Darko Mandich is the CEO & Co-Founder of MeliBio based in the San Francisco Bay Area. MeliBio is an award-winning food technology company recognized by TIME Magazine as Best Inventions 2021.Darko started his career in the European food industry in 2012 and worked on managing and growing honey companies in more than 5 countries. By pursuing his dream to reinvent the honey industry and make it sustainable, Darko immigrated from Serbia to the United States in 2019 to launch MeliBio.
Could you tell us what led you to founding MeliBio and what your mission is?
MeliBio was founded to bring sustainability in the $10B global honey industry. What many people don’t know is that the way how honey is made using commercial beekeeping and honeybees is damaging to our Planet. Managed bees are pushing back on 20,000 wild and native bees and leaving them without access to food. That was a big wake up call for me and I had to do something about it since I spent most of my career in the honey industry. My equal love for bees and honey forced me to think out of the box so that a new and innovative solution would be created. After immigrating from Europe to San Francisco in 2019, I met a scientist Dr. Aaron Schaller, who grew up as a passionate gardener and home chef. Our joint passion for bees, honey, and sustainability empowered us to join forces and in April, 2020 create world’s first sustainable honey company that turns plants into honey, without the use of honeybees. Our mission is to create the better future, for humans, and for bees.
For those who are unfamiliar, how is it possible to make honey without bees? Can you share the scientific process behind that?
We at MeliBio developed two scientific approaches to make honey without bees. Our Generation 1 technology is powered by plant-science. We figured out how to approach the same plants that bees visit and get from plants what bees usually do, just giving them a break from this labor. In less than 3 years, we were able to deliver one of the fastest commercialization of foodtech products, starting from developing concept, moving to creating prototypes and finally successfully scaling our food manufacturing to 6,000 lbs of our plant-based honey per day.
Our R&D and innovation does not stop there, since with our Generation 2 technology we want to make products even better and more affordable. Using precision fermentation, we are able to recreate processes from honeybees honey stomach and therefore add more to our final product than what could we be achieving solely through plant-science.
Why is it critically important that we preserve bees on our planet?
If bees die, the Planet as we know will cease to exist. Saving and growing bee biodiversity is both a climate and food matter. Wild and native bees pollinate our plants that process CO2 and play an important role in our survival on Earth. If we can make honey without bees to be as delicious and nutritious as bee-made honey, with a sustainable, animal-free approach, we have a win-win-win situation. It’s exciting how much we can do by connecting nature and science while continuing to evolve our mindsets and skillsets to empower us to create the sustainable future we want.
How do you think about the role of MeliBio in creating a more sustainable future of food?
As a pioneering company of the future of honey and foods industry, we take responsibility in driving innovation and growth towards making delicious products that bring many satisfying moments to people around the World. Food is such an intimate topic that we get to be in touch with several times within a day. Food is a fuel, but more than that food is an experience. We believe that it is possible to satisfy consumers by providing delicious, and nutritious food, that comes at accessible cost, and only with a positive impact on our biodiversity. That is why our role at MeliBio is to keep innovating in connecting nature and science while offering everyone who chooses to go with our products to join us in a heroic mission of saving the bees. Imagine, with every bite you take, you cast a vote for what you want the Planet to be like for you, and for the future generations.
What obstacles have you had to overcome from a scientific perspective to solve for actually being able to produce honey without bees? Were there significant challenges you thought at one point couldn’t be solved?
Pioneering any new scientific approach is very challenging. We had to go through many iterations to find ones that work at scale. We were fortunate to gather an amazing team of scientists and experts coming off both leading academic institutions such as UC Berkeley, Stanford, Harvard and leading industry business and manufacturing organizations. Our mission driven team delivered outsized results in a short period of time, and with the help of our investors, we keep innovating and solving scientific challenges to get closer to the vision we gathered around.
What excites you most about solving the problems you are focused on at MeliBio?
Knowing that the World in which MeliBio is successful is the World that is thriving. Being able to undo what my previous industry did while I have been part of it gives me a huge motivation and belief that all of us can evolve and contribute to the better future. I get specially excited about our team and the magnitude of progress delivered in less than 3 years. Excited for what comes ahead for the future of honey, bees, and humans, delivered by MeliBio.