Tech innovation to further fuel plant-based boom, claims Planted after successful fund raise
The Swiss company has just successfully closed its Series B financing round of CHF70 million francs (EUR71 million). The round was led by L Catterton, the largest global private equity firm in the consumer goods sector.
Planted currently produces alternative chicken pieces, pulled pork and kebab meat, and breaded schnitzel available at 4,200 retailers and over 3,000 restaurants across three regional markets.
Coming on the back of the 36 million Swiss francs raised in 2021, Planted will use the latest funding to launch a new line of products for so-called whole cuts, such as a plant-based chicken breast, as well as further international expansion and increased production capacity. The products will be available to the foodservice industry first, with retail to follow shortly thereafter.
Planted co-founder Christoph Jenny said the company has "a strong track record in our established yet young markets in Switzerland, Germany, Austria and France and good early development in new markets such as the UK and Italy. With the additional capital, we will further accelerate our international growth, expand our product range with a newline of Whole Cut products and build another production facility."
IP key to maintaining growth trajectory
With commentators suggesting the explosive growth in European plant-based protein sales witnessed in recent years may be levelling out, the company is stressing its proprietary IP protected technology will be key to its growth ambitions.
"Current plant-based meat technologies and solutions are not capable of replacing more than one to three percent of meat consumption and therefore do not have the necessary impact on our food system,” said Jenny. “Consumers justify this with a lack of taste, an unattractive price and questionable ingredients. In order to convince meat eaters as well, it is crucial that we produce 'better meat than animal meat' and offer a better taste experience and a lower price with less environmental impact and good ingredients."
In an approach it describes as ‘biostructuring’, the company is combining two techniques to bring improved taste and texture to meat alternatives. First it employs high-moisture extrusion to give structure to the proteins. A fermentation process then follows. This proprietary technology will enable Planted to develop larger cuts of meat with ‘complex structure, texture, juiciness and tenderness’.
“Consumers are looking for different types of textures and tastes,” Dr. Judith Wemmer, Executive Committee Member at Planted, told FoodNavigator. “If you think about steak, chicken pieces and a sausage, the textures are super diverse, hence there's not a single technology which allows you to produce that full range of meat products. We’ve mastered high moisture extrusion, which allows us to form fibrous, muscle-like structures with few ingredients. And over the past two years we have invested massively in biotechnology.”
While high moisture extrusion is a purely physical chemical process where heat and shear-cell technology play a role to form a structure, she explained, microorganisms that have metabolisms can create more complex materials. The complex structure of alternative meat can profit from these more complex technologies, we were told. “We are bringing together our expertise in creating amazing fibres with our expertise in biotechnology to form a broader range of products going away from just chicken pieces to bigger whole cuts. It also allows us to get more complexity in the texture and taste, more juiciness and potentially also health benefits too by bringing in different varieties of micronutrients into these products.”
The process relies on just a few ingredients. Planted’s alternative meat range uses peas, oats and sunflower oil. Its latest whole cut chicken alternative uses pea protein, pea fibre, canola oil and water and additional vitamin B12.
While there are questions marks about the healthiness of canola oil, Planted’s process doesn’t employ any hydrogenation. “The main reason we use canola is that we source it locally in Switzerland, where it's available in high quantities,” explained Wemmer. “Healthy nutrition starts with choosing the right raw materials,” she added. “In our pulled pork for example we combine a legume source, an oilseed source and a cereal source, which gives us a complete amino acid profile. So choosing these right raw materials is the base, then the processing of these raw materials can alter bioavailability and the nutritional profile.”
Counteracting rising material prices
Price-wise, the brand currently sits between free range chicken and organic chicken. But Planted believes that it can bring this price point down in the future, claiming biostructured proteins can outperform animal meat in terms of taste, sustainability, health, efficiency and price.
“We are in the process of our scaling our operations and coming more efficient with our operations,” said Wemmer. “We have digitalised and automated our production a lot which allows us to drive down material costs while raw material prices have risen. We can counteract that because we don't rely on a co-manufacturer. This is also means we can tune products to market needs.”
Planted produces all products at present in the production facility in Kemptthal. In May 2022, the company announced that the production capacity here had been doubled to over one ton of plant meat per hour.
Planted now plans to open another production facility in the near future, and is looking at potential locations, most likely outside Switzerland. “Our production capacity is around 20 tonnes per day,” revealed Wemmer. “Our new site will be state of the art, have higher capacity and will most importantly allow us more room to grow. We've already decreased prices for our end consumers in our two- and half--year history. By increasing scale and further automating our production, it allows us to further decrease prices, so economies of scale are kicking in nicely for us.”
In addition, the more than 65 employees working in research, technology and product development at Planted have developed further promising prototypes. "We now need to test, optimize and scale these with consumers. The strong support from investors gives us the opportunity to accelerate the testing phases and put significant resources into scaling to successfully bring the new products to market through our various distribution channels in the coming months," Jenny added.