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Kinoko Labs: the startup making meat from fungi

Kinoko Labs is a fungi-based food company from Germany that is developing whole-cut meat alternatives grown naturally from mycelium. The startup, which is part of the current cohort at the ProVeg Incubator, was founded by Isabella Iglesias-Musachio, with Rafael Philippini serving as the Microbiology Lead. This is the Kinoko Labs story.

What does your startup do and what is your mission? 

Isabella: Kinoko Labs is a biotech company that is on a mission to create whole-cut meat alternatives, grown naturally from mycelium. We aim to create better-than-meat products that deliver on the entire taste experience, nutrition, and affordability without compromise.  

Our solution is to create clean-image, minimally-processed, and nutrient dense alternatives to animal-based meat. We do this by leveraging a combination of microbial fermentation and mycelium’s inherently fibrous texture. We will develop a line of steaks, fillets, and cutlets, beginning with a flagship chicken product.

Our vision is to help create a more environmentally sustainable, equitable, and animal-free food system in order to protect our planet. As a result, we are also preserving our most cherished culinary traditions.

Fungal mycelium on the ground

Where did the idea for your company come from? 

Isabella: While studying sustainable agriculture when  I was 16, I came to learn about the gruesome conditions of factory farms, and decided to become vegetarian. I had to reinvent my daily food rituals, and found that mushrooms were a great centre-of-the-plate alternative to meat. 

That sparked my regard for fungi as a biological kingdom with incredible variety and versatility. Not only to produce mushrooms, but also the molds and yeasts that allow us to make beer, wine, bread, and cheese. This fascination led me to learn about fermentation over a decade ago and I began experimenting.  

When I embarked on my entrepreneurial path, I knew my company mission would be creating a more sustainable food system. By that time, the idea for Kinoko Labs had been brewing (no pun intended) for years. Therefore, I knew it had to be fermentation-enabled and fungi-based.

The inspiration to focus on creating minimally-processed, nutrient-dense alternatives came from both my own experience as a consumer. There was a lack of meat alternatives I feel good about consuming regularly. I recognised also that  many other people were having the same problem. 

Tell us about your team. Why are you the right people for the project? 

Isabella: Rafael, our Lead Microbiologist, is the perfect person to help build Kinoko Labs, being a skilled microbiologist and an expert in industrial biotechnology. He dedicated the last twelve years to researching the utilisation of agro-industrial byproducts as feedstock for sustainable carbon and nitrogen sources, as well as their application in the developing biomolecules of industrial interest.

I have an academic background in sustainability and agriculture, and I’ve spent my career helping to build startups in the United States, Europe, and Asia. I have a proven track record in leading tech startups to scale internationally, most recently for the ag-tech startup Infarm. As CEO, I bring my life-long passion for sustainability and my experience in business management to building Kinoko Labs.

What are your favourite parts about building your business?

Rafael: My favorite part is building the bioprocess from scratch. As a scientist, I like to develop methodologies, to see prototypes taking form, and implemented them as a real-world product. Creating something and implementing my own ideas gives me a great sense of pride and is very rewarding.

Isabella: For me, working towards our mission of creating something that we feel will make a positive impact in people’s lives and help preserve our planet is one of the most satisfying parts about building Kinoko Labs. Beyond that, meeting and working with incredible scientists, thought leaders, and entrepreneurs inspires me to continue fighting the good fight!

Kinoko Labs Founder and CEO Isabella Iglesias-Musachio

What have been the main challenges you’ve faced? 

Isabella: Building a company during a worldwide pandemic naturally created many obstacles that we never could have imagined. As with many early-stage companies, this has slowed our progress. It has also made it very difficult to meet potential collaborators and get access to lab space.

Not being able to meet my team in person was a challenge I never anticipated prior to the pandemic. However, it has also opened up the possibility to collaborate with experts around the world who, in normal times, we may have never had the opportunity to meet.  Our team is a great example of that.

What makes your company unique? 

Isabella: Our approach to creating meat alternatives is to leverage fermentation and fungi in order to create naturally meat-like structures, which is a departure from how many plant-based alternatives are made.

By leveraging mycelium’s inherent fibrous structure, we can naturally replicate the texture of meat without the need for a long list of texturizers, fillers, and binders that you often find in meat alternatives. This means we can create clean-image, minimally processed products. Plus, they will be healthier and nutrient dense since mycelium has a similar amino acid and mineral profile to animal-meat. 

