Disclosure: AgFunder, AFN’s parent company, is an investor in Fable Food Co.
Australia’s Fable Food Co has raised A$6.5 million ($4.79 million) in a seed round led by Blackbird Ventures. Other participating investors include VC firms AgFunder, Aera VC, and Better Bite Ventures; Singaporean fruit and vegetable importer Ban Choon Marketing; and former Sequoia Capital partner Warren Hogarth.
Founded by CEO Michael Fox, chef-turned-chief science officer Jim Fuller, and organic mushroom farmer Chris McLoghlin in 2019, Fable is producing vegan meat substitutes using shiitake mushrooms and a ‘whole foods’ philosophy. The Sunshine Coast, Queensland-based startup will use the seed capital to expand its international presence and boost its R&D activities, with the aim of enhancing and adding to its existing product lineup of pulled barbecue-style ‘beef’ and a burger patty.
“I first met Michael [Fox] when I was mentoring teams for a foodtech accelerator and was struck by his passion to develop vegan alternatives so good that they convert meat eaters,” AgFunder founding partner Michael Dean told AFN.
“Fable has certainly been a staple in our house since it arrived at our supermarket and we’re proud to have joined their journey as an investor.”
Fox set out on his mission to create a whole-food meat analog after becoming a vegetarian six years ago. His decision to go veggie — and later, vegan — was for health and dietary reasons, as well as concerns about the sustainability and ethics of animal-based food production.
Fox admits to being “one of those annoying vegans” trying to convince family, friends, and colleagues to give up animal products entirely. But he soon realized that the didactic approach didn’t have the best results, he tells AFN.
“In six years I’ve only managed to convince like, three people – and I bumped into one of them the other day, and they’re back eating meat! But in having all those conversations, it became clear to me that a lot of people really do want to reduce their meat consumption. They just find it hard to give up meat.”
For Fox, too, completely cutting out animal products had been tough. But while living in Los Angeles, where he helped run now-defunct footwear startup Shoes Of Prey, he was introduced to a whole host of convincing plant-based meat alternatives made by brands like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods.
“Those kinds of products helped me to transition to a plant-based diet, and I decided the best way for me to contribute to ending animal agriculture was to apply my entrepreneurial skills to produce alternatives to meat,” he says.
Where Fox wanted to differentiate from the Beyonds and Impossibles of this world was in trying to offer analogs with those convincing tastes and textures associated with meat, but without extensive processing of the base ingredients.
“I think some of the criticisms of those products are overblown – given the carbon emissions that come from beef from cows, it’s orders of magnitude better to eat those plant-based meats,” he says. “But after moving back to Australia, me and my family live on a property where we grow our own vegetables, our own fruits, we shop at local farmers’ markets, and we eat a minimally processed whole-food diet. So I wanted to develop a meat alternative that aligns with that.”
That’s where shiitake steps in. In his search for whole-food, ‘plant’-based ingredients, Fox met with several chefs who recommended he look into mushrooms.
Among the professional cooks he met was eventual co-founder and molecular gastronomy enthusiast Fuller, who had also made the change to vegetarianism – precipitating his sabbatical from working in fine-dining kitchens to pursue studies in chemical engineering and mycology (the science of mushrooms and other fungi.)
Unlike other foodtech companies which are fermenting alt-protein from fungi — such as Meati, Atlast, Nature’s Fynd, and Quorn — Fable is using agriculturally-grown mushrooms and applying a proprietary process to them in order to create its end products.
“We’re not extruding, isolating proteins, fermenting in big vats, or anything like that. Shiitake have been grown in Asia for thousands of years, so we’re taking those same mushrooms the way they’ve always been grown, and we’ve got some unique IP-protected methods of shredding and cutting those to change the textual structure,” Fox explains.
“Those techniques stem from [Fuller’s] chemistry background. He understands the cellular structure of mushrooms, [so we can use] minimal cook steps, cutting, and shredding to leverage and draw out those meaty, umami flavors – as well as nutrients, to make them more bioavailable for people.”
Fable says its products are “strictly free from GMO, preservatives, and artificial ingredients.” Beyond shiitake, they contain black and white pepper, coconut oil, gluten-free soy sauce, and tapioca starch.
Fable products are also on restaurant menus in Australia, Singapore, and the UK. Most recently, a burger featuring Fable’s mushroom-based patty and designed by multi-Michelin-starred UK chef Heston Blumenthal has been launched at health-focused Aussie food chain Grill’d.
Fuller met Blumenthal while chaperoning him on a mushroom farm fact-finding trip to Thailand several years ago. At one point, the UK chef “overdosed” on a type of medicinal mushroom – leaving Fuller concerned that he may have done some serious damage to his molecular gastronomy hero.
Luckily, though, Blumenthal lived to tell the tale; and Fuller sent him samples of Fable’s products to give them a test drive. Blumenthal was so impressed with Fable’s patty that he created the burger for Grill’d, which will be available for a limited time at several of the chain’s restaurants alongside other Fable-based items.
“For me, it’s really important to use fresh, natural ingredients,” Blumenthal said. “[The Fable patty] is 100% natural, it’s juicy, it’s satisfying, it’s full of umami. They’re absolutely unique, mouthwatering, and just delicious.”