Black Sheep Foods, a plant-based food tech company focused on heritage breed meats and wild game, recently raised $5.25 million in seed funding led by Bessemer Venture Partners. This investment brings the company’s total seed funding to $5.5 million since its launch in 2019. So, how does Black Sheep Foods make its uncommon meat analogues and will it face competition in a heavily saturated market?
Unlike many players in the plant-based meat space, Black Sheep Foods focuses on lesser-known plant-based game meats, namely lamb. By using analytical chemistry to identify key flavor compounds found in animal-based meat, the San-Francisco-based startup structured the compounds around plant-based proteins composed mainly of pea protein. It also contains sunflower oil, refined coconut oil and cocoa butter.
After two years of refining the product, the resulting meat-free lamb analogue contains 18 grams of protein per serving and is free of antibiotics, hormones, cholesterol, gluten, dairy and soy. It also uses 95 percent less land, 95 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions and half as much water as commercially raised lamb, according to the company’s website.
Last fall, the innovative product launched exclusively at Souvla, a popular Bay Area chain of Greek restaurants, which served the item as Tunis-inspired heritage breed plant-based lamb. The successful Souvla debut led to additional expansions at acclaimed California restaurants such as Beit Rima, Chezchez, Mazra, Monica’s and Rooh. Black Sheep Foods’ lamb meatballs will also be hitting the skies as Delta Airlines plans to carry them for business and first-class travelers.
One hurdle for expansion, however, is that lamb isn’t among the most popular meats in the US. Beef appeared on 91 percent of American restaurant menus in 2021, according to Datassential, while lamb showed up on only 17 percent. But since the production of lamb on a per pound basis emits more greenhouse gasses than beef, it’s an obvious target to be replaced by consumers whose purchases are driven by environmental concerns.
Not to mention, Black Sheep Foods also offers some much-needed variety in a category dominated largely by beef, pork and chicken. However, it isn’t the first startup to offer a vegan version of the beloved meat. Israeli food tech company Redefine Foods began offering a range of “New-Meat” products that included plant-based lamb cuts and kebabs in November 2021.
Although Black Sheep Foods appears to be the first commercially available plant-based lamb in the US, other startups and well-known brands are beginning to offer lesser-known meat analogues. The Very Good Butchers, for example, offers a slew of handcrafted items including vegan bratwursts, bacon and charcuterie meats.
For now, the new funding received gives Black Sheep Foods an opportunity to propel its plant-based meats to a more mainstream audience. Black Sheep Foods will also use the funds to answer the common question the brand gets about how big the market is for lamb. The funding will also be allocated for R&D to continue to push into the synthetic biology space with other meat alternatives, like wild boar.