San Francisco startup Black Sheep Foods has closed a $5.2 million seed funding round. New Crop Capital and AgFunder participated in the round, among others. The move comes the company debuted its vegan lamb last year. Capital raised will be used to develop wild game and heritage breed alternatives. Expansion of existing lines into the foodservice industry will be supported by funds as a first priority.
In her 2022 Alt Protein Trend Predictions, Green Queen‘s Sonalie Figueiras cited other plant-based meats as a major trend for the year and Black Sheep’s new funding is a case in point. The startup has sought to set itself apart from the likes of Beyond Meat, THIS, and Impossible Foods by focussing on more specialist meats. Often commanding higher price tags, profiles such as lamb, venison and other game meats have been largely overlooked by plant-based makers. Co-founders Sunny Kumar and Ismael Montanez have intentionally looked to ‘democratise’ such lines.
Black Sheep says it has used analytical chemistry to break down conventional lamb. Identifying the components that give it its rich flavour and smell, the company has recreated it in a vegan offering. The process has taken two years to perfect, and is ongoing, with fermentation mentioned as a technology the company is keen to move into. A patent is pending for the proprietary blend of pea protein, cocoa butter, and other ingredients that Black Sheep currently uses.
New meats are being explored alongside commercial vegan lamb production. “It’s exciting to see the growth of the plant-based industry at large and as a plant-based company that focuses on flavor, we’re already working on other breeds of game meat,” Kumar told VegNews.
New meats for discerning audiences
Vegan beef, chicken and, increasingly, seafood, analogues have become easier to source. Unusual meats appear to have been left behind, with game options particularly underrepresented. Black Sheep considers this an opportunity to expand into the world of heritage foods. No lines have been confirmed yet but popular game choices include venison and pheasant, making them potential future developments.
With its lamb fully realised and trialled exclusively at local Greek restaurant Souvla last year, more restaurant partners are coming on board. Arabic and Indian restaurants have been confirmed, as well as a pizza chain and Mediterranean location.
“We’re thrilled to be working with such a reputable group of restaurants across the Bay Area—everything from fine dining to fast-casual—but we’re also planning to expand to other parts of the country this year,” Kumar told VegNews. “Our launch restaurants spotlight the versatility of our plant-based lamb and also act as springboards for us, ultimately helping us enter more mainstream channels.”
Expanding on the partnership, Souvla will add vegan lamb to its catering options for Delta Airlines. First and business class travellers will have access to the plant-based meat.
Demand for lamb
Black Sheep represents the first U.S. startup working on vegan lamb but India is on the case as well. Domestic startup PlantMade laid claim to India’s first-ever vegan lamb seekh kebabs in 2021. At the time of launch, the company was looking into foodservice supply, with Domino’s PIzza listed as a potential partner.
Israel’s Redefine Meat has developed whole-cut lamb shanks made from entirely plant-based ingredients. 3D printed using the company’s proprietary technology, the meat is now served by Michelin-starred chefs in Germany, Israel, the Netherlands and the U.K.
Elsewhere, cultivated lamb is being developed in Australia. Startup Magic Valley aims to offer Australian’s the meat they enjoy, without any cruelty attached. The FBS-free products have been slated for production in 2023, pending regulatory approval.