The rich flavours of a bolognese sauce. The melt-in-your-mouth texture of slow-cooked meat. There are some dishes that are irresistibly delicious and comforting. So much so that they are making it difficult for many people to adopt a more plant-based diet. Even if they are otherwise convinced that it’s a better choice.
It’s a conundrum that is all too familiar to Sunshine Coast entrepreneur Michal Fox. After becoming vegetarian four and a half years ago for ethical, health and environmental reasons, he sometimes still craved his favourite dishes that were difficult to recreate without meat.
And the former CEO of now closed shoe retailer Shoes of Prey kept hearing similar stories in his network. People want to reduce their meat consumption, but are struggling with the practicalities.
“I’m a terrible activist, but have some entrepreneurial experience” says Michael. So, after a six months sabbatical during which he kept diving deeper in the complex issues of industrial animal agriculture, he decided to use his skills to help people reduce their meat consumption and launched Fable Food Co.
The plant-based meat company is promising to make it easier for people to create meat-free versions of their favorite recipes without having to compromise on flavour or texture.
A plant-based meat that harnesses the natural goodness of mushrooms
“When I started to explore the plant-based meat category, two things became really important to me. Firstly, I didn’t want to create another burger or mince alternative. There were already quite a few very good products in the market,” explains the self-taught food entrepreneur. “And secondly, I wanted to use only natural ingredients that required minimal processing.”
After extensive research he landed on mushrooms as the central ingredient for Fable’s plant-based meat products. “Mushrooms don’t require the same amount of processing as pea or soy protein to achieve the meat-like texture,” says Michael. “Mushrooms also have a natural umami taste. This means you don’t have to add many other ingredients to get really good flavour.”
Michael’s key ingredient choice also led him to two people who became central to Fable’s founding team. Mycologist (mushroom scientist) Jim Fuller is the Chief Science Officer behind the company’s creations. And organic mushroom farmer Chris McLoghlin joined the business as Chief Product Officer.
“When I talked to people in the food industry about mushrooms, there names came up at least five times . That’s when I knew I had to talk to them about my ideas,” says Michael about bringing together a team with a perfect set of complementary skills.
Heston-approved flavours and textures
In December 2019, the team launched their first product to market. It emulates the taste and texture of slow-cooked meats but is 100% plant-based, consisting mainly of shiitake mushrooms.
The product was initially aimed at chefs and only available through restaurants. It’s a launch strategy which ensured that Fable’s plant-based meats would meet the highest quality standards. It also helped the brand gain credibility in the market early on.
“For the launch, we reached out to some of the world’s best chefs,” says Michael. “And we were fortunate that Heston Blumenthal fell in love with the product and wanted to launch it into the market with us.” He’s now incorporated the product in his menu at The Perfectionists’ Cafe in London.
Fable’s products are also currently available through Marley Spoon and the team is working on a retail range which is going to hit the supermarket shelves pretty soon, starting with Harris Farm in NSW in April.
With confidence onto supermarket shelves
“We will be adding more retailers in the coming months,” says Michael. “We’re lucky to be in a category that’s booming right now. There’s massive consumer demand in this space. This is making retailers a lot more interested to add more options into their plant-based meat ranges.”
And the Fable team is convinced that their products are going to be as much of a hit with end-consumers as they are with Michelin star chefs, not least because of Michael’s thorough pre-product market research. When he was first toying with the idea of launching a plant-based meat product, he spent a lot of time observing consumer behaviour in the supermarket.
He found that a lot of people were looking at the available plant-based meat products, but some did not buy them. When he approached them and asked why the item didn’t end up in the shopping trolley, it was usually to do with long ingredient lists and too much processing.
It’s this gap in the market that gives the Fable team confidence for the retail launch. What’s more, plant-based meats currently only make up 1% of retail sales in the meat category, compared to the 13% market share that plant-based milks were able to carve out in the dairy category. “Given the rapidly changing consumer sentiment around industrial animal agriculture and the health-benefits of a more plant-based diet, I’m confident that we will see rapid growth in this segment in the next few years,” says Michael.
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Image credit: All images supplied by Fable Food Co.