According to co-founder Andy Shovel, THIS produces ‘the most realistic products to meat in the world’.
Made from predominantly pea and soy protein – that when subjected to heat and pressures creates a ‘fibrous texture’ – THIS’ bacon and chicken analogues are made to look, taste, and feel like the real thing.
And now, having attracted $6m (£4.7m) in seed funding, THIS is preparing to scale: starting with investments in R&D and manufacturing capabilities.
The ‘severe U-turn’ from fast food to sustainability
Prior to launching THIS, entrepreneurs Shovel and Pete Sharman launched, and exited, a fast-food business. The concept was dependent on selling meat, co-founder Andy Shovel recalled.
In 2016, the duo decided their future lay in food sustainability. “So we have done quite a severe U-turn from our previous roles,” he told this publication, adding that one driver was “trying to undo some of the damage that we had done for a few years”.
Following initial research into the meat alternatives market – looking at cell-based meats and plant-based alternatives – the co-founders agreed to focus on plant-based chicken and plant-based bacon.
Once they had closed a £1m pre-seed round and completed R&D trials, THIS launched onto the UK market in June 2019.
Six-months on and the start-up has brought in £4m in annualised revenue. “We’ve seen quite an unexpected traction,” said Shovel. “It has been a much more aggressive growth curve than we were expecting.”
THIS sells its ready-to-eat range in retailers including Waitrose, Holland & Barrett, and Ocado. The line focuses on chicken alternatives, in rotisserie, barbecue, and tikka flavours.
The ready-to-cook line includes ‘Isn’t Chicken’ dark soy and garlic pieces; goujons with breadcrumbs; and sea-salt and cracked black pepper; alongside ‘Isn’t Bacon’ rashers. Foodservice partners include Chilango, Coco di Mama, Abokado, Honest Burgers, and Pure.
A nutritious alternative to processed meat?
Aside from providing a ‘hyper-realistic’ eating experience, the start-up has also tried to ‘match or better’ the nutritional profile of its competitors.
THIS’ bacon analogue contains more protein than conventional bacon – at around 24g protein per 100g. The product is free of saturated fats, and contains less than half the salt content of conventional bacon, we were told.
While THIS’ chicken alternatives contain more salt than conventional chicken, Shovel believes his products are on the ‘lower salt’ end of the spectrum.
When compared with meat analogue competitors, the co-founder acknowledged the lack of ‘mass-market bacon alternatives’ available. “But, to my knowledge, we have a more compelling nutritional profile in terms of protein, salt, and fat.” THIS products are fortified with B12 and iron.
‘We are not just a cheap knock-off of meat’
THIS’ on-pack messaging is bold. ‘THIS isn’t bacon’ and ‘THIS isn’t chicken’ is displayed in large print across all the start-up’s retail offerings.
According to Shovel, the messaging fits with the nature of the brand, which he described as ‘quite bold’ and ‘a little bit rebellious’.
“We are trying to divorce ourselves from the more legacy stigmas around vegetarian and vegan brands,” he explained. “Essentially, those stigmas are that a lot of meat-eaters feel disenfranchised with [some] old fashioned brands out there, and they feel like those products aren’t for them.”
THIS’ branding, which the co-founder described as ‘disruptive’, aims to be ‘thoroughly relatable to meat-eaters’.
“We wanted to make it abundantly clear that [our products are] related to [meat] – because they use the word chicken and the word bacon – but [that we have created] our own thing. It is our own food.
“We are not just a cheap knock-off of meat. We are creating food that has its own benefits, separate to meat.”
Next steps: R&D, manufacturing, expansion
Following the success of THIS’ product launches in the UK market, Shovel revealed the start-up is eyeing expansion.
To start with, the £4.7m seed funding will help THIS build a London-based innovation centre for R&D. Staffed by food scientists and engineers, the co-founder imagines a ‘Willy Wonka-type’ facility, where employees can experiment in plant-based foods.
The investment will also help THIS install a manufacturing line in a third-party factory to help ‘keep up with’ demand. THIS is currently manufacturing in Europe, but hopes to bring production to the UK next year.
Shovel also revealed the firm is planning international expansion into Europe and the US ‘in about a year or so’, and expects to announce ‘massive’ new restaurant partnerships this year in the fast food sector.
While tight-lipped regarding the start-up’s NPD pipeline, the co-founder did reveal THIS plans to expand beyond meat alternatives in the near-to-mid term. “We really want the brand to become a leader in the alternative space, rather than just the meat alternative space.”