Better Meat Co’s Ferment Leap Cuts Alt-Protein Costs

Alt meat startup The Better Meat Co has achieved a significant milestone in the production of its mycoprotein by adopting a continuous fermentation process, a move that has slashed production costs and positioned the company to compete on cost with commodity beef. Co-founder Paul Shapiro shared the groundbreaking development with AgFunderNews, emphasizing that the continuous process is a game-changer in the mycoprotein space.

Unlike many firms that operate semi-continuous processes, The Better Meat Co’s shift to a continuous process—where feedstock is continuously added and products are harvested every second—has opened up new efficiencies. “You are harvesting every single second, which is the holy grail for fermentation,” Shapiro said. “To our knowledge, nobody aside from Quorn is doing continuous biomass fermentation in the mycoprotein space.”

The Sacramento-based company initially focused on plant-based meat enhancers, supplying Perdue Farms for its ‘Chicken Plus’ hybrid meat/veggie range. However, it later pivoted to fungi, running over 100 harvests from a 9,000-liter bioreactor to produce ‘Rhiza’ mycoprotein. This mycoprotein can be used as a single-ingredient alt-meat, offering a versatile and sustainable alternative to traditional meat.

Shapiro highlighted the company’s advancements over the past year: “We’ve slashed feedstock costs while producing a higher quantity of mycelium, enabling a total at-scale cost reduction of more than 30%. Combining this work with advancements in strain selection, breeding, and innovative fermentation methods, we can now produce 68% more mycelium in the same time and with lower total feedstock costs compared to one year ago.”

The Better Meat Co has secured letters of intent and offtake agreements for 33 tons of dry mycoprotein per month, equivalent to 99 tons when hydrated. These agreements come from some of the biggest consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands in the US and Asia. Despite being embroiled in a legal dispute with fellow biomass fermentation startup Meati Foods over intellectual property, The Better Meat Co has raised $27 million to date but requires additional capital to scale up production significantly.

Currently, the company generates revenue through joint development agreements, where partners pay monthly fees to gain sample materials from the demo-scale plant. This strategy allows partners to develop products with Rhiza mycoprotein, ensuring they are ready to launch once The Better Meat Co scales up production. “These arrangements have in turn led to offtake agreements,” Shapiro explained.

Rhiza mycoprotein stands out for its fibrous, meaty texture and does not require significant downstream processing or extrusion. Made from Neurospora fungi species like Neurospora Crassa, Rhiza is a non-GMO whole food fermented ingredient. Shapiro claims it is “much meatier” than Quorn, which uses a strain of Fusarium Venenatum. Unlike plant-based meat alternatives, which require lengthy growing cycles and costly extrusion processes, Rhiza is produced through a more efficient fermentation process.

The mycoprotein contains 45-50% crude protein by dry weight and boasts a protein digestibility score (PDCAAS) of 0.87-0.96, comparable to animal proteins such as casein and egg. After fermentation, the cell slurry is dewatered to a moist cake format, diced, and then dehydrated to create a product that can be shipped at ambient temperatures and rehydrated at customers’ facilities.

The Better Meat Co is part of a burgeoning biomass fermentation industry, which includes notable players like Quorn, ENOUGH Foods, and MycoTechnology, among others. These companies are exploring various applications for fungi-based products, from meat alternatives to cheese, yogurts, and pet food.

With its continuous fermentation process, The Better Meat Co is poised to revolutionize the alt-meat market, offering a sustainable and cost-competitive alternative to traditional meat. As the company scales up, it aims to meet the growing demand for high-quality, animal-free protein options, potentially reshaping the future of food production.

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