the ingredients list in the US may say something like “cultured soy,” predicted Golan.
As for regulatory questions, he said, “One of the unique things about the product and the process that’s by design, is that we’re using ingredients and cultures that have been consumed for many years in all the relevant territories. So we’re GRAS [Generally Recognized as Safe] in the US and non-novel [not subject to the Novel Foods Regulation] in Europe.”
Chunk Foods’ first products will be soy-based, but the technology also works on other plant-based flours, he said. “We have versions in the pipeline that don’t contain soy or gluten, but we’re actually strong believers in soy, which is a complete protein and it’s affordable.”
‘We’re offering a potentially much more appealing cost structure’
Golan is keeping the details of the production process under wraps but stressed that the factory “doesn’t look anything like” a submerged fermentation facility: “Submerged fermentation is incredibly expensive in terms of capex, while extrusion is almost a commodity technology these days.”
He added: “We’re offering a potentially much more appealing cost structure, and we’ve got a valuable product with a unique sensory experience that’s closer to meat than all the products that I’ve tasted in the space by far.”
“This is also borne out by pilots we’re doing at restaurants and in consumer studies,” claimed Golan, who said Chunk Foods’ steak is now being served at high-end vegan restaurants in New York City including Coletta, Anixi, and The Butcher’s Daughter.
Tasting is believing: ‘Excitement about the product is what led to the funding round’
As for investors, he said, while it’s a challenging time to raise money, “The curse and the blessing of being in the food industry is that people can taste your product, so we gave it to potential investors and they went away and tried it at home with their families or with chefs to ask them what they thought.
“Their excitement about the product is what led to the funding round,” added Golan, who hopes to scale up the team from 25 people to about 40 by the end of this year.
“Prior to investing, we worked with several top-tier restaurant groups and trialed the product in their test kitchens. There was unanimous praise for the product – not just in terms of taste, texture and ease of preparation – but also in the list of ingredients. The product hits all the marks.” Steve Levin, partner, FootPrint Coalition
Meat alternatives: ‘We just need the right products at the right price’
As for the meat alternatives market, Golan said, while retail sales in the US were down last year (although they were up in the foodservice market), this reflects the fact that consumers are not happy to pay a premium price for a “mediocre product,” claimed Golan, who founded Chunk Foods in 2020.
“There are some great products out there, but also lots of companies that came to the market very quickly without a unique proposition and with sub optimal products.
“We hope to lead the pack when it comes to the new generation of plant-based products. I believe we’re barely scratching the surface when it comes to the total addressable market, we just need the right products at the right price.”