Whole cut alt piggy goes to market: ‘Bacon is the largest category pending disruption’
Having closed a seed round of $2.5m (€2.3m), Libre Foods has big plans for its alternative meat pipeline, made up of bacon, chicken, and steak analogues.
The round was led by Green Generation Fund and supported by a number of high-profile investors and funds including ProVeg International, Veg Capital, Good Seed Ventures, CEO of The Every Company Arturo Elizondo, and Peace of Meat co-founder David Brandes.
“We aim to use the funds of our latest round for two main milestones,” explained Libre Foods founder and CEO Alan Iván Ramos.
The first is to roll out a ‘full-scale launch’ of its Libre Bacon product in Spain, across foodservice, retail, and direct-to-consumer channels. At the same time, the start-up will be accelerating the development of its whole-cut chicken and steak products, we were told, “to take to our next fundraise”.
A hybrid concept
Libre was founded in 2021 with the ambition of ‘reinventing’ how meat is produced and consumed. Mexican founder Ramos was inspired by the potential of fungi, which he believes can ‘unlock’ the taste, texture and fats of meat in their whole-cut form.
“We’re fully focused on making great fungi-based products to take to market. We’re a biotechnology company, yet we are clear that our responsibility is to make great-tasting food products that will move the needle on the mainstream adoption of alternative proteins.”
The start-up’s technology is founded in mycelium – the vegetative part of a fungus that grows outwards in search of water and nutrients. Libre Foods’ first product will leverage its mycelium platform, in combination with plant-based proteins, to develop a hybrid analogue mimicking whole-cut bacon.
“Since we’re the youngest venture-backed fermentation company in this space, we’re launching a mushroom/plant-based protein hybrid bacon into the market this year to start learning about our customers, at the same time with much earlier competitors,” explained Ramos.
Competitors working in the mycelium meat analogue space include Israeli start-up Mush Foods, which is targeting the B2B market, and US-based Meati Foods.
‘Our identity is whole-cuts’
By targeting the pork industry, Libre Foods is going after a European pig meat market worth an estimated $53bn, according to the FAO figures. Globally, the pig market is estimated to be worth $241bn.
“Our identity at Libre Foods is whole-cuts. For that matter, we’ve targeted the three largest meat markets for disruption: pork, chicken and beef,” explained the CEO.
“We’ve decided to pursue bacon first because we see it as the largest category pending disruption. Pork is the second most consumed worldwide and is the most consumed meat category in the EU.
“Therefore, it made sense to begin with our first pork whole cut in bacon, and quickly follow with our chicken and steak whole-cuts.”
From a health perspective, the start-up claims its products are minimally processed post-fermentation: “Our products’ qualities are
enhanced by non-fermented product development processes and our subsequent products go through minimal post-processing after our fermentation cycles.”
They are also more sustainable than conventional alternatives, given the makeup of their ingredients: “Since our product is made up of fungi and plant proteins, it is healthier and more sustainable than conventional bacon by default.
“With that said, we want consumers to get all the characteristics they know and love about bacon in a healthier format, that is why our team is working hard to prepare a bacon for market with low saturated fats, for example.”
Libre Foods is still in the process of ‘improving’ its product in preparation for an autumn launch, when it said it will have more ‘definitive’ nutritional information.
“Similarly, we aim to have more concrete numbers to communicate around the sustainability of our product as we get nearer to hit the market,” we were told.
After ‘capturing’ Libre Foods’ home market, in Spain, the start-up plans to look further afield: “We see ourselves strategically located to be able to cater to the entire EU market at more competitive prices due to our lower production costs.
“After the EU and UK, we will look to the US and Latin American markets for expansion,” Ramos revealed.
The start-up is also looking forward to its next funding round, tabled for 2023. At that time, Libre Foods will be ‘showcasing’ its mycelium platform and substantiating its growth projections for upcoming products, leaning on sales figures of its first product across ‘at least’ two European markets.
Ramos continued: “Additionally, we aim to present plans to expand our research capabilities to extend to additional product qualities made from fungi, staying in line with our vision to unlock all of fungi’s capabilities for food applications using fermentation technologies.”