Mush room for improvement: Myco Foods thinks Hooba can lead the way

Posted on 12 Mar 2024 by Tom St John

People are consuming less meat, to the point where the meat-free and vegan market is under scrutiny. What actually goes into these products? Consumers now need to know this and product transparency has become paramount. Most importantly though, it needs to taste good. How does Hooba, the 95% mushroom- based protein, fair under the same scrutiny? Tom St John finds out.

A trip to Leeming Bar in North Yorkshire would give me the answers I was looking for. Myco Foods has recently made an old food production factory on the industrial estate its new headquarters. Not much to see in terms of production just yet; the company is still getting settled into its new premises. There was still plenty for us to learn though at a taster day that Myco Foods had set up. On the outside BBQ grill, there were a variety of meet free burgers and sausages being cooked up. Among them, was Myco’s trademark product, Hooba.

Who’s for Hooba?

Myco was founded around seven years ago by John Sheppard and Jay Croslegh. Both were passionate about the environment, so they began to look into sustainable eating options for the future. Hooba is simply a brand name – it’s made out of mushroom, as I was informed by a welcoming and enthusiastic David Wood, the CEO of Myco Foods. “It’s about 95% mushroom-based.” He said. “The remaining five is ingredients to bind it together.

“The manufacturing process to make it is very simple and gentle; there’s a bit of blanching of the mushrooms, and then there’s a couple of ingredients that we put in at the right time, and at the right (gentle) heat – nothing over 130°C. “This gives you a product that you can put into pretty much anything that is sauce-based. It tastes great in a chili, you could put it into a bolognese, you could make fajitas with it. It’s a really versatile product.”

The Myco team with Darlington Mayor Jan Cossins

The Myco team with Darlington Mayor Jan Cossins


As a meat eater, my criteria for a meatless burger has always been, does it taste like meat? We’ll get on to that in just a minute, but in terms of consistency and strength, it behaves like beef mince. You could take some Hooba mince and form a burger patty. That’s pretty unique in the plant-based world at the moment. Other meat-free minces would fall apart.

The proof is in the meat-free pudding

There seemed to be quite an equal divide of meat and non-meat eaters at the open day. There were even manufacturers from the meat industry in attendance. Indeed, Myco’s Co-founder, Jay, is a meat eater and grew up on a farm. Indeed, the company has made it clear that it wants to work with the meat industry; more on that shortly.

The burning question is, how does Hooba taste? The audience gathered for the taster day were given four different types of meatless burgers and sausages to try. Without realising which was which, they voted for their favourite, which ended up being Hooba. “Your bribe money will be paid on the way out,” joked David. I was able to try a Hooba chili burger and a sausage, which admittedly were quite nice.

Zero carbon supply chain

I certainly don’t eat as much red meat as I used to, a trend that the UK has embraced in recent years, with meat consumption last year sitting at its lowest level since records began, according to government data. This was aligned with people’s health and dietary changes, the cost of living crisis, and an ever increasing awareness for the environment, with meat production often seen as one of the main culprits of rising CO2 emissions.

However, meat-free and vegan products aren’t able to hide behind, ‘we’re more environmentally friendly than meat’ anymore. Under a bit of scrutiny, the sustainable metrics for some of our favourite meat substitutes don’t make for good reading. As David explained: “Let’s be open about this, it’s not just about meat. The meat industry gets a lot of bad press, but about 70% of the plant-based protein on the market at the moment contains soy – we don’t grow soy locally, it comes from the other side of the world.

“It has to be shipped over here, and that isn’t good for the environment; to say nothing of the habitats that are being destroyed to grow that increased demand for soy. We’re not just comparing ourselves to meat, we’re comparing ourselves to other plant-based products as well.”

In Myco’s case, the solution is a simple one. Just grow your own. “We grow the mushroom protein here on-site,” said David. “We then take it 30 or 40 yards to where it goes into the product. We have a zero carbon supply chain, which we really want to share with the world.” Indeed, when you look at the numbers it makes for stark reading. Myco claim that 36kg of carbon emissions are generated to create 1kg of beef; 6.4kg of emissions are created to generate 1kg of soy; whereas 1kg of Hooba mince will generate no carbon emissions at all.

MYCO tasting session

Horizontally challenged farming

How do you achieve year round mushroom growth in North Yorkshire though? I live up here, and the past few months have been wetter than a haddock’s bathing costume (to quote Blackadder). The answer is on-site vertical farming. In its simplest form, to farm vertically means to grow up, instead of horizontally, thus meaning that significantly less land is used.

Myco has taken it a step further and made its own automated vertical farming system, where it can control the environments of each farming module. Co-founder Jay had been doing the cooking for the first half of the taster day, but took some time to explain this further.

“We were looking into securing our supply of mushrooms, and at one point, it looked like China would be the only option. As a sustainability company that just didn’t make sense. So, we started looking at how we could grow our own mushrooms, and do so in the most sustainable way possible.”

The hunt for solutions or technologies to do this, however, became frustrating, with nothing out there to suit Myco’s purpose. So, the company designed its own system – a modular vertical farming system for farming mushrooms. “It’s different from existing farming technology,” explained Jay, “Because that generally concentrates on leafy greens. Whereas we’re looking at growing protein.

