Inside Meat the Mushroom’s Vegan Bacon Pitch on Shark Tank

6 Mins Read

Black-owned plant-based meat company Meat the Mushroom secured investment from two Sharks in the ongoing season on Shark Tank – here’s the inside story on how it all went down.

“In Shark Tank, we have so many plant-based products – they all taste like crap. This actually tastes good.”

As far as stamps of approval go, this one from Kevin O’Leary – known on the internet as Chef Wonderful – took the cake for Meat the Mushroom, the Baltimore-based startup that appeared on Shark Tank’s ongoing season. Owned by husband-and-wife duo Marvin and Aleah Rae Montague, the three-year-old brand’s flagship product is Shroomacon, a vegan bacon with only five ingredients: king oyster mushrooms, olive oil, natural smoke flavour, salt and black pepper.

The clean-label aspect drives the company’s nutrition-focused marketing strategy, with Aleah highlighting bacon’s association with high blood pressure and heart disease, its high saturated fat and cholesterol content, and the presence of nitrates and preservatives. With heart disease being the leading cause of death in the US – one American dies from cardiovascular disease every 33 seconds, and African Americans are 30% more likely to do so than non-Hispanic white people – the health focus on food is higher than ever.

1,022-person survey by the International Food Information Council (IFIC) last year found that health is the major factor behind Americans eating vegan or vegetarian diets, with six in 10 choosing it. And in terms of plant-based meat, ‘healthy’ is the most appealing description on product labels.

When it comes to protein intake, whole-plant sources saw the sharpest rise among Americans between 2022 and 2023, with 28% eating them ‘somewhat’ or ‘much more’ now. There’s also greater sensitivity around ultra-processed foods and their impact on health, a link that is extended to meat alternatives. All this has brought whole-food plant-based proteins into sharp focus recently.

For Marvin himself, going vegan was a health thing. Within a year of transitioning to a plant-based diet in 2014, he managed to overcome his lifelong battle with asthma and reverse a diagnosis of early heart disease. Giving up bacon was the hardest part, though, which led to him creating a mushroom-based version in preparation for a future restaurant. That has now evolved into Meat the Mushroom.

Two Sharks for the price of one

vegan shark tank
Courtesy: Christopher Willard/ABC

The Montagues’ appearance on Shark Tank – which has platformed many vegan brands, including Wild Earth, Everything Legendary, Project Pollo, Mrs Goldfarb’s Unreal Deli and The Cinnamon Kitchen – was two years in the making. “We applied two years in a row and got the call in the spring of 2023 that we were moving forward to the next round in the process,” Aleah tells Green Queen. “And it is a process.”

They received a call to find out they’re moving forward past the application stage, a moment she describes as “surreal”. “This entire experience is a real ‘pinch-me’ moment,” she notes. The nerves gave way to adrenaline as she and her husband walked down the famous Shark Tank hallway. “All of our practice really kicked in… and we made it all happen.”

Pitching to Mark Cuban (a known vegetarian and alternative protein investor), Lori Greiner, Daymond John, Daniel Lubetzky and O’Leary, Marvin and Aleah were seeking $150,000 for a 7.5% stake in their vegan bacon company.

But although the Sharks were impressed by the bacon, they didn’t have the same feeling about the $2M valuation. O’Leary offered the full $150,000, but for a 33.3% stake, valuing the company at $450,000 instead. “I have zero flexibility,” he warned. Were the Shroomacon makers surprised by that? “No, they are Sharks for a reason,” says Marvin. “Everything is negotiable, and just having an offer meant we had a chance to walk out of there with one on our team.”

Quickly, however, Cuban and John pulled out – for the former, it was a conflict of interest, given he’s an investor in Unreal Deli, while John believed it would be too hard to maximise profits. O’Leary followed up with a ‘mushroomed’ offer of 33.67%, and then 34%. Lubetzky then took himself out of the running too, encouraging the Montagues to take O’Leary’s offer.

Meat the Mushroom experiences the ‘Shark Tank effect’

Courtesy: Meat the Mushroom

You could sense the hesitation on the entrepreneurs’ minds, who knew they’d need to raise more money down the line, which is proving to already be an uphill task in the food tech sector. Things took a turn soon, though, when Greiner came in matching O’Leary’s original offer for a 33.3% stake.

Aleah explained that a third of the company is a lot more than they were willing to give. After O’Leary outlined the challenging financial landscape, Greiner sweetened the deal by offering to join his 33.3% offer. As the saying goes, two Sharks are better than one.

The Montagues countered with 25%, but the investors stood their ground. Their next counters – $200,000 for 33.33% and 34% – was unsuccessful too, before Cuban chimed in and warned that they were overnegotiating. While still looking a little uncertain, the Meat the Mushroom founders agreed to O’Leary and Greiner’s joint deal.

“We could see the value that having two Sharks could really bring,” explains Marvin. “Our goal has always been to make Shroomacon more accessible and to make it easier for people to really transform their lives by changing their eating habits. We felt two Sharks can get us there, and it felt worth the equity.”

While many deals end up gaining investment from the Sharks, roughly half of them never close after due diligence. But things look to be going positively for Meat the Mushroom. “We are in the process of finalising the details and are excited about what this partnership will bring forth,” reveals Aliah.

The startup was also subject to what’s become known as the ‘Shark Tank effect’, when businesses who appear on the show receive a huge uptick in sales and website visits after the segment’s airing. “In the 12 hours after our episode aired, we did over $60,000 worth of online sales. That’s more sales than we did in any month in the history of our business,” notes Marvin. For context, at the time of their pitch the startup’s all-time sales were $360,000. “Our minds were blown.”

Vegan bacon isn’t an easy game – in a $1.3B market crowded by innovators like THIS, La Vie, MyForest Foods, Prime Roots, the Vegetarian Butcher and Lightlife, to name a few, Meat the Mushroom would need to double down on the clean-label aspect for its Shroomacon to really stand out. Having a couple of Sharks on board will go a long way in doing so.

Since the pitch, the business has progressed nicely. “We’ve gone from about 25 stores to over 100 and closed 2023 with over a half million in sales,” Marvin says. “Our team has grown too – we now have over 12 people on our team, and we are very proud to be creating jobs in our city of Baltimore.” The city became the first in the US to officially proclaim January as the month of Veganuary earlier this year.

“We are working hard to get our product into grocery stores and restaurants nationwide,” adds Aleah. Currently, Shroomacon is available in Central Market, Green Life Market, MOM’s Organic Market and Jungle Jim’s stores. “But more than that, we want to continue to be a resource to anyone looking to live longer and healthier by making eating choices that are better for their body.”


  • Anay Mridul

    Anay is Green Queen's resident news reporter. Originally from India, he worked as a vegan food writer and editor in London, and is now travelling and reporting from across Asia. He's passionate about coffee, plant-based milk, cooking, eating, veganism, food tech, writing about all that, profiling people, and the Oxford comma.

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