Atlast Food Co. has raised $40 million from a roster of investors including Stray Dog Capital, the founders of Applegate and Stonyfield Organics and Robert Downey Jr. with the goal of mass producing its patented ingredient made from the roots of common mushrooms, and the bacon it has commercialized from it.
By sourcing the meat alternative from mycelium, the root structure of mushrooms, Atlast is able to mimic the texture of actual bacon much better than it would from isolating soy or pea protein and combining it with oils, like the leading plant-based burgers. The result is a patented ingredient Atlast’s cofounder, Eben Bayer, hopes to sell to major food companies looking for new kinds of alternative meat products. Atlast is also selling its own branded product line under the label MyBacon through direct sales, as well as at select specialty retailers.
“The business proposition is very simple. This is a profitable product and over time we think we can make it at a very competitive price compared to animal meat,” Bayer says.
Bayer spun off Atlast from his first company, Ecovative, a research and technology firm, and has raised $100 million to date from investors including Viking Global, Trousdale Ventures and others. The last $60 million, part of a series d, closed at the end of March. Its goal is to be able to produce 100 million pounds a year of the super ingredient.
Bayer first created a company to research mycelium in 2007 after establishing a new domain of materials science, part of the study of solid state physics and chemistry, known as mycelium materials while still a student at Rensselaer Polytechnic. He eventually developed a line of home compostable packaging and a line of vegan leather that is licensed to bolt threads. A self-described “second awakening” helped him see how mycelium technology could be applied to food and led him to start Atlast.
On its own, Atlast is looking to put its technology to the test, with most of the $40 million going to fund construction and staffing of a new production facility, which will be the world’s largest mycelium farm. Working with the unique properties of the roots from mushrooms like shitake and oyster mushrooms, Atlast is able to simulate the mouthfeel of actual bacon, a key to selling the product to meat lovers.
“What we found out about bacon is it’s one of the most incredible replacements we can make with the ingredient. It really lends itself to a bacon type texture and flavor,” Bayer says. “It’s also one of the most valuable meats you can make and you can charge a high price point which is really helpful.”
If it works, it could crack open what is still an untapped segment of so-called “whole cut” alternative meats. The majority of plant-based brands on the market today sell ground alternative versions of ground beef or ground sausage, leaving out the chance of replacing any sales of products like bacon strips, steak or chops. Bacon sales totaled $6.2 billion at U.S. grocers last year, according to NielsenIQ, up 21% from 2019. Meatless bacon totaled just $37 million of that.
“It’s a magic opportunity in life to have a product people love that has positive effects. All you have to do is make a lot of it, maybe you won’t succeed, but that’s a wonderful position to be in,” Eben says. “We’ve signed some deals with large CPG partners. Everyone would like more volume sooner. Those are the two things driving the urgency for us.”
Cooking Atlast’s so-called MyBacon is an enjoyable and familiar experience. Where the mycelium’s texture and mouthfeel are lacking and require a little boost for the imagination, modern flavor science comes in to offer the waft expected when cooking fatty bacon. Surprisingly comforting smells are followed by a sight that also feels familiar, bubbles forming on top of the bacon as it, actually, sizzles.
“In a very, very short period of time, we’ve expanded the capacity of growth by a factor of 12. We’re on a trajectory to increase orders and magnitude of capacity on a really accelerated schedule,” says Stephen Lomnes, president of Atlast. “The secret to being able to do that has been this partnership between Atlast and Ecovative — where we could found a company, raise funding and very quickly have the world’s experts to grow mycelium at our fingertips.”