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Barcelona biotech startup Libre Foods has announced the closure of a $2.5 million seed round to scale its mushroom bacon, with plans for whole cut chicken and steak in the works. The round was led by Green Generation Fund and counted return investors Good Seed Ventures, alongside ProVeg International and Veg Capital.
The company, founded by Mexican entrepreneur Alan Iván Ramos, raised a $300,000 pre-seed in 2021 with backing from alt protein angels Mariliis Holm and Ryan Bethencourt.
A bevvy of food tech industry insiders backed the young company in the current round, from former director of process R&D at MycoWorks Dr. Ritu Bansal-Mutalik and CEO & founder of precision fermentation egg startup the Every Company, Arturo Elizondo to Peace of Meat Co-founder David Brandes, FoodHack CEO Arman Anatürk, and members of the US-based Glass Wall Syndicate.
“We believe in the team’s mission to make the world a little more “LIBRE”: free of industrially produced meat, fighting climate change and yet allowing for our food culture: keeping bacon, now only plant-based, as part of our diets,” said Green Generation’s Janna Ensthaler.
Next steps for Libre Bacon
New funding has been earmarked for the commercial launch of the company’s first-ever product, Libre Bacon. Developed using precision fermentation, the bacon is a first innovation, after which the company says it will work on whole-cut chicken and steak products.
“If we’re really out to transform the food system, we need to provide consumers with all of the solutions to do so. Whole-cut products remain one of the largest challenges in our industry. This funding will get us closer to helping solve that,” said Ramos.
For Libre Bacon, the plan is to debut in Spain and then roll out across other European markets. When asked whether the launch would be via foodservice or retail partners, Ramos said the team was looking at both, in addition to pursuing DTC channels.
When asked about product pricing, Ramos said it was too early to give any firm figures. As of yet, a launch date is still to be confirmed, though interested consumers can sample the Libre Bacon at the Future Food Tech event in San Francisco next month, or at the Los Angeles Vegan Women Summit in April.
The Mycelium question
Initially, Libre planned to use mycelium in its bacon, to create a rich and fibrous texture, As of yet, the ingredient has not been approved for commercial sale in the EU. As a result, Ramos and his team have focussed to develop a mushroom-based stand-in that can be easily upgraded once mycelium is accepted as food safe.
Green Queen tasted an early iteration of the mycelium-free bacon and though the texture required some work, the product shows immense promise. The product was presented at a tasting in Barcelona in November last year and following similar feedback, “significant improvements” have been made to the product to ready it for launch.
Still, mycelium is a key part of Libre’s path to market.
“Libre is bringing a new category of plant-based alternatives to the European market by developing mushroom-based bacon, chicken and whole-cut meats. Mycelium, as the main ingredient, is nutritious, versatile, and scalable — consumers will find a lot more mycelium-based products in retail and on their menus,” said Dr Manon Littek, of Green Generation Fund.
From regulation to scale
While the mycelium approval delay is frustrating, another key area of focus is securing production. “As for our major challenges at the moment, we would say partnering with the right production partners that count on the infrastructure to reproduce the quality of our product formulation at the scale we’re looking for in our EU launch,” Ramos told Green Queen.
Scale is important and Libre is progressing fast, especially as Ramos hopes to make a significant dent in the not insignificant $53 billion EU pig industry – globally the sector is worth $241 billion.
“We’re now eager to progress with our new partners on this exciting next stage of growth towards realising our mission.”
Ramos is currently looking to boost his team with ongoing recruiting across all departments from fermentation, product development, marketing to business development. He is quick to emphasise that the existing team has been a huge part of the company’s early success.
“The reason we’ve been able to move so quickly in such a short amount of time is thanks to our exceptional team, which has grown exponentially to include scientists, gastronomists, and engineers, all motivated to build a freer future for all,” he said.
Fungi for the future
Fungi is becoming a focal ingredient in the future foods world. Last month, Finnish researchers successfully created an egg white alternative using fungi. Sustainable and vegan-appropriate, the development can be converted into a stable powder that works at an industrial scale. Tr-OVA, as the ingredient has been dubbed, has baking and dairy applications.
In November last year, Mycorena revealed its new fungi fat. It was created to make vegan steaks juicier and more flavourful. The natural umami qualities of the mushrooms used can improve plant-based meat exponentially. The development appears suitable for creating marbling and will be entering beta-testing soon.
All photos by Libre Foods.