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Chicago-based vegan brand looks to ‘feed the world’ with new product

Nature’s Fynd announced their partnership with grocery chain Mariano’s on Thursday, promising healthier, less-processed vegan options for shoppers.

From left, Nature’s Fynd chief marketing officer Karuna Rawal,  Mariano’s director of strategic brand development Amanda Puck,  Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Nature’s Fynd founder and CEO Thomas Jonas and World Business Chicago CEO Michael Fassnacht at Thursday’s expansion announcement.
From left, Nature’s Fynd chief marketing officer Karuna Rawal, Mariano’s director of strategic brand development Amanda Puck, Mayor Lori Lightfoot, Nature’s Fynd founder and CEO Thomas Jonas and World Business Chicago CEO Michael Fassnacht at Thursday’s expansion announcement.
Cheyanne M. Daniels/Sun-Times

The Union Stockyards on the South Side had defined Chicago as the “hog butcher to the world.” Now, 50 years after its closing, the “Yards” will once again be a manufacturing haven — of a fungi-based protein.

The protein Fy was created by Nature’s Fynd. And on Thursday, the company announced it’s bringing the product to Chicagoans in a partnership with Mariano’s grocery stores, along with a 200,000-foot addition of manufacturing space to come in 2022.

“It’s great to be part of this revival of food in Chicago, to bring new technology literally where the technology was, and to do that in a way that really uses a fraction of the resources,” said Thomas Jonas, Nature’s Fynd co-founder and CEO.

For Jonas, Nature’s Fynd’s origins are part of what distinguishes its breakfast sandwiches and dairy-free products from plant-based protein sources.

“We started as a research project for NASA on extreme quality of life,” said Jonas. “The goal was to understand what life on moons of Saturn could look like. Trying to figure that out took us on an exploration journey on the acidic volcanic springs of Yellowstone where we discovered a remarkable new microorganism.”

That microorganism led to the invention of a new fermentation process of extracting the protein for Nature’s Fynd’s products.

Jonas said this also helps ease concerns in the vegetarian community about over-processed products. For Nature’s Fynd, the company simply extracts the protein from the source and cleans it for use in their foods.

“If you pitch this as a movie theme, people would say, ‘No, no that’s too far,’” said Lightfoot, garnering chuckles from Nature’s Fynd employees gathered Thursday.

Lightfoot had the chance to taste some of the Fy-based breakfast sandwiches and chocolate mousse at the facility Thursday.

“It tastes like a regular breakfast sandwich!” Lightfoot said.

Nature’s Fynd founder and CEO Thomas Jonas shares the protein-extraction with Mayor Lori Lightfoot and World Business CEO Michael Fassnacht during a taste-test Thursday afternoon.
Nature’s Fynd co-founder and CEO Thomas Jonas shares the protein-extraction method with Mayor Lori Lightfoot and World Business CEO Michael Fassnacht during a taste-test Thursday afternoon.
Cheyanne M. Daniels/Sun-Times

As Nature’s Fynd prepares to expand beyond manufacturing and into stores, it’s also preparing to open its additional facility in Back of the Yards.

The location at 2075 W. 43rd St. will be an expanded manufacturing and innovation facility, according to Nature’s Fynd’s chief marketing officer, Karuna Rawal, with operations starting in 2022.

Nature’s Fynd’s expanded location is expected to begin operations in Q2 of 2022 in the Back of the Yards neighborhood.
Nature’s Fynd’s expanded location is expected to begin operations in Q2 of 2022 in the Back of the Yards neighborhood.
Nature’s Fynd

“This is an expansion of Nature’s Fynd’s commitment and investment in Chicago, especially on our South Side,” said Lightfoot. “As we all know, Chicago’s former Union Stockyards . . . was the epicenter of the 20th century meatpacking industry. Through this innovation and a bit of irony, I must say [Nature’s Fynd is] reinventing the future of food and reclaiming the old stockyards as a future world leader in proteins.”

They’re also creating an additional 200 jobs at the new facility — something Lightfoot said is imperative for post-pandemic economic recovery.

“We believe in the power of scientific curiosity and human ingenuity,” Jonas said. “And because here in Chicago we make no little plans, we believe with this tiny microbe we can feed the whole world.”

The Nature’s Fynd brand is also sold in Berkeley, Calif., and Mariano’s stores in Chicago will start selling it next week.