Mara: Biowaste to protein

There’s no signage on the nondescript building that is home to Mara Bio in the middle of Hastings.

Steve Boggs and Mark Balchin have got no frills down to a fine art at their exciting start-up, as we sit on mis-matched chairs, comforting I’m sure, to any investor or bank – unless they didn’t get to sit in the ‘good’ chair which was offered to me.

It’s a bit deceiving though, considering the high-tech nature of what they’re up to.

They have developed a process that uses edible fungal organisms and fermentation to create natural proteins and fibre in a sustainable way from what Steve describes as food industry ‘side streams’.

“It’s actually waste product,” he explains, when I quiz him further on what a side stream is, “but waste doesn’t sound very appetising.” I asked Steve to explain further. “Companies that juice apples, press grapes, process vegetables or even brew beers produce a huge amount of waste product, like pulp, skin and grains, that would probably go to landfill or animal feed.” It’s this raw product that Mara Bio will take, adding a natural and native fungal organism. Through a fermentation process, the waste is turned into protein that can then be added to say, oat milk to create ice cream, or flour for pasta, or just a high value protein supplement.

The implications are huge.

“Food security is a massive issue” explains Mark. “Protein is getting harder and more expensive to produce.” Having just walked past the dairy chiller at the supermarket, the point Mark makes is obvious.

“Producing plant-based proteins such as pea and soy isn’t much better,” he explains, highlighting sustainability and the insecurity of global freshwater supply which will no doubt be felt when El Niño finally hits.

The third team member, who I’m betting is their secret weapon, is Maya. Well, Dr Tangestani to be completely accurate. She is an experienced scientist and biotechnologist with a PhD in microbiology from Canterbury University, who joined Mark and Steve after falling in love with the Bay on a road trip. Serendipity brought them all together, and it’s Maya’s job to isolate the perfect organism and refine the process, so that Mara Bio can commercialise production on a whole range of products.

It’s early days and getting to market is a few years away yet. But even with everything they’re not telling me, the positive signs are all there.


Read the full article: Hawke’s Bay’s mystery businesses … Part 2  |  First published by BayBuzz