A new competitor to the Quorn category? Start-up brings mycoprotein product ‘one step closer to market’

By Flora Southey

- Last updated on GMT

Swedish start-up Mycorena has developed a sustainable, protein-rich product from fungi / image source: Mycorena
Swedish start-up Mycorena has developed a sustainable, protein-rich product from fungi / image source: Mycorena

Related tags Quorn plant-based Sustainability Food waste

Swedish start-up Mycorena has developed a fungi-based ingredient for vegan products. Targeting the B2B – rather than the B2C – market, the mycoprotein producer is hoping to make a splash in a category largely dominated by alternative protein brand Quorn Foods.

Mycorena has branded its mycoprotein product ‘Promyc’. The fungi-based ingredient boasts a neutral taste and fibrous texture, and according to the Swedish start-up, works as a ‘meat-like’ replacement in products such as burgers, balls and nuggets.

Its neutral taste also allows applications to extend to protein bars, shakes, puddings, and snacks.

While Promyc is not yet on the market, the start-up has recently raised SEK4.5m (€429,000) and opened a new facility, which it says is ‘one of the first’ non-Quorn mycoprotein facilities in Europe.

According to Mycorena founder and CEO Ramkumar Nair, the start-up has made ‘strong process and product development’ in the past two years. “Now in 2020, our key focus is to scale our production process and reach the market.

“We envision Promyc to become an ‘ingredient brand’, available for all food companies who want to produce high quality and tasty vegan food products.”

Pushing the sustainability agenda

The start-up was founded in Gothenburg, on Sweden’s eastern coast. Here, the team became aware of a consumer shift from conventional meat proteins to soy and pea replacements.

While the company views this transition as a ‘great step today’, the founder was inspired to replace these plant-based proteins with an ingredient that uses less water and less land.

“Mycorena has developed a technology that, by using fungi biotechnology, can produce healthy and tasty vegan protein using up to 20 times less water and 5000 times less land,”​ noted the firm. 

Concerning CO₂ emissions, Mycorena’s Promyc product also comes out ahead. While producing 1kg beef emits 25kg of CO₂ equivalent, pork emits 9kg, chicken emits 5kg, and tofu emits 1.5kg, producing 1kg Promyc emits just 1.1kg of CO₂.

Ringön 2
The start-up's mycoprotein product is made through a fermentation process / image source: Mycorena

According to the start-up, Promyc’s full sustainability potential comes from its production process. Mycorena’s fungi are produced through a fermentation process and fed with ‘waste’ from industrial side-streams, transforming ‘waste into value’.

 “We produce our mycoprotein by growing fungi on side-streams from industrial food production,”​ explained Mycorena’s Lead Product Manager, Paulo Teixeira.

“As an example, in the bread industry we use the bread that does not get packaged, or the dough that is cut out in the process, or wheat flour that is left over from the process. We are very selective on these to make sure the process is clean, healthy and safe.”

A ‘perfect protein’ for vegan diets?

For Mycorena, a ‘big part’ of the start-up’s Promyc product is the quality of the protein produced. Particularly given recent attention given to plant-based meat alternatives described as ‘ultra-processed’ and high in salt​.

“Usually, plant protein is considered worse quality than animal protein,”​ Teixeira told FoodNavigator.

“Mycoprotein is vegan and as good or better than animal protein. It has a higher percentage of essential amino acids than plant-based options, and it’s been shown to be great for athletes who require these,” ​he said, referencing a 2019 study from the UK’s University of Exeter​.

In terms of dry content, Promyc has 60% protein and 12% fibre – the latter of which “helps with satiety and weight loss, something that is not present in meat, for example”.

Teixera continued: “There’s no sugar in it and very low carbohydrates, so it’s kind of a perfect protein source for vegan low-carb diets, which is difficult to achieve with peas and beans, or other common sources protein sources for people with soy allergies.”

The Mycorena team / image source: Mycorena

Growing competition in mycoprotein

UK alternative protein brand Quorn is the most established in the mycoprotein category.

The company sells mycoprotein to foodservice, including for the filling of Greggs’ vegan sausage rolls, and manufacturers finished food products for retail. In 2018, Quorn opened the ‘world’s biggest’ meat alternative production facility​ in north-eastern England.

The last time Quorn reported their results (FY 2017), sales totalled £205m – up 16% year-on-year. In a UK plant-based market worth an estimated £1.8bn as of 11 August 2019, with an annual growth rate of 8%, Quorn’s current market share may well be significant.

While Quorn and Mycorena have different commercialisation strategies, Teixeira said the start-up is ‘a type of competitor’ to the mycoprotein giant, “although we act differently”. ​ 

While Quorn largely creates products directly for the consumer market, Mycorena wants to co-develop products with existing food companies, which will then sell those products under their own brand label.

“We supply Promyc as an ingredient to companies who then make the final product, whether that is a burger, sausage, snacks, etc, and work together with them to make this possible. With this approach, we expect to have a much larger impact,”​ we were told.

Mycoprotein: the vegan 'binder' challenge

While mycoprotein is a popular choice amongst consumers in the vegetarian meat alternatives space, companies are struggling to find a plant-based binder for the ingredient.

At the Westminster Food & Nutrition Forum held in London this January, Quorn’s head of R&D, Muyiwa Akintoy, said that as the company looks to expand its vegan range, it is on the hunt for a plant-based binder for mycoprotein. The firm currently binds its vegetarian products with egg white or whey protein.

Mycorena’s Lead Product Manager, Paulo Teixeira, told FoodNavigator the start-up is ‘aware of this issue’, which is a component of its ‘internal and co-development projects with companies’.

“We are evaluating both egg and vegan alternatives, and would of course prefer the vegan option. I cannot disclose technical details at the moment, but we have been having some success with vegan options.

“In the end, our mycoprotein comes from a different species than Quorn, so the properties can be expected to be different.”

Quorn and Mycorena are not the only players in the mycoprotein category: Glasgow-based 3F Bio is another example of a B2B-focused supplier. The University of Strathclyde spin-out makes its trademarked Abunda mycoprotein product using a proprietary zero waste process.

Last year, 3F Bio took steps to scale up mycoprotein production through a collaborative project known as ‘Plentitutde’​. Together with a consortium of ten partners, including Mosa Meat and Vivera, the project aims to produce 1m tonnes of protein by 2030, which 3F Bio said could equate to a reduction of 5m tonnes of carbon emissions.

Funding, a new factory, and commercialisation

While unlike Quorn, Mycorena is taking a B2B approach, the start-up is working to ‘directly interact’ with consumers and ‘get their insights’ onto its product development, the Lead Product Manager told this publication.

“We are partnering both with large companies that will allow a mass-market introduction, but also with smaller players that can quickly bring Promyc to people's tables.”

Following a SEK4.5m injection – with soft funding from the EU and Vinnova, and investments led by Bånt AB and Kale United AB – the start-up is now opening its first small-scale Promyc production facility in Ringön, Gothenburg. This brings Promyc ‘one step closer to the market’, noted Mycorena.

“We hope the new facility will help us expand our partner portfolio and help us achieve our goal of taking Promyc to the market in 2020” ​ –  Ebba Fröling, COO at Mycorena

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