Meati Foods in Boulder to sell its meat alternative in Whole Foods

Meati Foods, a Boulder-based producer of plant-based meat alternatives, is expanding its commercial reach by selling to Whole Foods Markets across the country.

The startup announced the new partnership Thursday. The company will sell its plant-based cutlets and steaks in all Whole Foods stores, a total of about 500 locations across 46 states.

“This allows us to achieve a national footprint of retail, so we are incredibly excited,” said Scott Tassani, president and chief operating officer of Meati. “Whole Foods is such an important partner that is a leader in doing-better-for-you, healthier options for consumers in this country.

“To be able to partner with Whole Foods is a great signal of the impact that we’re going to make,” he added.

Meati and Whole Foods have been talking since last year about launching the products nationwide.

“Since taking our first bites of Meati in Boulder last year, we’ve been excited to bring their differentiated, quality mushroom-root products to our shelves,” Kara Maloney, grocery category merchant for Whole Foods Market, said in a statement.

The expansion into Whole Foods Market, a subsidiary of Amazon, is a major move for the company that was founded in Boulder in 2016 by doctoral students Tyler Huggins, Meati’s CEO, and Justin Whiteley, chief technology officer. The two began researching the use of mushroom root as an alternative protein source to boost nutrition and help feed the world’s growing population.

The co-founders also want to produce food in an environmentally sustainable way as concerns grow about the impacts of the livestock industry. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization says raising livestock for food generates roughly 14.5% of total global greenhouse gas emissions.

Meati has been increasing its production ability after moving into a 120,000-square-foot plant in Thornton in February, Tassani said. The building houses a series of tanks used to ferment the mushroom root.

The process starts with mushroom spores, water and sugar. As the product grows, it is transferred into subsequently larger fermentation tanks, the largest ones capable of holding several thousand gallons.

The product is cooked, seasoned, quick-frozen and distributed. Mushroom root is 95% of the product, according to the company.

“We can make from a single spore of mycelium, or mushroom root, the equivalent of a full cow’s worth of meat in four days,” Tassani said.

In an earlier interview, Tassani said the company anticipated cultivating the roots at an annual rate of tens of millions of pounds. He said Wednesday that Meati doesn’t share specifics in terms of the pounds that it is producing, but added “we’re very much accelerating our capacity” as more retail opportunities open.

“We think we’ll be in as many as 3,000 outlets by the end of the calendar year,” Tassani said.

Meati’s cutlets and steaks are sold in Sprouts Farmers Market stores, Fresh Thyme Markets and the Meijer supermarket chain in the Midwest. The company sells to PLNT Burger and Birdcall restaurants.

Despite a decline last year in sales of alternative proteins, Tassani said Meati believes the market will continue to grow. The key is delivering a similar taste and texture that people get from eating meat.

“Consumers in this country will say they all want to eat healthier and aspire to it, but most are not willing to trade off on taste and experience,” Tassani said.

Plant-based meat sales in the U.S. dropped 1% in 2022 to $1.36 billion, after tripling over the past decade, according to the Good Food Institute, a think tank that focuses on plant-based proteins.

Tassani, who joined Meati after nearly 30 years at General Mills, said the alternative-protein industry’s current market share of about $1.8 billion could grow to approximately $5 billion, which would be the kind of levels seen in Europe and Asia.

And Meati expects to expand its workforce of roughly 300. The company laid off 17 people in June. Tassani said the reductions were made as the company assessed its needs and resources.

“It wasn’t a high percentage of our population, but that doesn’t matter because they’re all our teammates,” Tassani said.

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