The average supermarket deli is a sad carnival of sulfites, nitrates, and preservatives that go bump in your belly. There have been a handful of upstarts in the plant-based food space attempting to create a healthy alternative to sliced cotto salami or chunks of smoked roast beef. One San Francisco-based company believes it has a healthy, tasty solution.
Prime Roots, producer of deli-style meat made from koji mycelium, announced $30 million in Series B funding this month from True Ventures, Pangaea Ventures, Prosus Ventures, Top Tier Capital, Diamond Edge Ventures, bringing their total funding to $50 million. The fresh funding will enable Prime Roots to scale and expand to deli counters and restaurants. The company’s alternative deli product currently is available primarily in the San Francisco Bay area.
Growing up with family in the food industry, Prime Roots founder and CEO Kimberlie Le knew that the focus had to be a multi-barreled approach: taste was a must; nutrition was also a consideration, and sustainability also was vital.
“Because I come from a food background, I really wanted to emphasize taste,” Le told The Spoon in a recent interview. “We wanted to make sure the products taste good first and foremost. When we started six years ago, we were also thinking about really the nutrition and the cleanliness of the products. At the time, legacy brands had long ingredient lists and a lot of unpronounceable ingredients. I really wanted to fix that because it wasn’t anything that my mom, who’s a chef, would want to serve in her restaurants or at home. And so really took it upon myself to find a solution that really met the consumer where they are and really solved a personal problem for conscience eaters.”
Prime Roots approaches the deli case with the identical microscopic texture of meat, along with its umami taste made from plants. Experienced chefs helped develop the most popular deli products-including cracked pepper turkey, black forest ham, hickory bacon, salami, and pepperoni to emulate the savory, meaty taste, and texture that consumers demand for meat substitutes. According to the company, Prime Roots’ turkey and ham have no nitrates, preservatives, cholesterol, soy, wheat and are lower in sodium than the leading brands.
Koji is a strain of a fungus used for various culinary purposes, including the production of alcoholic beverages like sake or invaluable condiments like miso and mirin. In the case of creating deli meats, koji ignites the fermentation process when added to other base ingredients. Other companies such as Meati and Aqua Culture Foods use koji in their production of alternative proteins.
Le said that as part of her due diligence, she toured a number of delis across the country including New York, the center for all things corned beef and pastrami. The goal was to see how receptive these landmark eateries would be to a new product.
“When we were working on the concept, the deli concept,” Lee recalled, “The first thing we did when we had initial prototypes was go to New York, which is really deli mecca and had prototypes which we would take into some of the most iconic delis and say, ‘Hey, try this’ to see how open and receptive these deli folks were and how the deli culture would be receptive to a plant-based product.”
“Surprisingly, we didn’t get kicked out of a single place, and everyone was super excited to put the meats on their slicer. They were wowed by the texture, the slicing capabilities, and were just very open and excited.”
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