We are also unique because we focus entirely on whole-cut meats. This has the highest margins yet is the most underserved segment of the meat sector in our industry.

Why did you decide to join the ProVeg Incubator? 

Isabella: We have been huge fans of Proveg’s work for years, and recognised that it brought together an incredible community of mentors and thought leaders in the plant-based, cell-based, and fermentation-based industry. Being based in Berlin, it was a natural choice for us to apply. We’re thrilled to be collaborating with other startups and learn from their networks of industry experts.

What do you think it takes for a startup to be successful? 

Isabella: Building a great team is definitely the most important factor for a startup to be successful. You need people who have the right skills, mindset, and passion to turn your vision into a reality, and to get through the hard times.  After that, having a healthy dose of tenacity, grit, creativity, and good luck is key!

What do you hope to achieve with your company in the next 12 months?

Rafael: We hope to establish our lab, secure our pre-seed round of funding, kick off our in-house R&D, and recruit one or two additional team members. Achieving these critical milestones will bring us a few steps closer to developing a prototype of our flagship chicken product.

Did you enjoy this blog post? Then check out our previous Q+A with the founders of Eggfield – the startup making whole egg alternatives from plants!

EggField: the startup making egg alternatives from plants

EggField is a plant-based food startup from Switzerland developing whole and liquid egg alternatives. The startup team comprises Silvan, David, and Magdalena who are part of the current cohort at the ProVeg Incubator. This is their story.

What does your startup do and what is your mission? 

Silvan: EggField is developing egg alternatives for use in baking and cooking. Our aim is to support food industry partners in their transition to plant-based product ranges. We can achieve this by creating egg alternatives with the same functional properties as animal-based eggs! 

More than half of the eggs produced globally (1.2 trillion) are used as industrial ingredients in consumer products. Often, consumers are not even aware that they are consuming eggs. They are just another ingredient in a product. Already by replacing these eggs that are used as ingredients global greenhouse gas emissions and animal harm can be greatly reduced.

Where did the idea for your company come from? 

David: The idea to develop a purely plant-based egg came from the industry itself. Silvan Leibacher is a Co-Founder of the Leibacher Biber-Manufaktur, which produces sweet plant-based pastries.

For their white Gingerbreads, the team was looking for a plant-based egg alternative, but couldn’t find any that offered the same results as animal-based eggs. For this reason, Silvan and I  (I am a food scientist) developed an egg substitute. Thus, the first white egg-free Gingerbread was created and Eggfield’s journey began.

Tell us about your team – who are you and why are you the right people for the project? 

David: Our team consists of three members: Silvan Leibacher, David Ebneter, and Magdalena Herren. Silvan is one of the Co-Founders and is responsible for marketing and financing. Due to his background, Silvan knows about building a company and has many contacts in the baking industry.

Silvan: David is my Co-Founder, he is a food engineer who has worked in extraction and food processing. This has provided him with relevant skills and extensive know-how of the food industry. Completing our team we have Magdalena who is a food scientist and is responsible for R&D.

Eggfield’s team: Silvan, Magdalena, and David

What are your favourite parts about building your business?

Silvan: When building your own business, you can make your dreams come true! By working on your own project, you take on a completely different mindset compared to working for a big company. The decisions you make have a real impact on the outcomes.

What have been the main challenges you’ve faced? 

Magdalena: Eggs have several desirable properties like foaming, gelation, binding, high protein content, and clarifying agent. Developing a product that has the same characteristics, while staying away from artificial ingredients, can be really difficult. But with curiosity and creativity, we get there.

Eggfield White

What is it that makes your company unique? 

David: We are working very closely with the food industry. As our headquarter is at a plant-based bakery, which uses our product, we can observe the development process and any challenges they have. Together we search for solutions to optimise our product and the bakery’s recipes.

Why did you decide to join the ProVeg Incubator? 

Silvan: ProVeg Incubator is a great opportunity for us to reflect on Eggfield and grow as entrepreneurs. In our daily work, many ideas come up and we don’t always have time to fully evaluate which ones to pursue. Also, it is an interesting experience to meet people from other startups, and to understand their mindsets and company journeys. 

In your opinion, what does it take for a startup to be successful? 

