$10 Woolies food item flying off the shelves
Michael Fox is a vegetarian and an entrepreneur who turned his search for a replacement for meat that looked and tasted like the real thing into a booming business.
The Sydneysider started his meat-replacement business Fable at the end of last year but by June his plant-based ready meals were already being stocked in 600 Woolworths supermarkets around the country.
The plant-based braised beef was a hit, selling out in Queensland, Victoria and South Australian stores in its first weeks on shelves.
The success has led to a fresh deal with Woolworths, with three more ready meals hitting shelves last week, including meat-free chilli con carne, stroganoff and rogan josh - all made with a base of mushrooms and other plant-based ingredients.
"In the time since we launched with Woolworths in June, there was a big pick-up in sales," Mr Fox told news.com.au.
"From June to October, sales have quadrupled in just those few months."
Mr Fox, a vegetarian of five years, started the business after trying to a solve the problem of how to create meat-free meals using plants while still being able to enjoy classic meat favourites like slow-cooked braised beef.
After talking to chefs and other experts about his interest in turning mushrooms into plant-based meals that mimicked meat, Fox teamed up with mushroom farmer Chris McLoghlin, a former Young Farmer of the Year winner, and Texan chef and mycologist - or "mushroom scientist" - Jim Fuller.
"I was exploring ingredients to make a wholefood, all-natural meat alternative and some chefs I'd been speaking with had put me onto the idea of using mushrooms as the base ingredient," Mr Fox said.
"When I met up with Chris and Jim, we realised we shared the same values, goals and had complementary skill sets, so we teamed up to co-found Fable."
The business took off with a boost when Mr Fox managed to partner with celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal in time for the launch in December 2019 after he heard "Heston was interested in experimenting with mushrooms too".
The celebrity chef endorses Fable's plant-based braised beef which features on the menus of his restaurants in the UK as well as in more than 100 restaurants across Australia.
"Heston has been interested in mushrooms as a culinary ingredient and wanted to experiment with it," Mr Fox said.
The partnership with the celebrity chef came from a relationship with Mr Fuller, the mushroom scientist.
The Texan grew up "eating delicious slow-cooked meats" and worked in "some of the best restaurants in Texas".
"That's what we've replicated to start with - a meat alternative with the taste and texture of pulled pork, braised beef and beef brisket," Mr Fox said.
Mr McLoghlin is the man behind Australia's largest organic mushroom farm, so he knows a thing or two about fungi.
Earlier this year, Fable also partnered with meal kit delivery company Marley Spoon and launched in select Harris Farm Markets in NSW.
Mr Fox said Fable is targeted towards meat eaters "who might want to cut back a little bit on the meat consumption" as well as plant-based eaters.
"We created Fable because we believe clean plant-based proteins can be as delicious as the real thing. We want to make plant-based options more accessible and appealing to all, and ultimately make it a regular feature on Aussie dining tables," Mr Fox said.
"Talking to my friends and family, lots of people want to reduce their meat consumption for the same reasons but they find it challenging because they love the taste and texture of meat and giving it up is hard.
"So I wanted to help make it easier for them by giving them the delicious taste and texture of meat, but making it from plants and mushrooms.
"Consumers don't necessarily want to go full vegan or vegetarian, but reducing meat consumption is now becoming a much easier thing to do."
Demand for plant-based meat has surged in Australia, with one in three Aussies making the conscious decision to reduce their meat consumption, according to independent organisation Food Frontier.
"What customers are making out of the products is pretty amazing, like burgers, pastas, curries and pies. It's really fascinating to see what they can do," Mr Fox said.
RELATED: Woolworths' plant-based meat deal
Woolworths has expanded its range of meat alternatives and plant-based ready meals to meet consumer demand. Last month, plant-based meat alternative v2 mince and v2 burgers were launched in the supermarket.
"Plant-based options are becoming increasingly popular with our customers, and we're expanding our product range to meet the continued growth in demand," Woolworths ready meals category manager Leigh Gallen said.
"We're excited to offer Fable's ready meals to give Aussies even more options for delicious plant-based food options."
Mr Fox said the Woolworths deal came about after he was introduced to Mauro Pisani, the supermarket's plant-based category manager.
The Fable ready meals come in 350g serving packs for $10 and are ready to eat in three minutes with a zap in the microwave.
And Mr Fox said there are big plans on the horizon for the business.
"We've got some big customers in the food service space we're talking to," he said. "We're rolling out now with a distributor in the UK and we've just launched in Singapore which is one of the most advanced plant-based markets."
There will be further expansion in Australia on top of the overseas expansion in the UK and Singapore.
Originally published as $10 Woolies food item flying off the shelves
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We had the privilege of spending time with @thehestonblumenthalteam and some of his creative team in France and London earlier this year. We were welcomed with such hospitality and our time together was alive with warmth, creativity and sharing. We didn’t think it possible to feel any more gratitude yet with the way events have unraveled globally this year, we feel even more blessed. The spirit of creativity has nonetheless carried on, and we look forward to sharing more with you soon! 📸 @natalie.ngyn