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Published April 20th, 2023

Mycoprotein is making a comeback - will it triumph?

As the food industry continues to evolve, alternative protein sources are gaining traction.

One such source that has seen renewed interest in recent years is mycoprotein, a unique and sustainable protein that has been around for decades. You have probably already heard of Quorn, the company that pioneered mycoprotein-based products and is still, unquestionably, the leader of its own category.

But what exactly is mycoprotein, and why is it rising in popularity again?

In this article, we'll explore the basics of mycoprotein, its history, and its potential as an alternative protein source for food manufacturers and start-ups. We'll also examine the opportunities that mycoprotein presents, as well as any barriers to market entry in the alternative protein industry, such as high investment costs, and how one might overcome these.

Whether you're a food manufacturer looking to explore different protein sources or a start-up seeking to disrupt the industry, understanding the potential of mycoprotein is essential. Join us as we take a deeper dive into this field and explore its exciting possibilities.

What is mycoprotein?

Mycoprotein is a microbial protein that comes from a fungus. It’s made through the process of fermentation and was first discovered in the 1960s by Lord Rank while he was searching for alternative sources of protein.

Rank’s research revealed that Fusarium venenatum, a filamentous species of fungi, could not only translate carbohydrates into high-quality protein but also produced nutritious alternatives with fibrous, meat-like textures that were safe, resource-efficient, and rapidly scalable.

Mycoprotein creates food with fibrous, meat-like textures akin to conventional meat

Exploring mycoprotein’s roots

One of the most well-known mycoprotein-based products on the market is Quorn, which is available in a variety of forms, including chicken-style wings, ham-free slices, fishless fingers, and fillets. In fact, Quorn pioneered the use of mycoprotein with its first product launch in 1985.

With so many new and innovative alternative protein developments since the 1980s, including bioprinted meat and explorations into novel protein sources such as seaweed protein, one would not be berated for thinking that mycoprotein is outdated. However, on the contrary, mycoprotein has only just begun its journey.

Mycoprotein’s comeback

Mycoprotein is a promising ingredient with significant potential. Its recent emergence as a filling in Gregg's infamous vegan sausage rolls, coupled with the increasing plant-based trend of consumers seeking fungi-derived protein sources, illustrates that this alternative protein is experiencing a resurgence in popularity.

This comeback is due to several factors, from its tolerance to global supply chain issues disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic to the several advancements in food science and technology that have allowed for the development of new mycoprotein food products with improved taste and texture.

Mycoprotein’s light color, neutral flavor, and fibrous texture make it suitable for a variety of food applications

Driven by its many advantages

Mycoprotein also offers plenty of advantages over plant-based proteins, since it can be rapidly and abundantly developed through biomass fermentation, requiring minimal land and resources. It naturally produces fibrous textures, emulating different types and cuts of meat, without the need for additional processes like high moisture extrusion. Mycoprotein nutrition is also desirable since it is rich in dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, and is free from undesirable substances such as antibiotics and cholesterol.

The fermentation sector has an advantage over other alternative protein technologies as it has a long history in the food industry. Therefore, regulatory systems for ensuring the safety of innovations within this platform are already established in most jurisdictions.

One of its standout advantages, however, is the fact that the innovation potential of mycoprotein remains predominantly untapped. And, as there are numerous natural environments left unexplored and expanding fungi databases to peruse, the possibilities for sourcing desirable mycoproteins from different fungal species are limitless.

Barriers to entry for mycoprotein producers

Despite its potential, there are several barriers to entry in the mycoprotein space that food manufacturers and alternative protein startups should consider:

High investment costs

Firstly, one of the major challenges associated with the manufacture of mycoprotein food is the high investment costs required to build and operate a mycoprotein production facility. This is due to the need for specialized equipment and infrastructure, as well as the costs associated with the research and development of new mycoprotein-based products.

Manufacturers could explore different production methods to reduce costs, such as optimizing fermentation conditions, using cheaper substrates, or improving downstream processing. Collaboration and partnerships with research institutions or technology providers could also provide access to expertise and resources to optimize production and reduce costs. Additionally, securing funding from investors or grant programs focused on sustainable and innovative food technologies could also help alleviate the financial burden.

Production challenges

Secondly, mycoprotein production also presents some production challenges, such as ensuring consistent quality and preventing contamination. Mycoprotein production requires careful monitoring of temperature, pH, and other factors to ensure optimal growth conditions for the fungi, which can be a complex and labor-intensive process.

Manufacturers can mitigate production challenges by training employees with due diligence

By investing in proper training for employees, ensuring strict quality control and hygiene protocols, implementing the latest monitoring and testing technologies, and collaborating with experts in mycoprotein production and fermentation, manufacturers can mitigate production hurdles.

Consumer acceptance

There may also be consumer acceptance challenges, as mycoprotein-based products are grown and fermented in large vats, which can be perceived as highly industrial and heavily processed.

To overcome this challenge, manufacturers should develop clear and accurate labeling and marketing strategies to help build consumer trust and increase acceptance of mycoprotein-based products. For example, to emphasize that mycoprotein is made from whole foods and does not contain highly processed ingredients or artificial additives.

Securing a win for mycoprotein

Mycoprotein presents promising opportunities for future food innovations. Nevertheless, to secure a prosperous future for this alternative protein ingredient, there are several considerations that should be carefully evaluated before entering the market. These include the high investment costs associated with mycoprotein production, production challenges, and consumer acceptance barriers.

If you're considering the potential of mycoprotein-based products for your business, Bright Green Partners can help you overcome barriers to entry. Our in-depth knowledge base of mycoprotein facility development, our specialized in-house consultants, and our global expert network perfectly position us to support new and established industry players. Contact us today to explore the opportunities that mycoprotein could offer your business.

Ready to discover what alt protein strategies could mean for your business? Discuss it in a 30 minute call with our Managing Partner, Floor.
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