Silvan: There are three main points that make a startup successful. First, the right idea – you need to go with the trends and see the potential.

Second, proper development of the product. It is really important to iterate, test, and learn, together with potential customers. Only by developing a product step by step and trying out all the different combinations can you find the best solution.

Finally, the right timing and a great deal of luck. Believe in yourself and never stop trying!

What do you hope to achieve with your company in the next 12 months?

Magdalena: We are planning to scale up our EggField White product, our liquid egg alternative which is already on the market. We want to produce large quantities of that product in agreement with a contract manufacturer. Another goal is to finalise and launch our second product, the EggField Whole, which can be used as an alternative to whole animal-based eggs.

As our cohort 6 began, we’ll be posting a Q+A with our alumni startups every week! Keep your eyes peeled for our channels and don’t miss any updates.

Meet our latest cohort of food startups

Nine startups, based all around the world, from Santiago to Delhi to London to Berlin, comprise our new cohort at the ProVeg Incubator. The founders of these plant-based and food-tech startups are about to set foot on a path that will lead them closer to achieving their goals.

There is no finishing line in the race towards innovation. And for the new cohort of food startups joining the ProVeg Incubator today (April 7), the pace will only increase.

Over the next 12 weeks, we’ll be supporting nine startups from all over the world on their mission to transform the global food system.

It is this goal that unites the companies – some of which are as far removed from each other in their sector of activity as they are geographically: the goal to pursue innovation in the service of the environment and global health.

Read on to meet each of the startups joining our sixth cohort. You’ll also get an introduction to the inspiring founding teams and their innovative products.

Asanté (Mexico): plant-based food startup championing Mexican cuisine

Asanté's plant-based meat-and-fish product line

Asanté’s plant-based meat-and-fish product line

Based in Mexico City, Asanté is carving out a slice of the ever-growing plant-based meat-and-fish sector in North America. This pioneering company’s range of products, based on traditional Mexican cuisine, including pastor, cochinita, and barbacoa, are already on sale in Mexico and the US.

Iván Jiménez de Sandi and Gabriela Rivera founded Asanté to support more people moving towards a plant-based lifestyle. Backed by a team of scientists specialising in biotechnology and molecular biology, the duo is working on mycelium technology in order to further improve their products and build a resilient and low-cost production platform.

Bifidice (Chile): one of our startups is creating probiotic ice cream

Let’s head further south now, to a startup that is revolutionising one of the world’s favourite treats. Bifidice, based in Santiago, Chile, is a biotech company that creates plant-based ice-cream containing powerful probiotic bacteria that help to fight allergies and chronic diseases. The probiotic – known as Bifidum N1 – is also an effective protector of gut flora.

The company’s name, Bidifice, reflects the fruits of the research into which Anastasia Gutkevich has poured years of her life. Maria Jose Buttazzoni, the CMO of Bifidice with 10 years of experience in the field of child nutrition, completes the team.

EggField (Switzerland): growing plant-based eggs

Zurich-based startup EggField aims to achieve what their name suggests – to grow eggs similarly to how seeds are sown in a field. The plant-based origin of their egg alternatives makes this possible. 

By betting on the budding area of plant-based eggs, EggFields aims to do for chickens what plant-based milk is achieving for cows – putting an end to the practice of factory farming.

The founding team behind EggField – Silvan Leibacher and David Ebneter – combine many years of experience in the baking and food-engineering industries in order to develop their cutting-edge products.

Kern Tec (Austria): the food-tech startup upcycling fruit pits

The founding Team behind Kern Tec, the food tech startup

The founding team behind food-tech startup Kern Tec

Cherries, apricots, and plums are all delicious fruits that come with rather less delicious pits inside. The pits can bloom into beautiful trees, but how best to use them if we have no plans to take up horticulture?

Enter Kern Tec, a Vienna-based startup that is turning these otherwise unusable by-products into a resource. The company is upcycling discarded fruit pits in order to develop high-value raw materials for dairy and other plant-based alternatives.

Kern Tec’s founding team comprises Michael Beitl, Luca Fichtinger, Sebastian Jeschko, and Fabian Wagesreither.

Kinoko Labs (Germany): mycelium-based meat alternatives

Using mushroom mycelium (the root-like filaments of fungi), Kinoko Labs is producing plant-based alternatives to meat and fish.

