For those trying to cut down on meat in their diets, bacon is often one of the last to go. It’s just too dang delicious and there aren’t any good substitutes that mimic its fatty, smoky flavor and crisp-chewy texture.
However, that might change soon. Hooray Foods is a new startup (seriously, they just began operations in February of this year) trying to crack the as-yet unsolved code of how to create plant-based bacon. I got to speak with founder and sole employee Sri Artham last week at the Good Food Conference in San Francisco, and also try out his “fake”-un for myself.
Artham, who previously founded Ganaz, an app which helps combat labor shortages on farms, decided to focus on bacon because he thought it would have the biggest impact. “If you disrupt the pork belly market, you can disrupt the entire meat industry,” he told me. Since he doesn’t have a food science background, he just headed straight to the kitchen and started experimenting. “There was a lot of naiveté and trial and error,” he said. But after a billion failed experiments, he had his first product.
Hooray is currently more of a side hustle — Artham and makes all the “bacon” himself in just 4 hours per week — but he’s seeking funding and has plans to bring on another full-time staff person starting soon. Hooray Foods already has its bacon on the menus of two restaurants, both in San Francisco, and Artham plans to expand to more foodservice partners before eventually launching in retail. He didn’t disclose pricing details but said his product would soon be on par with premium bacon, since his product is made with readily-available ingredients and simple production methods. (Unlike other meat substitutes, it doesn’t require extrusion or custom machinery.)
Hooray Foods is smart to plant its flag in the alternative bacon space, which doesn’t have a lot of competition right now. But I doubt the space will be so open for long, though. Hooray is super small and will take a while to scale up, assuming it gets funding. In that time, Big Food companies such as Tyson, Kellogg and Kroger, which are already devoting their massive R&D teams, manufacturing facilities, and retail relationships to developing and selling their own meat alternatives, could start making a plant-based bacon of their own.
Hooray Foods will also likely face competition from smaller startups. During the Good Food Conference, Ecovative announced Atlast Foods, their spinoff company which makes scaffolding for meat alternatives out of mycelium (mushroom) roots. Their example product? Bacon.
I got to try a piece of Hooray’s bacon and thought it was in the ballpark of the real thing. It had a nice savory, fatty taste and the texture was chewy. That would work for people who like their bacon on the lightly-cooked side, but if you like it borderline burnt, like me, it wasn’t quite there, even after a long cook time. It also didn’t quite nail bacon’s smoky flavor. But if you put it on top of, say, an Impossible Burger or crumbled it on top of a plant-based taco, it would definitely approximate the bacon experience.
People love their bacon, so there’s certainly room for a couple players to take a swing at making alt-bacon. But if Hooray wants to cement its first-mover advantage, they’ll have to get their bacon on more plates — and quickly.