In any career there is usually a tipping point, a salutary crisis or a questioning. In the life of Thomas Jonas, this turning point was particularly spectacular: it occurred on a beach in Hawaii, in 2012, and one could imagine the Hollywood scriptwriters seizing on this tale to make a film with Tom Hanks.
This is the story of a Frenchman who, after his studies at HEC, joins the Air Force as an officer before flying to Hong Kong where he becomes a distributor of European food. In the early 2000s, Thomas joins one of the largest French packaging groups, specializing in luxury products and cosmetics. In 2008, he becomes president of the American leader in the same sector, based in New York, producing sprays for L’Oréal and others.
It is then that he leaves with his wife and his two-year-old daughter on the island of Kaua’i for vacations… where he ends up staying for a year. Why did he stay there? By contemplating the heaps of plastic bottles accumulating on some of the archipelago’s beaches, Thomas Jonas became aware of the responsibility we all have to preserve the environment. For his return to the world, at the end of this parenthesis, he decides to devote himself to sustainable development and the future of our planet.
The Yellowstone Treasure
The only thing left to do is to find the right technology to make things happen. And it is his future partner, Mark Kozubal, who will bring him this technology. At the time, he was working for NASA on a research project in the volcanic springs of Yellowstone. The objective was to analyze the conditions under which life could develop in order to identify the possible presence of life on other planets. And in these American volcanoes, in the heart of a spring so acidic that it could dissolve a human body in a fraction of a second, a microbial life form with extraordinary properties was detected. This microorganism has remained there, intact for millions of years, and in the most extreme conditions.
The Nature’s Fynd adventure began there, in 2014, like those American-style success stories with two or three visionaries working hard in a garage. Today, eight years later, Nature’s Fynd has become one of the big names in food tech, a start-up that is going to shake up the content of our plates.
During its fermentation, the Fusarium strain flavolapis nicknamed « Fy » (which means « Yellowstone » in Latin) develops into filaments, a bit like muscles, and only needs 500 kilos of starch to produce one ton of alternative meat. This is in no way comparable to animal protein in traditional agriculture, which requires a lot of water and land, and emits a hundred times more greenhouse gases : « It is a complete protein in which all the essential amino acids are present, which is very rare, and we are even able to generate vitamin D by changing the conditions of growth. Vitamin B12 is naturally produced. » With Fy the protein food of tomorrow cultivated through a system of trays capable of meeting the needs of eight billion humans faced with a scarcity of resources has been found. Ironically, the new Nature’s Fynd factory is located in Chicago, near the Union Stock Yard slaughterhouses, which was once one of the largest meat markets in America… But that was before : « A real change is underway in the United States, where the drop in meat consumption among people under 25 is quite impressive. We are witnessing a new awareness among the younger generations: young people understand that their food choices have a considerable impact on the planet and on our health », analyzes Thomas Jonas.
500 million dollars for the food of tomorrow
Very quickly, the project of alternative meat and synthetic dairy products made from these microbes seduced the greatest, starting with Bill Gates, Al Gore, Jeff Bezos, who, through their investment funds, participated in various fundraisings, which ADM and Danone also joined. In the summer of 2021, Nature’s Fynd will finally obtain 350 million dollars in financing, bringing the total to 500 million dollars to develop this extraordinary mushroom. So far, Thomas Jonas has proven that it is possible to grow Fy on a commercial scale by leveraging robotics and automation.
Today, it is conquering the American market and soon the world market, with a range of appealing products. Just visit the start-up’s website to admire the vegetarian steaks or the smooth cream cheese… And it’s good : « there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be good. Let’s take the example of French cuisine, the genius is in the microbes: the wine, the bread, the cheese… The microbes give interesting tastes and it all depends on what you do with them. It’s no coincidence that we are now on the menu of Le Bernardin, the best restaurant in the United States ». We are far from food for cosmonauts, even if Nature’s Fynd teams are currently working with NASA to develop a suitcase-sized bioreactor that would produce enough protein to feed two astronauts in space, and is scheduled to go into space on Space X flight number 25, on June 28!
« Those who are interested in our products are those who recognize that we are facing important environmental challenges and who want to maintain an optimistic attitude about our ability to make a difference. Pessimism on serious issues is not helpful. We have distributed over 50 million samples in the U.S. to normal consumers, and our products are normal. We are never into the weird or the surprising », reassures the founder.
We all remember watching those catastrophic science-fiction films made in the 1970s that presented the food of the future as aseptic, dubious, or even worse… With Nature’s Fynd, and the countless possibilities these hyperproteinated micro-organisms offer, a system that complements traditional agricultural circuits, is less resource-intensive and above all based on biodiversity, has been invented. This is proof that science and initiatives can provide solutions to the dual challenge of population growth and global warming.
The HEC of the year 2022 has thus imagined and conceived a food of tomorrow, or at least a credible alternative to meat and dairy products, which would not compromise on taste and pleasure, and for only a fraction of the waste that would be produced by traditional agriculture : « It is not by lecturing and making people feel guilty that we will have an impact on the world, our objective has always been to offer choices, alternatives, without forcing users to become vegans or vegetarians. We are living in a moment unseen since the Second World War when we have to reinvent everything. If I had to give advice to budding entrepreneurs, it would be this: it’s time to dare, and don’t waste your time convincing investors who are not already convinced by your project »