Mycelium-based MyBacon provides alt-meat’s missing link, er, strip, to feed the future. Dig in to this brand's secret.

Shara Rutberg

March 13, 2024

6 Min Read
MyBacon

Editor's note: This story was written before the 2024 NEXTY Awards were presented. MyBacon won Best New Vegan Product.

 The sheer scale of the rows of towering racks lining the cavernous rooms in MyForest Foods’ 78,000-square-foot production facility evokes the final warehouse scene in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” where a workman wheels a wooden crate containing the Ark into storage oblivion. While the New York facility does not contain the Ark of the Covenant, it might indeed be harvesting the plant-based holy grail: delicious vegan bacon.

Eben Bayer and Gavin McIntyre co-founded MyForest Foods in 2020, spinning it off from parent company Ecovative, which makes mycelium-based packaging. That company stems from a challenge issued by their Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute professor, Burt Swersey, to “do something meaningful.” Today, they grow massive slabs of mycelium “meat” on beds of hardwood chips in silos named after their prof.

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In a proprietary roots-not-fruits process they call AirMycelium, they “trick” the mushrooms into growing a dense, thick root structure instead of sprouting mushrooms, says Sarah-Marie Cole, chief marketing officer. It takes just 12 days to grow 100-foot-long slabs. Then they slice the pieces of what they call “mush bellies” (like pork bellies) into strips, brine and season them, and voilà—MyBacon (like mycelium, get it?).

Related:Actual Veggies adds nutritious fries to its plant-based offerings

Whether it’s snarfed straight from a sizzling pan, sassing up a sammy or lending bacon-y flavor to recipes, fans can’t get enough of the stuff, which currently retails in the Northeast. Time magazine called it one of the best inventions of 2022. Fast Company honored it as a 2023 World Changing Idea. Former Stonyfield Organic CEO Gary Hirshberg, Robert Downey Jr.’s Footprint Coalition, Whole Foods Market co-founder Walter Robb and Applegate Farms founder Stephen McDonnell invested. Most recently, MyBacon became a NEXTY Award finalist for Best Vegan Product.

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What is your brand’s mission?

Sarah-Marie Cole: To create amazingly delicious foods to feed the future by farming organic AirMycelium.

How is mycelium protein a better choice than other meatless meat?

SMC: Over 80% of traditional meat sold today falls under the whole-cut umbrella—think chicken breasts, fish filets, sliced pork bacon, etc. Meanwhile, most of the alt-meat products fall under the ground meat category and are extruded, leaving the plant-based whole-cut category wide open. Mycelium protein is the perfect way to fill that gap. The way we grow mycelium inside vertical farms allows us to harvest whole pieces we can slice and cut into any desired shape and thickness. This results in a unique meat-like and fibrous texture that is otherwise impossible to achieve.  

MyBacon uses only five simple ingredients: organic oyster mushroom mycelium, organic coconut oil, organic sugar, organic salt and natural flavors. The result is an allergen-free, soy-free, dairy-free and gluten-free final product. Most meatless meats rely on soy protein, whey protein and long lists of fillers and binders. 

What has been MyBacon’s toughest challenge and how are you overcoming it?

SMC: Scaling to meet our incredible consumer demand by domesticating an entirely new crop is a challenge! When we began, there was no such thing as an AirMycelium Farming Thingamajig or any other necessary machine. We have had to engineer, create, learn and adjust as we grew. We have had to continually adapt to find ways to grow and harvest more and more and more of our star ingredient. 

In 2022, we opened the world's largest vertical mycelium farm. This farm can grow more than 1 million pounds of AirMycelium annually—but that’s not enough! Thus, we’ve implemented strategic partnerships with existing mushroom farms like Whitecrest Mushrooms based in Canada. Our goal is to enable seasoned farmers with the opportunity to add AirMycelium to their crop repertoire, allowing both of us to grow and expand. 

Plant-based meat alternatives in the U.S. have been declining in sales in recent months. Industry watchers have asked if we’ve reached “peak veganism.” Your response?

SMC: “Peak veganism” is an interesting term that deserves some clarity. Some data, contrary to popular opinion in this space, has indicated that the terms vegan and plant-based have a negative connotation for most consumers. Sure, it's a great way to identify a meat-free product, but as so many newly launched products have fallen short on taste, texture and health claims, many consumers are left lacking trust and enthusiasm for anything labeled as vegan. There is an opportunity to reinvigorate the category by redefining or creating niche micro-categories that allow consumers to shop with an entirely new, untarnished perspective.

What are the most critical components of the “joy factor” of bacon?

SMC: Love that you ask about joy factor! We conduct a ton of MyBacon demos, and we’ve continuously referred to the sampling experience as the joy factor. Many people come up to our sampling table a little hesitant—they don’t know what mycelium is, they don’t like mushrooms, they only like real bacon, etc. But once they take the plunge and try a bite? The phenomenon that unfolds is priceless! The sampler’s eyes widen, a smile spreads from cheek to cheek, the head starts bobbing…. followed by a num-num noise. It’s amazing and delightful to watch. People react to the fact that all five senses are invited to the party. The smell, the sight of the sizzling bacon on the pan, the taste and texture, the slightly chewy yet crispy crunch … it’s all there! 

Why did you decide to exhibit at Natural Products Expo West?

SMC: We have been waiting for this moment for the past three years! Since inception, we have been working tirelessly to scale, and we are finally here right now—this is our time. We are in expansion, farming is consistent, production is humming beautifully and MyBacon is more delicious than ever. Now is the right time for our official debut at Expo West, to share it with the industry and celebrate the journey. We are ready and confident for a full liftoff this year, and we can’t wait for the show!

What do you hope to accomplish at Expo?

SMC: We can talk all day long about how fantastic this product is, but the belief is in the first bite. We cannot wait to offer a taste of MyBacon to everyone attending Expo West. The joy factor we discussed earlier is something special, and I can’t wait to see all the smiles and hear all the “ohh-emm-geee’s.” It brings our team so much happiness. It makes all the hard work, the pivots and the hurdles worth it. We are so proud of MyBacon, our mission and our purpose. It is just a wonderful feeling to be able to share it.  

MyBacon is exhibiting in Booth N112 in the Hot Products Pavilion at Natural Products Expo West. The Hot Products Pavilion, located in the North Halls and ACC Level 3, opens at noon Wednesday for buyers only and from 1-6 p.m. for all badge holders. Hours are 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Thursday and Friday.

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