This, a UK startup making plant-based protein substitutes for chicken and pork drawn mostly from soy and pea, has raised £4.7 million ($6 million) in seed funding. The London-based investment fund Backed led the round, with further investments from Five Seasons Ventures, Idinvest Partners, Seedcamp and Manta Ray Ventures.
This reporter visited This at their tech hub offices by Portobello Road in London last May to try its plant-based bacon alternative ahead of the launch that summer. “Soy was a no brainer for us,” said This co-founder Andy Shovel at the time as he stood over a sizzling pan of pink slithers known as “This: Is Not Bacon.”
The “Is Not Bacon” was, granted, not bacon; but it smelt and tasted pretty good, and I quite liked it. The chicken products, especially the nuggets, came across as convincingly good, though the mouthfeel was a little mushy; their tikka masala range could also work nicely in curries without too many people being aware or bothered by the difference; This had been helped to this point by food scientists at the University of Reading.
During that tasting session it struck me, even back then, that it will be hard for the plant-based giants of the space — Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat — to maintain a strong enough moat to keep out these even younger, more nimble competitors. This’s round comes the same week that Impossible Foods launched its own pork and sausage products to accompany its famous burger. Both This and Impossible use soy as the main ingredient whereas Beyond Meat uses pea protein.
“THIS has managed to capitalise on the strong trend for plant-based by building a large and incredibly engaged tribe of vocal supporters. We believe that Andy and Pete can build THIS into a European champion in the category,” Niccolo Manzoni from Five Seasons Ventures, told AFN.
The demand side is certainly growing in the UK, as elsewhere, with a rising number of millennials seeking to curb their meat intake — a trend highlighted in AgFunder’s Whitepaper for its New Carnivore Fund. It’s a trend the fast-food giants are taking seriously too: McDonald’s, for instance, launched its first fully vegan meal in the UK in Q1 2020 as a way of wishing consumers a Happy McVeganuary.
On the basis of rising demand, This claims it has experienced a compound growth rate of 35% month-on-month since launching in retailers in mid-June 2019. Its products are listed in over 1,000 outlets across the UK, including national listings with retailers such as Waitrose, Holland & Barrett, Ocado, and the company claims to have registered annualised revenue of £3 million.
Globally, the meat substitute market is set to be worth $6.4 billion by 2023, according to Markets and Markets.
In a press release this week, which coincides with the month of Veganuary, This noted how the latest investment round will be for its manufacturing capabilities, well as opening a new R&D center, and expanding its team.
Describing his decision to invest, Carlos Espinal, a managing partner at Seedcamp said, in a statement: “Investing in the future isn’t just about investing in hard-tech companies; it’s also about investing in the future of our consumption and the sustainability of food sources and their long-term ecological impact.We first invested in Pete and Andy and their incredible vision for This a few years back and are proud investors and customers of their delicious products which not only address increased consumer demand for meat-free alternatives but also help contribute towards building a more diverse and sustainable food supply-chain that has already attracted the interest of many top retail brands.”
Back over the pan that May, Shovel conceded the distinctive name had not been his idea, but a flash of inspiration from his girlfriend. She had managed to change the company name from an earlier brand, he said: “We were called Not Meat for the first year or so or R&D,” said co-founder Andy Shovel, “but we thought that was quite negative. This is more emphatic.”
Long term, he said, they might move away from being soy-based. “I’m interested in oats,” he said, but that would take a fair bit of further food science down the line as they are harder to work with.
Also this week, plant-based beverage maker OWYN raised $7.5 million in a round led by Powerplant Ventures, according to BevNET.