As more and more innovation happens in the plant-based space, I was intrigued to see the recent launch of Hawaiian brand Moku which features three flavors of vegan jerky: Original, Hawaiian Teriyaki, and Sweet & Spicy. The brand is backed by Vanterra Capital’s Accelerator Fund (VAF), a leading fund dedicated to helping mission-driven consumer companies scale and drive meaningful change, whom I’ve written about in this column before along with the Siddhi Capital.
I caught up with the Co-founder and CEO Matt Feldman, an honoree on this year’s Forbes 30 under 30 list to find out more.
Afdhel Aziz: Matt, welcome. Please tell us a little about Moku and why you started it?
Matt Feldman: From an early age growing up in O‘ahu, Hawaii, an island with limited natural resources, I understood the importance of sustainability and how our choices impacted both our island and the planet we live on. As I began learning about the immense carbon footprint of the beef industry, I gravitated towards more plant-based foods. In 2018 when I was looking for a plant-based jerky that was clean and emulated the taste and texture of beef, I couldn’t find one I liked so I made my own.
Aziz: What are some of the statistics around the impact on the planet that really got you thinking?
Feldman: Over the last three decades, the Amazon rainforest has lost about a fifth of its forest and one of the main causes is from the increase in cattle ranching. What really got my attention was when I came across this article in the LA Times talking about how ONE burger requires 660 gallons of water to produce. As I did more research, I learned more about the mighty mushroom which is one of the most sustainable foods on the planet and has a similar texture to beef if cooked in the right way. Replacing a bag of beef jerky with a bag of Moku saves up to 12 square feet of land, 11 pounds of methane and 107 gallons of water.
Aziz: Please tell us a little about the product and the process you took to get there?
Feldman: When I first came up with the idea to create my own jerky, I was buying portobello mushrooms in bulk and marinating and drying them in my home. They came out pretty good but it wasn’t until I met Michelin-starred chef and former Head of Product Development at JUST, Thomas Bowman, who took my product to the next level. We spent about six months working on transforming the texture of mushrooms into one that resembles meat. I eventually brought on experienced F&B veteran, Melissa Facchina as my co-founder and partnered with award-winning culinary expert, Ali Bouzari and the Pilot R&D team to help scale and commercialize our jerky for mass production.
Aziz: What was the seed round that you just finished and who took part?
Feldman: We just closed out our initial seed round led by a mix of co-founders from Casper, Thrive Market, Soylent, Mendocino Farms, Juneshine as well as from institutional VC firms – Siddhi Capital and Vanterra Capital. We’re fortunate to have a cap table filled with experienced founders and Venture Capitalists that know what it takes to scale a successful food business.
Aziz: Finally, what advice do you have for other socially conscious entrepreneurs out there?
Feldman: We never have to settle for the way things are. As consumers become more educated on how mass meat production is destroying the planet, there’ll be a larger demand for more sustainable products. For F&B entrepreneurs, focus on designing for scale because anything can taste good from a kitchen. It’s much tougher to make it taste good when being produced at scale.