Hooba: “The future is looking really good”

We spoke with John Shepherd from Hooba, who have created a fungus-based product that is sustainable, healthy and plant based. He describes the taste and texture as “second to none” and says that with interest from home and abroad, they are looking to grow the brand in all sectors and countries as a truly ecological offering.

Tell us about the history of Hooba
Hooba was set up in 2016 by John Shepherd, Jay Croslegh and Mike Botha. We spent 12 months on R & D to get the products ready for market, with a patent being applied for.

What is the origin of your product
Oyster mushroom stems (chogs) are the base of our products. These chogs are a natural by-product of an existing industry, and a part of the growing process that would, traditionally, have gone to landfill. The chogs are used to make a vegan mince, very similar to a pork or beef mince in its versatility, which is then processed into burgers, sausages, meat balls, mince, meat loaf and as a filling for pies and a coating for a scotch egg. With hot dogs and pulled ‘Hooba’ in the pipeline for early next year.  

What are the current plans for your brand?
Hooba have been approached to own label manufacture for a number of national and international brands who are wanting to put a quality meat free offering onto their shelves.

Originally, the brand was launched into the foodservice sector, with BidFood, and other large food wholesalers, soon becoming a firm favourite in universities, schools and large contract caterers who wish to put a healthy option on the menu that will be attractive to all.

The directors are responding to interest from the USA, Canada, Europe and Australia by, firstly, arranging a visit to the US and Canada later in 2018, and with help from the Department for International Trade are hoping to join a number of trade missions. In advance of this, a first container of frozen product is to be shipped to Dubai in the coming months.

Hooba has received £215k of funding from the Northern Powerhouse and are considering a Crowdfund, or equity investment to move quickly on the opportunities that are presenting themselves on a regular basis as they are wishing to grow their team in sales & marketing and NPD.

What are your next steps for the near future?
The retail launch later in the year will be accompanied with an advertising push to include the “Yes, No meat” slogan, together with ‘cows are for mooing, not chewing’ to bring a lightness, and fun, to a serious subject that encompasses health, environmental and animal welfare issues, while encouraging a cut back on protein intake from animals.

We are in talks with the biggest egg producer in the UK to launch a vegetarian scotch egg and are hoping our ever popular vegetarian sausage roll will also be going out into the ‘food to go’ sector to make life for the vegan and flexitarian customer a little easier when looking for a snack when out and about.

Tell us about your work in the community

The directors have also set up a Community Interest Company, Hooba Urban CIC, which

works with prisoners in both open, and closed, prisons, teaching them how to grow mushrooms on used coffee grounds. When harvested, the chogs are purchased by Hooba, with the caps being sold off locally, or into the prison system to provide funding for rehabilitation of the offenders.

When we looked at the food miles required to bring in sufficient chogs for our production, we felt it would be great to have a proportion of our needs grown locally, whilst again reducing coffee grounds going to landfill and putting a little bit back by hopefully reducing some re-offending.

What is your take on the current trend for “bleeding burgers”?
The trend for ‘bleeding’ burgers etc has not gone unnoticed, and Hooba have developed their own version which runs pink, when pricked, then clear when fully cooked through.

Where is your product available?
All products are available through the website, www.hoobafoods.com, with sales increasing month by month.