While the extruded ground beef, sausages, nuggets, patties and fish pieces that make up most of today’s meat alternative options are growing in popularity and sales, there are few options for alternatives to whole cuts of meat.
Through growing and harvesting mycelium, Atlast has developed a way to make a full slab of its product that can be sliced and turned into the bacon alternative. Atlast says the product feels like meat because the mycelium fibers grow together in a way similar to animal tissue. It takes just 10 days to produce the bacon alternative, which is clean label and has only six ingredients: mushroom mycelium, refined coconut oil, cane sugar, salt, smoky flavors and beet juice.
And though Atlast is currently a very small player, this funding gives the company not just the means to expand but some key backing to validate its ability to create a convincing meat substitute.
“I’ve spent the last thirty years working to bring sustainable meat to consumers around the nation. The Atlast team is advancing that mission for the 21st century to give today’s brands and consumers new plant based alternatives that mimic the texture and flavor of whole cut meats,” Applegate Farms founder Stephen McDonnell said in a written statement.
Applegate Farms, which started in 1987 as a maker of natural meat products, is now owned by Hormel. And while the investment is not from the larger company, the fact the founder of a mission-based meat brand is endorsing Atlast speaks volumes about the company’s potential for meat replacement. And that potential is underscored by funding from organic dairy Stonyfield founder Gary Hirshberg — whose company is now owned by Lactalis and still has not dabbled into plant-based alternatives — and Whole Foods founder Walter Robb, who knows what kind of plant-based products consumers seek.
While Atlast’s product line is limited to bacon right now, the company has long been experimenting with creating analogs of other kinds of meat. Eben Bayer, the co-founder and CEO of mycelium product company Ecovative Design, which spun off Atlast in 2020, explained the process a bit last year in an interview with Musings magazine. Mycelium can be grown to have different textures and flavors, Bayer said. In addition to bacon, Atlast has experimented with mycelium versions of chicken breast, oysters and ahi tuna. At a 2019 Ecovative event, Nick Ruscitto — then executive chef at an upscale local bistro, who is now Atlast’s executive chef and culinary visionary — helped the company serve a five-course dinner to potential investors that used mycelium for every course.
Atlast is not alone in this space. Colorado-based Meati Foods also is creating whole cuts of meat from mycelium, though the company’s founder and CEO told Food Navigator it used a different process than Atlast. Meati has concentrated on mycelium steaks, and raised $28 million last fall to help it expand its team and build a production facility. Meati told the trade publication it expected to start with direct-to-consumer products, and then potentially a retail launch this year.