The market for meat alternatives is getting crowded. So how do newer entrants without the marketing muscle of Beyond Meat or Impossible Foods compete?
Pascal Bieri, co-founder of Swiss plant-based meat company Planted, doesn’t seem worried. “The Americans with the burgers are inspiring. They’re paving consumer acceptance. People are more open to plant-based foods,” he tells AFN.
“If we were making burgers, I might feel differently,” he adds.
Three-year-old Planted is in the market with an alternative chicken product, that it sells to cafes and restaurants across Switzerland. The company has just raised a SFr7 million ($7 million) seed funding round that will support entry into other European markets, the launch of its new pulled pork product, and eventually, a retail strategy at home in Switzerland.
Agrifood investor Blue Horizon Corporation, Hiltl AG, Good Seed Ventures, Mica Ventures, and Joyance Partners backed the round, alongside two unnamed investors in the meat industry, a host of individual investors, and the venture arm of Zurich’s ETH Foundation.
Like most alternative meat startups, Planted has a clear vision for the future of food: one that is animal-free. On its website, the company cites the usual statistics to laud the benefits of plant-based diets: the negative climate impacts of livestock farming, the negative health impacts of highly-processed, meat-heavy diets.
For Bieri personally, it’s a climate issue, and the immediate goal is to encourage people to shift their food consumption habits so they’re eating less meat.
“We’re not vegan preachers—maybe because we’re Swiss. We’re too diplomatic,” he jokes. “The scale of meat consumption is the problem.”
But behavior change is hard, which is why Planted, like others, is trying to recreate the flavor and texture of meat with plant-based substitutes.
“I could see the industry eventually moving away from recreating meat, and developing amazing tasting proteins that will nourish and deliver energy better than animal products,” he observes. “But at the moment, we’re not there.”
The company is also conscious of consumer preferences for “clean” foods, particularly in Europe. Unlike other alternative meat companies, whose ingredient lists can run 15 or more items long, Planted uses four ingredients: pea protein, pea fiber, sunflower oil and water.
The company claims its plant-based chicken contains more protein per 100 grams than regular chicken, and has less fat and more dietary fiber.
Simplicity and ensuring a “clean label” have been non-negotiable since Planted launched from Swiss science and tech university, ETH Zurich three years ago. But how does Planted produce something that tastes and feels like chicken from peas alone?
Its recipe is proprietary, of course. But the company has eight full-time food scientists (our of 14 total employees) constantly iterating to “take the pea taste out of the equation,” says Beiri.
“We keep working on it. Or next version will come out in December, with better structure and color, and even less vegetable taste in its raw state,” he adds.
Food service expansion
The company has has a lot of help from its food service partners, whose chefs have provided feedback on how Planted could improve taste and texture. In that sense, Bieri says working with the food service industry, rather than immediately attempting retail distribution, has been a valuable pathway into the market.
Planted plans to take the same approach when it launches in other European markets. Planted’s new venture funding will support that strategy, by enabling the company to increase its current production capacity ten-fold.
The seed funding round follows a CHF 50,000 convertible note Planted secured from Switzerland-based Venture Kick, an accelerator that helps startups spin out of university labs. Venture Kick’s note has now converted to equity.