Umami United, the Tokyo-based startup that makes plant-based egg products, has closed a pre-Series A funding round with an injection of ¥240M ($1.64M). The company plans to use the funds to develop a vegan egg white alternative and enter the US and European markets.
Led by Beyond Next Ventures, the investment round saw participation from Genesia Ventures. Umami United, which was launched in 2022, wants to make an egg white substitute due to a growing demand for complex egg-like functionalities by bakery and confectionery companies. It aims to strengthen its R&D and business development efforts to deliver plant-based food “inspired by wisdom and technology from Japan’s rich food history”.
“This is in addition to our expansion outside of our home market in Japan, into Europe and the United States,” Umami United CEO Hiroto Yamazaki told Green Queen. Within Europe, the brand is looking to enter the UK and Germany first. “We are in the midst of discussions with big players in both the UK and Germany to incorporate our egg replacer products into their plant-based food products. They have tested our products and initial responses are positive.”
He added: “As for the US, we are also in late-stage talks with universities in Southern California to incorporate our products in their vegan menus.”
Yamazaki confirmed that some “big plant-based meat players” are testing Umami United’s clean products to be used as a binding agent. And the new funding will help it find suitable partners to further ramp up expansion.
Made for the consumer
Umami United’s egg powder uses wood ear mushrooms to extract an umami taste profile. It does so via a proprietary food processing technique that applies enzymes based on fermentation tech to elevate the richness of egg flavours. The resulting egg powder is said to replicate both the functionality and sensory attributes of conventional eggs.
The company, which is planning a Series A fundraiser for December 2024, uses konjac flour and bittern as the main ingredients for its plant-based egg powder, and achieves the elastic texture of eggs through konjac and tofu. In addition, it makes a vegan egg flavouring powder and pudding mix.
According to Umami United, Japan’s per capita consumption of eggs is 337 annually, making it the second largest egg-consuming country in the world. The company adds that only half of Japan’s eggs are sold directly to consumers, with the rest going to foodservice and manufacturers. And while there are several consumer-facing companies making vegan eggs in Japan – like Ever Egg and Hobotoma – Umami United focuses on B2B operations.
Yamazaki said consumer reception to the vegan egg products has been very positive: “Furthermore, we are seeing more and more Japanese consumers with changing tastes and preferences and heightened health awareness, and this has also motivated these local food manufacturers to prioritise and launch plant-based food.”
Battling egg supply issues
Japan has seen egg prices rise recently due to an avian flu outbreak last year, which led to an increase in chicken culling and, subsequently, a shortage of eggs. Products like Umami United – which help bypass a major allergen in eggs – cater to consumers with safer, healthier food options.
“The crisis from the avian flu has led to many big food manufacturers [realising] the negative impacts of their reliance on chicken eggs. Even McDonald’s had to pull their Teritama (teriyaki patty with egg) burgers off their menu due to the egg shortage,” said Yamazaki.
The brand says the shortages and price hikes have triggered co-development projects with Japanese food manufacturers that use its plant-based products as key ingredients. “Even though the situation around the shortage of eggs has been alleviated to some extent, big food manufacturers are turning to alternative eggs or egg replacers as a risk hedge, especially when avian flu is seasonal,” Yamazaki explained. These products are expected to launch in Japanese supermarkets and convenience stores starting this autumn and winter.
Japan, which Forbes just described as having a “thriving” food tech sector, is seeing an uptick in plant-based food sales, with alt-meat purchases set to rise by 5% annually until 2026. In a 2019 survey, meanwhile, 60% of Japanese consumers said they were open to trying more sustainable food options that had additional health benefits.
Moreover, a poll earlier this year found that 5.9% of Japan’s population identifies as vegan or vegetarian, with 26.1% of consumers reporting a reduction in animal product intake (an uptick of 7.1% year-on-year). And in terms of egg substitutes, 1.2% have tried these – that’s about 1.5 million people.
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