The Livekindly Company — a collective of plant-based brands — lifted the lid this month on a $200-million founders’ funding round, a move designed to help its brands keep pace with an increasingly competitive peloton of global plant-based protein brands like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat. (Impossible, as my AFN colleague Jack Ellis reports, has just closed a whopping Series F funding round worth $500 million, a raise geared toward safeguarding its Asian expansion plans amid the global outbreak of Covid-19.)
The founding team of Livekindly that’s brought together the funds has a powerful whiff of hefty corporate experience. At the helm as CEO and chairman is the ex-Unilever bigshot Kees Kruythoff. Sitting on the board of directors is Roger Lienhard, who founded the Blue Horizon Corporation, a sustainable food and agriculture investment firm. Marketing guru Jodi Monelle, meanwhile, is also on the board and will lead the company’s media arm promoting the virtues of vegan dishes. There’s also Mick Van Ettinger, another former Unilever executive who is serving as CMO, as well as Aldo Uva — formerly of Nestle, Firmenich, and Ferrero — who has taken on the role as COO and head of research and development.
But there’s something more evangelical than corporate about their communications. “Unlike any other company in this space, the Livekindly co. is creating a movement that will drive impact at scale and at speed,” said Kruythoff, in a statement sent to AFN. “We are starting with one of the world’s most consumed meats–chicken— by providing outstanding, tasty, plant-based foods that are more sustainable and environmentally friendly. We’re also partnering with incumbent poultry companies including PHW in Europe and RCL Foods in South Africa, who are committed to embracing plant-based options. The Livekindly co.’s approach offers a path forward for transforming the global food industry. Our team has built a new formula for success by bringing innovation, experience, resources, and scale throughout the plant-based chicken value chain. It started with bringing together like-minded founders who share a vision for smarter, sustainable living, and allows the food industry to better align around the evolving values of consumers who are focused on climate change, animal welfare, and human health.”
The founders’ round of funding, the team says, will be used for further acquisitions, scaling the current plant-based food portfolio of brands and investments to rapidly increase the plant-based food industry capacity.
Alt chicken run
Brands under the current Livekindly portfolio like the Fry Family Food Co. and LikeMeat are part of what you might call an alt-chicken run. They offer consumers various “non-GMO, plant-based chicken alternatives”— exactly the sorts of alternatives Beyond has been prominently touting this year through its partnership with KFC.
And aside from Beyond, there’s a giddy and growing roster of companies directing their energies at plant-based offerings simulating the taste and texture of chicken, such as El Pollo Loco, which released its “Chickenless Pollo” across the US on March 5.
As AgFunder’s White Paper on alternative proteins points out, last year’s market entrants into the plant-based space tended to whet investor appetites most with their ground beef alternatives. (Products like burgers have a mushiness that proved easier to simulate than the sinewy texture of a chicken fillet or nugget, and intensive cow farming is a more clear-cut ecological bete noir in terms of animal welfare, water usage, deforestation, and methane emissions.) But this year, the spotlight has been widening to alternatives to pork and chicken. Fueling that attention are moves from food giants like McDonald’s, who have been working on improving their pea-based chicken fillet alternatives, as well as further signals of intent from traditional protein producers toward the end of last year.
Rastelli Foods Group, for instance, recently backed UK startup Daring Foods with $10 million late last year to assist in a February US launch of a chicken alternative using a limited amount of non-GMO ingredients.
“Rastelli’s is a protein company, not just a meat company. We’re here to fill the center of your plate with the best and most delicious foods – no matter if they come from an animal or a plant,” emphasized Ray Rastelli Jr., President of Rastelli Foods Group, in a press release echoing similar sentiments from other protein powerhouses like Tyson and Cargill. “The moment I tasted Daring chicken,” added Rastelli, “I immediately knew this was something unique. Daring fulfills all our requirements for clean, responsibly sourced products. They epitomize what customers have wanted all along, a clean label product that is not a novelty but meant to be eaten every day and easy to cook by almost anyone.“
Round the cluck innovation
But as plant-based food products become more popular alongside rising consumer demand for cleaner, more sustainable options and improving production technologies enhancing taste and texture, there could still be blow-back from various health concerns around some of these alternatives — namely their excessive use of things like sodium or even certain vegetable oils. For a nugget-making startup called Nuggs, working to address potential reservations is a core part of its strategy; the New York-based company has been iterating its products to drive down sodium content by 65% and remove MSG. (Full disclosure: AgFunder is an investor in Nuggs.)
The going assumption that these offerings will keep getting tastier and healthier leads some market analysts to suggest the plant-based protein market could reach 9% of the estimated $2.7 trillion global meat market by 2040. That’s what gives these competitors hope that the world will be wide enough for many plant-based pioneers to thrive. In the shorter term of the next few months, restaurant launches of new products are expected to slow somewhat, as supply chains tighten and consumer demand tapers back due to Covid-19, though delivery options could be one way for the plant-based insurgency to maintain momentum.
What do you make of Livekindly’s prospects in the race to scale up plant-based protein? Let us know. Drop a note to firstname.lastname@example.org