New South Wales-based Fascin8foods is trying to boost the profile of mushrooms as both a sustainable and naturally flavour-rich meat substitute.

According to the company, mushroom-based meat holds a series of advantages compared to other plant-based products, such as ability to carry flavour, lack of many common allergens, price point, and the fact that they can be grown indoors.

We recently had a chance to interview founder Jenny Joseph.

Tell us about the journey that led to you founding a mushroom-based meat brand. 

Since the start of my career as a brand manager in FMCG, you could say I’ve developed a track record as an entrepreneur. Pre-Covid I exited a tech company I co-founded alongside my husband, which we subsequently took public on the ASX.

When the pandemic hit, and with a bit more free time on my hands, I shifted my focus to food, something I’ve always loved. And through the encouragement of my children, I started a blog dedicated to documenting cherished family recipes.

From this I segued into reading more about the critical issues facing the world today like climate change, food sustainability, and global food security.

After much R&D, the pivotal moment came when Fascin8foods was born in 2021. Fast-forward to September 2023, we’ve successfully introduced three main products: burger patties, meatballs, and various mince alternatives. This achievement represents the realisation of a dream that combines my passion for food, commitment to sustainability, and the drive to provide innovative solutions in response to pressing global challenges. 

Bringing this vision to market has naturally leveraged my marketing and entrepreneurial skill set.

How do you see the perception of mushroom-based products in the plant-based meat market compared to other kinds of products? 

As you know, the burgeoning plant-based meat market is quite competitive, with various alternatives like soy, pea protein, and seitan-based products available across multiple food categories – chicken / beef / pork / burgers / sausages to name a few.

Recent controversies, however, have unveiled the dark side of the sector – heavy processing and unhealthy additives – in the endeavour to replicate the taste and texture of meat. The use of genetically engineered yeast cultures to mimic heme-protein raises questions about the intersection of technology and nature.

Moreover, the allergens related to some plant proteins like soy, wheat, and pea add another layer of complexity, especially for those consumers with specific dietary needs and the provenance of source, GMO or not.

Plus, many plant-based meat-replacement choices hold a notable price premium, due in part to the level of processing.

From a mushroom perspective (besides the recent death cap mushroom saga in Melbourne, an isolated incident that bears no relevance to the space), there are very few mushroom based products competing in the alternative protein market.  

Fascin8foods mushroom ball wrap

While they are a common ingredient, many consumers may not even be aware of their potential as a meat substitute nor of their sustainability as a source of protein and food alternatives. And so as a plant-based, mushroom-centred brand, we need to find ways to differentiate through education, from both a sustainability and well being aspect.

Because mushrooms can be cultivated indoors vertically, they don’t need the vast agricultural land associated with meat production or the growing of other plant-based proteins.

Mushroom cultivation requires less land, water, and resources compared to traditional farming. So, opting for mushroom-based alternatives reduces one’s ecological footprint. 

Data source: GroCycle 

Besides the well documented health and nutrition benefits, mushrooms are naturally free of common allergens like soy, gluten, and nuts, making them suitable for a wide range of dietary preferences and restrictions.

The Good Food Institute (GFI) and Mindlab published some research exploring the influence of price on purchase intent and a consumers’ willingness to pay more for plant-based items. When directly questioned, price placed second to taste as the most crucial element influencing their purchase decision. And so a product that can address all the issues mentioned above can break the barriers of entry.

What sets Fascin8food’s products apart from other mushroom-based brands? 

We like to position ourselves as a plant-based product first, but one that is centred around mushrooms.  Our driving goal is to provide a delightful product that’s not just delicious, but one that also contributes positively to the environment. And mushrooms, as highlighted previously, emerge as a standout ingredient and contender, offering natural health benefits, culinary excellence, and ecological efficiency.

Fascin8foods mushroom mince pizza 

Our point of difference is key – mushrooms are an excellent carrier of flavour.  The beauty of our product is that while the mushroom infuses dishes with the delightful umami, meatiness and texture required from a plant-based alternative, it readily absorbs the flavours you choose to highlight in your cuisine, without fear of overshadowing them. The dish, not the product, becomes the hero.

Can you share a bit about where you source your mushrooms from and the overall production process? Where are your production facilities based? 

Currently, we manufacture in NSW using imported mushrooms. This was a conscious decision for speed-to-market. As we see demand grow, we will look to source a local supplier. 

Where do Fascin8foods products currently retail? Do you have plans to expand? 

As a new company, our focus for now is food services – in this sector both our mushroom balls and mince are performing well by virtue of their versatility in creating a range of dishes. They’re an attractive option for people simply looking to reduce their meat consumption or to transition to a plant-based diet.

Fascin8foods mushroom brekkie burger 

We are currently working on getting our product retail-ready with a goal to launch into retail 2024. And the export market is a developing channel of interest.

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