Sustainability In Action: Food & Beverage Manufacturing
A planet and people-first business model driven by green consumer trends and a passion for fungi.
One company representing the greener side of the food and beverage industry, and also embracing manufacturing megatrends like automation and fermentation, is Nature's Fynd™. This Chicago startup develops sustainable meat and dairy alternatives made with Fy™, its nutritional fungi protein.
It all really started millions of years ago in an acidic hot spring, located in today's Yellowstone National Park, when a remarkable microbe was born. Fast forward to 2009, when a co-founder's research for NASA on extremophiles led him to the park's hot springs. He then isolated and discovered a remarkable microbe, which he later named Fusarium strain flavolapis.
Using a unique liquid air interface fermentation technology, a team was able to grow Fy Protein - a complete protein with all 20 amino acids (including the nine essential ones), low in fat and a good source of fiber. The process has a 24/7 growing cycle that does not need sun, rain, or soil, and used 99% less land and water than traditional forms of cultivating protein.
Now, Nature's Fynd is a thriving food company. Its work is driven by a 35,000 sq ft facility in Chicago, and an R&D site in Montana. The company launched its first four products in 2021 - Dairy-Free Cream Cheese and Meatless Breakfast Patties.
While it continues to explore Fy's potential, there is an overarching mission to utilize the protein to feed the masses at home but also in developing countries, says Margot Visconti, the company's Director of Talent Acquisition & Retention. With Fy being neutral in taste and flavor it also offers a blank canvas to be put into almost any food product, she adds.
"Everyone here is truly focused on making a difference," notes Visconti. "To see the collaboration between our engineers, food scientists, and specialists, as they come together to create the next solution, is really encouraging and rewarding to be around every day." Nature's Fynd is increasingly using automation and robotics to be "as efficient as possible", while the engineers focus on the upstream, midstream, and downstream processes of Fy growth.
The company is looking to further improve and extend automation in the production line when it expands to a new 200,000 sq ft facility. Progressive supported the original plant build – supplying construction engineers and onsite technicians to aid automation processes.
Visconti says: "When you look at the manufacturing process from day one to how far this has come, it's exciting. That meeting of the minds and the automation that's coming into play - these are processes that weren't available before. We're not purchasing equipment and throwing it into our facility; the engineering staff have put their minds together to create new processes."
Innovations in food technology have also seen Nature’s Fynd launch Fy on a rocket (as part of its NASA-funded work), to see if it can grow on the International Space Station. If the experiment works, Fy could serve as a nutritious food source for life away from Earth.
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