“We’ve worked with a number of companies to develop this system that enables us to control the heat, light, CO2 and O2 levels. We have absolute control over the environment because we’re only farming a metre cubed for each module – these modules then network together to create a system that we can grow.

“We’re working with Teesside University to develop an AI system that will control all of this. It will also take environmental and camera data to determine the growing stage and the optimum environmental conditions that are required.” Eventually, Myco wants the AI to start predicting yields, so it can effectively reduce waste. This will enable the company to look at the demand of the product and start looking at zero waste between there and production.

David added: “Effectively, we could put down one of our mobile vertical farming systems anywhere in the world, and the system will grow and harvest itself. So, it really gives other manufacturers the freedom to be able to grow their own mushroom proteins.”

As mentioned at the beginning of the article, the demand for product transparency is ever growing, in all industries; cosmetics, pharmaceutical, but particularly in food and beverage. The data taken from the vertical farming modules gives the consumer that clarity, as Jay explained: “We want to start tying that data into a blockchain, so we have an immutable record of what it went through. And we can tie things like energy usage into that. We want to get to a point where we can have a QR code on pack that will take you to a record of the journey that the product has taken from birth through to production and on to the consumer.”

Use among other manufacturers

Myco has offered its green hands to other manufacturers. A big selling point of Hooba for wider industry use, is if a food producer wanted to make a sausage or a burger from Hooba, they would be able to put it through the same mixing machines that they have currently.

“Companies in the meat industry are really interested in finding ways to be more sustainable,” said David. “One way to do that could be to include Hooba mince in their products, perhaps at a 20% inclusion.” One such company, located next door to Myco in fact, is The British Premium Sausage Company, a manufacturer of sausages, burgers and meatballs.

To be honest, a company with ‘Premium Sausage’ in its name, sounds about as meat-free or vegan as Andre the Giant, who in his prime, could reportedly eat 12 steaks and 15 lobsters in one sitting. However, as Managing Director Ian Cundell pointed out, the company has a meat-free range as well. It’s a company that specialises in protein, and in 2020, saw an opportunity to enter a market where, “a lot of product wasn’t being done particularly well,” according to Ian.

After speaking to customers, primarily within food service, and coming up with some of its own recipes, the company entered the market with meat-free meatballs, sausages, burgers and meat-free mince. Myco, presumably during neighbour introductions, asked The British Premium Sausage Company about the possibility of switching from soy to mushroom. The companies now work in partnership, with Myco growing the mushrooms, and Ian’s team processing and forming it with the same machinery the company has always used.

“Consumer habits have undoubtedly changed,” said Ian. “I would say five to eight years ago, when the flexitarian menu started coming in, it triggered a wave of meat-free or vegan eating. It became quite a popular thing to do, people jumped onto it.

“Manufacturers saw an opportunity, so started introducing products. Supermarkets also saw that there was a demand for it, so started filling up the shelves. Over the last three or four years, it’s changed slightly, and I think the products have become better. The ones that weren’t so good aren’t really around anymore. People got used to a good product, to the point where now, the market is very strong.”

Myco CEO David Wood

Myco CEO, David Wood

Meating in the middle

I don’t think meat will ever be wiped completely from the menu. You only need to see from the way that Myco has positioned itself in the market, that meat production is still strong, and the consumer demand is still there. Slightly contracted, but undeniably still there.

What does the future hold though? Because the industry still needs to improve. Can technological advancements in agriculture and food production ever make meat as sustainable as the alternatives? “It’s hard to imagine a world where meat production will be as carbon neutral as our plant-based protein production.” Said David. “However, there are things that the meat industry can do to improve itself. Including more plant-based substrate into their burgers and sausages can certainly help.

“There’s potential for plant-based facilities to merge with meat facilities to share one production plant. It’s something that actually goes on already. Some of the meat production areas will already have their own plant-based brands. Interestingly, none of the plant-based brands are currently looking at moving into meat. That’s something that we might see over the next five or ten years.

“Brands may start realising that it’s not about being plant-based, it’s about being sustainable. The question mark is how consumers will receive these ideas.” An interesting prediction; only time will tell. One thing that does seem to be building, is the excitement for Hooba products. We’re told that they will hit the shelves later in the year. There hasn’t been anything specific on how much the products will cost. Meat-free ranges tend to cost a little more, so we’ll see which way Myco decide to go.

The built-in meat-free skepticism that I have is shared by Ian, who also eats meat. His company’s aim is to simply make protein foods. And while some existing meat-free brands don’t do badly in that regard, it’s hard to replicate the nutritional value of meats like chicken. “It’s getting closer to meat,” he admitted. “What can replicate the protein value of chicken? There’s soy, but we’ve already heard the issues surrounding that. Mushroom? Now that is a bit of a game changer.

“When I first tried this product, I was a bit skeptical. Actually, Hooba products are very good, and it caught me out a little. Hence why we’re now working together, using both our skill sets to produce a great product.”


  • Myco has endeavored to manufacture sustainably, despite that not being the easy route
  • Could this become industry wide? With mobile vertical farms and existing food production machinery, it seems very viable
  • Myco has positioned itself in the market in a way that doesn’t go against meat and other meat free alternatives. Rather, it wants to collaborate.

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