Mushrooms. We've all tried them, but never like this. Meet Fable Food Co, a startup focussed on transforming one of nature's healthiest foods into a tasty meat alternative. This week we spoke with Michael Fox, cofounder of Fable, and chatted about a variety of topics, starting from his fascinating history of entrepreneurship and the power of packaging, to being endorsed by a michelin star chef and what it means to be a responsible plant based meat producer in the market today.
Despite only launching in late 2019 fable has already experienced a variety of success, from being selected into a seed accelerator program, to receiving an endorsement from michelin star chef Heston Blumenthal.
But Fable isn't Michael's first business, with the previous 10 years taking him on a journey with his fashion technology business 'Shoes of Prey'. Through ups and downs eventually things fell through and Michael had no intention to start anything new.
Michael: 'I didn't actually intend to start another business, I felt passionate about going into the alternative protein space, but my initial thinking was that I'll go and work for someone else.'
After some looking around, but with no jobs available yet a burning desire to help alleviate the issue of industrial animal farming, he decided to have a go and start something of his own.
Michael: 'As a COO, my day-to-day was relatively similar as to what it was with Shoes of Prey. Working with different manufacturers, supply chain logistics, these things are all pretty identical whether it's fashion or in this case, food.'
And it's this that encouraged investors who were on board with Shoes of Prey to stay on and support Michael in his new journey.
It was also this previous experience that led Michael to jump straight into working with a copacker.
Michael: 'It was almost my default path, as it's what we had done with Shoes of Prey. We had started working with manufacturers in China and then worked our way up to building our own factory there, so I had quite a bit of experience in Asia.'
'I had looked around in Australia, but in Asia the consumer eats around 13.5 kg of mushrooms, whereas here we eat around 2.3kg per person per year. There's just a much bigger mushroom industry in Asia, so as soon as I saw that I started looking at which countries were most involved with the industry and good manufacturers who we could partner with. For us this ended up being in Malaysia.'
There was also another bit of exciting news we got to talk about in our podcast: Fable's launch into Woolworths, one of Australia's mainstream supermarkets.
Michael: 'When we were developing the fable product we showed it to Heston and he loved it and started using it in his restaurants in the UK which gave us a strong endorsement. We were also, pre-covid set up in 50 restaurants which had our brand on the menu, as well as partnered with Marley Spoons which used our products in their meal delivery service once a fortnight which kept us going.'
There were a few factors in this that helped them move forward and get into the chain.
Michael: 'Woolworths are a shareholder of Marley Spoon so that was a relatively easy conversation to have, as we could also share the data of how well we had been performing there.'
'Also, Woolworths can see through their own customer feedback that people are wanting more natural and healthier meat alternatives, so we also sit nicely in that market.'
We also spoke about the power of packaging and the importance of perception when selling an alternative protein product.
Michael: 'Mushrooms are an incredibly robust ingredient. You can freeze the, thaw them, cook them, freeze them again and it doesn't do any damage.'
But the reality is that most people don't buy their meat frozen and so Fable made the conscious decision to make sure to be merchandised next to the meat section, making it a refrigerated rather than frozen product (a hot tip to consider when targeting the flexetarian consumer).
Fable is also determined in being a responsible alternative meat product. But what does this really look like?
1. Not using animals
2. Having a minimal (ideally positive) impact on the environment
3. Making sure the food Fable provides is healthy
It may sound simple at first glance, but it's pretty nuanced. Michael shared with us a few misconceptions that he had around sustainability and the role that's played in the startup's development. To give a quick example, he shared how reusing is above all the number one most sustainable thing we can do. For a food company however, this may not be so easy, with recycling options and partnering with organisations actively making a difference in the space being a more viable option.
Fable is implementing this through making sure their cardboard aspect of the packaging is recyclable, and further down the line making sure their plastic is able to be REDcycled.
A pretty great start if you ask me!
Fable is now available in Woolies, so if you're in Australia and you're curious then don't hesitate and give them a try. And if you'd like to follow Michael and the journey of Fable then you can find them https://fablefood.co/ or at @fablefoodco.
We hope you enjoyed this week's guest! Have a wonderful weekend tribe, and remember to #biteforwhatsright!