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Exclusive: Bee-free honey startup MeliBio raising $10M Series A

an illustration of a honey bear container with dollar signs for eyes

Illustration: Tiffany Herring/Axios

Food tech startup MeliBio is raising a $10 million Series A that will bring the bee-free honey maker to profitability, CEO Darko Mandich tells Axios exclusively.

Driving the news: MeliBio and Narayan Foods today announced a four-year, $10 million contract with Aldi-owned grocery Hofer to start selling MeliBio's vegan honey in Europe this month.

Details: MeliBio expects to close the new round in the first half of the year, Mandich says.

  • The Oakland, California-based company launched in Q4 of last year and has a $1 million-plus revenue run rate, Mandich says.

How it works: The startup uses plant science and precision fermentation to simulate the processes of a honey bee's digestive system to make honey, sans the bees.

  • It sells its U.S. brand Mellody through food service channels and directly to consumers.
  • For other geographies, it mainly serves as a B2B honey provider to producers, who will then get the finished product to retailers, typically under a private-label brand.

What's next: MeliBio is in talks with several of the largest food companies, and its focus will be on landing large customers, Mandich says.

  • MeliBio will do its own R&D and own its IP, but will contract with manufacturers like Narayan for production, Mandich says.
  • Its honey will be rolled out under the Just Veg! brand, in Austria and Switzerland, with plans to expand it into other parts of Europe.
  • As part of a large strategic partnership with Narayan, MeliBio will also debut its plant-based honey, under the Better Foodie brand, in U.K. retail stores this month.

Catch up fast: Founded in 2020, the company has raised about $9.4 million to date through its pre-seed and seed rounds.

The big picture: The honey industry plays a role in overpopulation by a species, which tends to be the European honey bee, which then ends up taking over the habitat of native bee species, Mandich says.

  • Honey is also produced by bees during only three months of the year, which can be unpredictable due to weather changes, he adds.

The bottom line: The company hopes its honey will be in famous products like Honey Nut Cheerios, Kind bars, and other foods in which you'd find honey.

  • "Our solution for honey can help them simplify their supply chains, help them turn their products plant-based … and save costs by working with the most efficient solution provider for honey sourcing," Mandich says.
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