12 (including consultants and contractors)
Honey made without bees
When Mandich joined the honey industry almost 10 years ago, he was driven to do so by his love for honey as a product and his curiosity about bees. "I thought that the more honey people eat, the more beehives are needed, and with more beehives, there are more bees," he recalls.
His eyes were opened to the bigger picture two years ago. "Beyond honeybees, which are solely used for honey production, there are 20,000 wild and native bee species in the world," Mandich explains. "Those bee species are rapidly declining, and one of the biggest reasons for that is because of honey production. Honeybees are invasive and so are pushing these other bee species back."
He cites a January 2021 National Geographic article in which the publication reported that a quarter of known bee species haven't been seen in the last decade. "Those numbers are alarming," Mandich says. "Our planet flourishes because of those species. If we lose them, it will be looking like the surface of Mars. But that's pressure for us to work as hard as possible to replace every pound of honey that's coming from commercial beekeeping with honey that is produced using science so that wild and native bee species are not pushed back any further."
Honey made by science is what MeliBio is all about. Mandich and the startup's other co-founder, Dr. Aaron Schaller, established MeliBio with the goal to make delicious, nutritious honey without a single bee involved. Their idea appealed to New York's Big Idea Ventures, a leading global startup accelerator program, and the MeliBio team has since received funding from more than 20 investors in the US, Europe, Asia, Australia, Canada, and Indonesia.
"Right now, we're finalizing our R&D for our version one product and preparing it for manufacturing production and deliveries to clients," Mandich says. When large-scale production begins early next year, MeliBio will be using multiple co-manufacturers to enable them to deliver the volume required by the largest food, beverage, and cosmetics companies in North America.
"The standard level of production in the honey industry is around 40,000 pounds a day or 20 metric tons per day," Mandich says. "That's our goal for the next year. Our co-manufacturers will be spread out across the US because, especially as we grow our client base, we want to make sure we are perfectly positioned to meet the needs of customers from all regions."
Mandich says that MeliBio's first plant-based honey product was inspired by light clover honey. "Light clover honey is one of the most popular honeys, and we're happy to share that there is huge interest for this product," he adds. "We already have more than 20 companies, not only in the United States but across the world, that have signed their letters of intent to purchase our product as soon as it hits the market."
The manufacturing technology used to produce MeliBio's honey is proprietary, and two patents are currently pending for different aspects of the process. "I can share that this is a very novel technology that has a piece that leans on precision fermentation," Mandich says. "Precision fermentation is recognized as the third pillar of the alternative protein industry by the Good Food Institute and is one of the leading and most promising food technologies that exists currently."
Will MeliBio eventually sell its plant-based honey direct to consumers? Mandich says they're open to future consideration of launching their own brand but feel they will make the most progress towards their goal by focusing on the B2B market. "Around two thirds of the honey that is consumed in this country goes into B2B first," he explains. "So, for us, we want to start where the biggest impact is and where we can make the biggest difference in terms of saving the bees."
Challenges: "Right now, our company is hiring additional scientific personnel," Mandich says. "Making the perfect hires are really important. We're talking about full time employees, and we really want to attract like-minded and like-passionate people so that together we can create a better future not just for humans but also for bees."
Opportunities: Mandich says that up until this point, plant-based foods producers have had to rely on inferior sweeteners in their recipes. "Now that real honey is coming in an animal-free form, there's this opportunity for all of us to work together."
Needs: "I have to say hiring again," Mandich says. "I invite everyone to go to our website and check the openings that are there. We are looking for passionate scientists who want to join MeliBio and change the $10 billion honey industry."