Meet Fable, the Aussie startup making ‘meaty’ alternatives from mushrooms

Meet Fable, the Aussie startup making ‘meaty’ alternatives from mushrooms
Fable founders Jim Fuller, Michael Fox, and Chris McLoghlin.
  • Former Shoes of Prey CEO Michael Fox has started meat-alternative company Fable Food.
  • Rather than trying to replicate meat, Fable seeks to create “meaty-tasting” food out of mushrooms.
  • Receiving the endorsement of Heston Blumenthal, Fox co-founded the business with mushroom scientist Jim Fuller and mushroom farmer Chris McLoghlin.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

Combining degrees in chemical engineering with kudos from one of the world’s most recognisable chefs, Fable is forging its own path in the booming plant-based market.

Headed by entrepreneur Michael Fox, the company is striving to put mushrooms back on the map with food that fits in as easily at a fancy restaurant as it does served at a fast-food chain.

Just don’t call it fake meat.

“We’re not trying to replicate meat. We don’t want to make it bleed,” Fox told Business Insider Australia. “What we are trying to make is really meaty-tasting food out of mushrooms. Minimally processed, whole foods, delicious.”

While Fox added it is great that there are so many companies catering for different tastes, it is a point of difference for Fable in an increasingly crowded market.

One of those competitors, curiously enough, is Beyond Meat, which in many ways pioneered the kind of burger that seeks to mimic the look and taste of a conventional meat patty. It’s perhaps funny, then, that Fable has landed its mushroom products alongside Beyond as it joins in a new partnership with burger chain Grill’d.

Coming in as an addition to Beyond’s lineup rather than a replacement is a sign that Fable is doing something different.

Another is that celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal was not only the brand’s first customer, but has become its loudest supporter. Fable’s products are used in Blumenthal’s Michelin-starred restaurants around the world, while households can pick them up from their local supermarket.

Fine funghi

If Blumenthal has, in a sense, become the face of Fable, Jim Fuller is the brains.

Growing up in Texas, Fuller has the kind of CV that Fox could only dream of in a business partner.

Armed with degrees in chemical engineering and agricultural science, Fuller worked as a mycologist — or mushroom scientist — for a decade before teaming up to co-found Fable.

“I don’t know of anyone else who is both a qualified chef and mushroom scientist, and yet Jim has both skillsets in one human being,” Fox said.

Fuller, unsurprisingly, runs the company’s research and development, extending a journey both he and Fox have been on for years since turning vegan.

“Jim had been experimenting with food for years before I met him, trying to find something meaty to tide him over.

“That’s that’s very much who we’re going after, their kind of meat eater or the flexitarian, who wants to reduce their meat consumption but that still might eat it.”

Fuller is joined by co-founder Chris McLoghlin, an entrepreneur turned farmer who started the country’s largest organic mushroom farm.

From prey to produce

Finally, Fox ties in as the entrepreneur behind the business.

When his footwear empire, Shoes of Prey collapsed in 2019, it surprised many. The business, which at one point claimed it was on track to crack $100 million in annual revenue, was considered one of the country’s real startup success stories. Then it abruptly fell over, costing investors millions and forcing the business to let go of 200 employees.

Taking a sojourn to Europe with his Danish wife and two young children, Fox says he needed a break and began studying areas that interested him.

“One of those was industrial animal agriculture and I got really passionate about wanting to contribute to ending it,” he said. “I knew I wasn’t cut out to be an activist because I have always struggled to convince anyone to give up meat.”

Returning to Australia, he wanted to get involved in the burgeoning industry but couldn’t find an in.

“I came back and just thought I’d get a job with an existing meat alternative company. But this was kind of three years ago and everyone was just a brand new startup with, like, one or two people,” he said.

“I talked to them all and no one was hiring a washed-up entrepreneur. Maybe if I’d been a chef or a food scientist, or something like that, there might have been roles, but there was nothing for me.

“I didn’t want to start another business but I realised I’d have to if I wanted to get involved.”

A mushrooming market

It turned out to be the right decision. Earlier this month, Fable raised $6.5 million in a seed funding led by Blackbird Ventures.

One and a half years in, it has managed to sign deals with Woolworths and Coles, home delivery services Marley Spoon and Dinnerly, and is now in Grill’d stores around the country.

It has poached the general manager of Australian unicorn SafetyCulture Dan Joyce as its new head of growth, in charge of expanding its fledgling presence in the United Kingdom, the United States and Asia.

As it goes global, Fable will start knocking up against even more competition, including homegrown company v2food, trying to corner the fast-growing Chinese market.

But a competitive marketplace is exactly what the world needs, according to Fox.

“We know we can make these really delicious meat alternatives and, at scale, we know they are going to be orders of magnitude cheaper.

“Once the product tastes better than meat and is cheaper than meat, there’s really no reason to eat meat from animals anymore. So, this shift is going to happen, no matter what — we’re just working to try to make it happen faster.”