MyForest Foods Co, a New York-based startup making meat alternatives from mushroom mycelium, has raised $15 million in Series A-2 funding and hired Greg Shewchuk as CEO as it ramps up distribution of its first product: MyBacon.
Spun out in 2020 from parent company Ecovative, which makes mycelium-based packaging, MyForest hopes to revive the alt meat category’s flagging fortunes with fungi-based whole cuts made using a solid-state fermentation process.
The $15 million capital injection comes from Ecovative, which has just raised a $30 million series E round led by Viking Global Investors. Half of this sum is being pumped into MyForest to help expand distribution for MyBacon in retail and foodservice accounts.
New CEO: ‘Now it’s all about execution’
Greg Shewchuk, a food industry veteran with stints at Campbell Soup Co, Mead Johnson Nutrition, Mondelēz International, and Unilever on his resumé, most recently served as CEO at early allergen introduction startup SpoonfulONE, which was acquired by Nestlé late last year.
“I interviewed something like 40 folks [for the CEO position]. Greg is absolutely the right person and now is the right time [to bring in a CEO with food industry experience],” MyForest cofounder Eben Bayer told AgFunder News (AFN).
“We are building the capacity, we’ve got product market fit, so now it’s all about execution,” added Bayer, who has been serving as CEO for Ecovative and MyForest since the latter was spun off.
“Greg has worked at huge companies and at the same time he led a startup through to a successful exit with Nestlé.”
MyBacon: ‘Velocity is somewhere between two and three times that of the market leader’
Shewchuk joins at a challenging time for the US meat alternatives category, with new figures from Circana showing US retail sales fell 5.2% to $1.1 billion in the 52 weeks to April 2 vs the previous 52-week period, with volumes down 11%.
For context, conventional meat sales rose 3% over the same period with volumes down 2%.
MyBacon, however, is performing extremely well according to Bayer, who claims MyBacon ranked number one on taste, texture, and purchase intent vs other plant-based bacon brands including Lightlife and Morningstar in recent consumer tests.
“Velocity is somewhere between two and three times that of the market leader and we’re priced competitively with organic pork bacon.”
While retailers are not interested in another burger or sausage using extruded plant proteins, they remain open to whole cut type products with a less processed positioning and shorter ingredients list, said Bayer.
“I think we’re in a very natural hype cycle. The sector was overhyped and products that weren’t good enough flooded the channel. But I think it will be next generation companies like MyForest Foods that are bringing a better value proposition to market that are going to drive a second wave.”
MyJerky coming out later this year
MyForest’s next product line—launching later this year—will be MyJerky, a beef jerky alternative made using the same mycelium base, but with a different flavoring system and moisture level to MyBacon, he said.
Rather than growing mycelium in large steel fermentation tanks fed with sugars like Meati Foods, MyForest grows slabs of mycelium ‘meat’ on beds of pre-treated hardwood chips at its new ‘Swersey Silos’ production facility in Green Island, New York.
The slabs are harvested, taken to the MyForest facility in nearby Saratoga Springs and sliced into bacon strips that go through a boiling and brining process to infuse them with flavors and colors. Finally, coconut oil is dripped on to the slices and they are packaged.
According to Bayer: “We produce our own meat from Swersey Silos, but we will also supply other facilities such as those run by our partner Whitecrest Mushrooms in Canada with the feedstock (woodchips inoculated with mycelium) to grow their own mycelium meat. We’re not planning on building another facility [in-house]!”
Feedstocks that don’t take up agricultural land
Bayer acknowledged that energy costs are incurred at several stages of the process, from preparing the wood chips, to maintaining the right growing environment for the mycelium (the mycelium don’t need light, but they need air circulating and some moisture), to boiling the slices of fungi-based bacon downstream.
But as a choice of feedstock, he argued, woodchips are both cheaper than sugars used as a carbon source by some rivals making fermentation-based fungi meats, and do not compete with food crops.
MyForest’s mycelium meat, meanwhile, grows on large trays you’d find in any mushroom growing facility, rather than expensive bioreactors, he said.