#025 Fungi used for food and for feed

Climate change, deforestation, animal welfare and concern for the environment has meant many people now enjoy a plant-based diet. The meat industry is taking its toll on the natural resources of the planet and the number of people becoming vegan across the world is increasing daily. 

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The meat industry has a disastrous impact on the natural resources of the planet – huge levels of water consumption, non renewable energy usage and the depletion of our soil means we pay a high price for the food on our plates. It is estimated that it costs around 2500 litres of water to make a hamburger containing only 110 grams of meat. Dr Vandana Shiva, an environmental ecologist claims “it takes an average of 40 fossil calories of energy for a single food calorie to exist on your plate. When you include meat in that equation it takes roughly 76 fossil calories to produce one calorie of industrial beef.” Vast areas of land are cleared to grow crops for livestock feed, and this deforestation is having a detrimental effect on our environment. 

Vegan alternatives are today claimed to be the way forward, while in the past decade the trend has shifted from having vegetable alternatives as a meal to ‘meat free’ meat products – those which look and taste like meat. These products are often made from proteins but can still be just as bad for the environment as meat. Creating protein products can still take a huge toll on the earth’s natural resources often in the same way meat can.

The new trends of veganism and ‘flexitarianism’ mean consumers have started to question how ethical vegan based products really are. What options do we have when it comes to vegan alternatives which are fully sustainable and circular? We had the chance to speak to Ramkumar and Ebba from Mycorena and their vegan product Promyc. 

Ramkumar Nair, Founder and CEO of Mycorena AB. Came to Sweden in 2013 for his PhD and started Mycorena company in late 2017, as a spin-out from his research work. Later on, Ebba Fröling, COO joined the company as the first full-time and key employee. Mycorena was born while Nair was studying for his PHD carrying out extensive research work investigating the potentials of creating a more sustainable world using fungi. The fungi that the company produces is capable of making amazing vegan products that can create greater value for existing food industries that want to go more circular and sustainable. Mycorena is now hosting a platform for the whole world to get more knowledge about the potentials of creating a more sustainable world using fungi and their vegan food product Promyc®.

At the very beginning, the company received some pre-seed capital from GU ventures, which is the venture capital arm of Gothenburg University (GU) where the original fungi-based project was initiated during the beginning of the millennium. GU ventures initial capital was very helpful to create a launch pad for Mycorena and also to attract more talent to work at the company.

From Waste to Food – A Fully Circular Journey

What is Promyc® and what is it made of?
Mycoprotein is a natural and nutritious vegan protein made through fermentation, not so unlike the process of beer brewing. The fungi grow with a natural texture and give this product a meaty chewiness, excellent roasting surface and a unique non-plant flavour. Promyc is extremely resource efficient and sustainable, using much less resources to grow than other plant-based alternatives. Is this the future of microbial nutrition?

Producing protein through fermentation.

  • Highly resource efficient – more food can be produced using the same amount of resources available globally.
  • It’s healthy and nutritious, providing a complete protein source, alongside carbohydrates and fatty acids necessary for healthy body function.
  • It can be produced in different climates and geographical conditions, so that it can be grown across the globe.
  • The method can rapidly scale up or down in production capacity without long lag phases

Circular Quote
of the day:

“It was a natural step and an organic transition of a nice research work to evolve into a start-up company.”

Ramkumar Nair 

Founder Mycorena

A Fully Circular Business Model 

The patented product from Mycorena –  Promyc is a vegan protein source made from filamentous fungi. Promyc is offered to food production companies to replace traditional plant based protein sources.  The making of Promyc® uses much less land and less water in the process, as well as producing fewer CO2 emissions compared to other alternatives. During the production process – Mycorena uses the side streams from the food production as a substrate, meaning they create a total circular process for the food industry – making actual food out of food loss.  Promyc, as an organic protein content, can be used safely as inputs in the production process or can be looped back to the natural system for regeneration. The product is not only fully sustainable, but also has a great nutritional quality and taste that makes it an excellent ingredient for any vegan food based product. 

Redefining Tradition

This year the company made “Väldigt Swedish Vegoballs” as a delicious alternative to the classic Swedish meatball.  The launch was a huge success and the meatballs sold out in less than 48 hours! The product is not only environmentally sustainable – compared to that of soybean and pea-based options, Promyc’s protein content is significantly higher with the added bonus of essential amino acids contributing to the protein “package” necessary for good health.

Global demand for alternative protein sources is increasing, with companies all over the world looking into new ways of staying competitive in the market while keeping up with increasingly stringent consumer demands. Manufacturers need to find new product areas still unexplored, while meeting demands for sustainable production. Mycorena helps food companies to find solutions that not only taste good – but do good. 

Mycorena wants to create a sustainable food system where countries can be self-sufficient in protein supply and not dependent on climate and other circumstances. They want to create a food industry where absolutely no food is wasted. 

Mycorena works closely with food companies for co-developing of new products and find potential synergies. Their solution is meant for an innovative ecosystem where their technology up-cycles unused resources from food companies into new high-valued food products that can either be used in the same food company’s portfolio or sold to a third party. 

My expert tip for others is… 

“Stay strong in what you believe in. When you start believing in it and work for it effortlessly, you will be surrounded by people who believe in you and your vision. And together with them you can build your mission to bring positive and more sustainable change. As someone said.. ‘’change always starts with you, and together we are strong to make the change’’. 

‘’If you want to live longer.. then try to live greener’’. If you think of and could make one small little step to make the planet a bit greener, imagine the impact that the 7 billion people can do to make this planet more sustainable and healthier.

If you could have a gigantic billboard with anything on it what would it say and why?

‘’If you want to live longer.. then try to live greener’’. 

We sit down with Nair to ask him a few questions about Mycorena and Promyc the potent protein he is developing.

What are the biggest challenges to become more circular or sustainable? Do you think other entrepreneurs face these too?

“The concept of being circular is still a luxury for most industries. They don’t necessarily need to adopt it to run their business profitably. On the other hand, implementing a circular solution requires huge initial investments at most cases, which may not be the highest priority of an industry that is already up and running. So we need to create a system where being circular is never a luxury, rather a necessity for efficient resource use and building sustainable industrial ecosystems.

Companies are also more willing to invest in sustainable solutions since that is the future and cannot be non-prioritized. Investing in linear solutions will be a stranded asset for the future meanwhile circular solutions will add more value for both the company and the planet. It’s a win win.” 

What bad bits of advice do you hear in your area of expertise? 

“We hear a lot of discussions around the profitability and the margins that a circular solution can bring in. As I said earlier, pure economics and fast returns are always on high priority. And we are always advised to think of economics in the first place, which is not bad ofcourse, but there is always a trade-off at the early stage of any new initiatives, especially when it creates a huge positive climate and environmental impact.”

Read more about food and food waste in the following related stories: Thuisbasis, Orbisk, (soon online) SoluBlue

What changes have you recently made regarding your own personal lifestyle and why? 

“I have become more minimalist in my overall lifestyle; Buying less things or just buying only those things that I feel have real value in my daily life. Also having a green diet more often is another change. And I would say, it’s the ecosystem that Mycorena introduced me to, especially the people I meet and interact.”

If you were to name one thing or achievement you personally are most proud of today, what would that be? 

“It’s the people around me. I’m very fortunate to find a bunch of people who believe me and the vision that Mycorena brought in. My team, the investors and our industry partners, all of them are staying strong and we are fighting for the same cause, with the same mission to create a sustainable system for the food we eat.”

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