Finnish startup gets full funding for worldfirst fungal protein factory

Finnish scale-up Enifer is set to build a world-first fungal protein factory after securing full funding for the €33mn site.

The futuristic plant will convert food industry sidestreams into an ingredient called Pekilo. Invented in the 1970s, Pekilo was the world's first commercial mycoprotein — a food source derived from natural fungus. 

With a low carbon footprint and minimal land requirements, Pekilo promises a sustainable substitute for meat protein. The substance was previously used as animal feed, but has recently been refined for human consumption. Enifer now plans to bring the ingredient to the mass market.

The new factory is integral to the company's ambitions. Slated for completion by the end of 2025, the facility would become the first commercial plant to produce the mycoprotein from sidestream raw materials.

From the site on Finland's southern coast, Enifer aims to produce 3,000 tons of Pekilo per year — enough to cover 40,000 people's annual protein needs.

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A vegetarian meatball made from mycoprotein on a plate
Alongside the human grub, the mycoprotein will produce nosh for animals Early partners include Finnish dairy giant Valio and Nestle pet food brand Purina. Credit: Iiro Muttilainen

Cultivating fungal proteins

The company will grow the fungus in a fermentation tank. Standing over 12 metres tall and 4.5 meters in diameter, the vat will circulate nutrients to cultivate the Pekilo.

Enifer will then heat-treat and harvest the biomass with centrifuges. “At this point, the mycoprotein looks a little bit like tofu,” Simo Ellilä, the company's CEO and co-founder, told TNW.

Finally, the fungus will be dried with hot air and milled into a powder. Food producers can then use the finished Pekilo as a drop-in ingredient for countless foodstuffs, from alternative meats to breakfast cereals.

“The end products will be no more expensive than plant-based products as a whole,” Ellilä said.

Enifer CEO Simo Ellilä speaking in front of a mycoprotein tank
Enifer CEO Simo Ellilä co-founded the company in 2020. Credit: Iiro Muttilainen

Pekilo could cut the environmental damage and animal cruelty caused by protein consumption. Enifer's new cash injection brings these prospects closer to reality.

The pot combines a €15mn Series B round led by the private equity fund Taaleri Bioindustry I with €9mn in loans for climate friendly-tech from Finnish state-owned financing companies. It follows a €12mn grant from Business Finland announced in January. The total package of €36mn exceeds the factory's construction costs.

Development of the facility is already underway. On a brownfield site a 30-minute drive from Helsinki, Enifer is building the plant within an existing industrial building.

Once complete, the company plans to employ 15 people there during regular operations. Enifer also want to dispel doubts that emerged during the last plant-based boom.

A mycoprotein tank
Enifer is installing the tech on land in the municipality of Kirkkonummi. Credit: Iiro Muttilainen

Is mycoprotein the future of plant-based foods?

Despite bold promises of tasty, sustainable, and cruelty-free meat substitutes, the products struggled to maintain the early excitement. Health concerns, disappointing flavours, and pressure from lobbyists soon pushed the nascent industry into a tailspin.

Ellilä promises that the next wave will be different.

“Many people were put off by sub-par plant-based products sold to consumers in the first hype cycle,” he said. “We've seen that Pekilo can improve plant-based products across the board thanks to its neutral taste and colour, while simultaneously adding a boost of protein and fibre.”

For the cynics among us, Ellilä has a simple sales pitch:

“Just try it! We really believe that mycoprotein will be an important part of the next generation of plant-based.”

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