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Introducing the Cypriot startup Freyia Labs

We want to bring your probiotic supplements to your kitchen,” says Vasilis Joseph, co-founder of Freyia Labs. Over the past decade, “gut health” has surged in medical research, uncovering the gut microbiome’s impact on ailments from autoimmune diseases to metabolic disorder to cancer.

This has spurred a burgeoning market for probiotics, aiming to keep people’s innards in good shape, projected to reach $2.095 billion by 2027. Founded in 2019, Freyia Labs wants to grab a slice of the probiotics industry with functional foods produced through fermentation and preservation techniques. “We deal with healthy alternatives using the power of microorganisms like bacteria, yeast and fungi,” he explains.

A self-proclaimed fungi maverick, Joseph has been studying mushrooms for the better part of his life. With the support of, the startup’s other co-founder, his wife Greta Skemaite, Freyia Labs began as a small lab in the couple’s kitchen, cultivating 14 mushroom species, some previously unknown in Cyprus. Employing circular practices, like using local coffee shop waste as fertiliser, this experimentation phase became the crucible in which the startup honed its fermentation and preservation techniques. Fermentation not only fosters probiotic bacterial growth but also yields omega-3 fatty acids, enzymes and B vitamins. Fermented products also boast an extended shelf life and superior flavour profiles. Meanwhile, the home lab expanded into cultivating chillies. “Our home looked like a jungle!” he jokes. “The mushroom growing, though, was overwhelming for such a small team since you need bulk production to see results. So, we pivoted full-time to fermentation. We saw it as a philosophy of life, an opportunity to change the way we eat and create alternative products to things that people recognise,” he notes.

Freyia Labs’ product lineup spans Louisiana-style hot sauces branded as Fire Alchemy, featuring distinctive flavours like Ghost Pepper and Caroline Reaper. Other products include chilli jams, seasoning blends, tinctures and fermented vegetables, like sauerkraut and vegan kimchi. Joseph also highlights that the products come with a clean label, using as few ingredients as possible. “You don’t need to overcomplicate things to make them amazing,” he explains. The startup continues to maximise resources by repurposing production waste and, notably, one of its by-products – vegan chilli brownies – has been an unexpected best-seller, leaving Joseph with a mixture of pleasant surprise and curiosity.

In 2023, he reveals, the startup’s growth surged by over 300% sans substantial marketing efforts, exclusively retailing through markets, events and word-of-mouth. More impressively, the startup enjoys an 80% return rate, capturing the taste buds of a diverse profile of consumers. To meet soaring demand, it has now moved into a bigger, proper laboratory and collaborates with local farmers for raw materials in harmony with its circular philosophy. “We pay them a fair price; I don’t want to hustle farmers, especially when agriculture in Cyprus is dying. We provide them with good foundation money that helps them sustain themselves,” he stresses. Behind the scenes, the startup has also integrated automation and intelligence tech to streamline and merchandise the process of fermentation and preservation. “This way, our job can be efficient and effective and can be run by a small team. We also believe that our technology can serve other businesses that could benefit from it,” he mentions. The startup’s organic success has piqued investor interest from Cyprus, the EU and the Middle East, and it has received offers to expand its production facilities. “We will decide our next steps in the coming months, based on what benefits the largest number of people,” he says. “But whatever happens, Cyprus will always be our base.”

Founders: Vasilis Joseph & Greta Skemaite.

What is it?: A provider of clean-label, functional, healthy, circular and sustainable food and beverage alternatives created through the power of microorganisms.

Stage: Seed.

What it aspires to be: A global leader, transforming the food and beverage industry by merging the worlds of medicine/supplements and food with its sustainable, clean-label and health-centric products.

Funds received: €60,000 (€20,000 in capital and €40,000 in services) from the

IDEA Innovation Centre, €3,000 from the CyEC 2023.

Funds needed: €300,000.

(This interview first appeared in the January edition of GOLD magazine. Click here to view it.)

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