By working on a new generation of alt-proteins, the Berlin-based company plans to accelerate the adoption of sustainable protein sources – without compromising on taste or nutrition.

Isabella Iglesias-Musachio is the CEO of Kinoko Labs. Scientific advisor Branden Wolner, along with scientific consultants Pedro Gonçalves and Rafael Philippini, complete the founding team.

NØKO (France): pro-performance supplements for athletes

The NOKO Team believes in a plant-based path towards athletic achievement

NOKO believes in a plant-based path towards athletic achievement

Plant-based sport supplements are something of a new frontier, and one that French startup Noko is not afraid to explore. Noko promises to prepare the most dedicated of athletes for the toughest challenges, by supplying them with pro-performance, healthy, and sustainably-produced food.

Maxence Damarey, one of the co-founders, stands witness to the products’ effectiveness. He himself is an experienced sportsman – both an undefeated professional boxer and certified personal trainer.

On the other side of the aisle, Maxence’s co-founding partner Olivier Dahan is influential in the French food industry. He has worked with brands like Oreo, Tim-Tam, and Daim.

Omni (UK): plant-based startup innovating the pet-food sector

Based in London, Omni is a pet-food startup that produces nutritionally complete tasty treats that won’t leave dogs wanting for their old kibble. The Omni product range provides a well-balanced, nutritionally complete source of protein, with a laser focus on pet health.

By promoting the transition to sustainable protein sources, Omni also stands to reduce the negative environmental impact of producing factory-farmed meats.

Omni was founded by a team of three. Dr Guy Sandelowsky is a highly experienced veterinary surgeon and biomedical scientist. Shiv Sivakumar, a former investment banker and Jo Barrow, an ex Buzzfeed writer turned marketeer completes the trio.

ProMeat (India): chicken alternatives from indigenous crops

The only meat in this plant-based startup is in the name. ProMeat develops chicken alternatives – burger patties, minced meat, and kebabs – by combining cutting-edge technology with underused, indigenous crops.

The Delhi-based startup is well positioned to capture the attention of the world’s largest flexitarian audience.

CEO Debabrata Das is a food-technology manager with a penchant for the food-processing sector. Pranjuli Garg, COO, has a proven track record in research, quality assurance, and data analysis. Sugriv Gupts, who has expertise in new product development and quality control, completes the founding team.

Root Kitchen (UK): plant-based ready meals


Root Kitchen is bringing all of the benefits of a plant-based lifestyle into frozen, ready-made meals in recyclable packaging. When it comes to alternative-protein, this is an underserved market segment. Root Kitchen wants to change that.

The startup is targeting the D2C meal-subscription and retail markets with affordable, enjoyable products. They have developed numerous meal varieties including Vegan Shepherd’s Pie, Aubergine Al Forno, and Thai Red Curry.

Root Kitchen’s founding team comprises David Beaver and Rishma Remtulla. David heads up marketing, brand management and sales. Rishma Remtulla is also responsible for sales and leads on product development and category analysis.

We will be sharing more information about these startups as they progress through our programme, including Q+As with the founders. We’ll also be posting programme updates so you can read about their progress and achievements.

Supporting food innovators is at the core of what we do at the ProVeg Incubator. If you’re working in plant-based or cultured food innovation, apply now to join our next cohort of startups.

Update Foods: the startup making milk from algae

Update Foods is a plant-based-dairy startup from France founded by CEO Clémence Landeau, together with Céline Bouvier, and Franck Manifacier. The team is part of the current cohort at the ProVeg Incubator. This is their story. 

What does your startup do and what is your mission? 

Clémence: Update Foods develops plant-based milk and dairy solutions that are based on microalgae and faba-bean protein. We focus on producing affordable products that aim to replicate the taste, appearance, texture, and nutritional benefits of conventional animal-based dairy products.

Transitioning to a more plant-based lifestyle should look and feel effortless, almost invisible. Our mission is to take an updated version of milk and other dairy staples mainstream. With our products, we aim to help the next generation to move towards a plant-based lifestyle without any regrets.

Where did the idea for your company come from? 

Clémence: Update Foods sounded like an obvious, exciting, and impactful project to us when we connected the dots between the following elements:

Firstly, plant-based living is gathering momentum. Flexitarianism is becoming more popular and there are a growing number of consumers looking for 100% plant-based options.

When you add to that the number of people who are lactose intolerant, you are looking at an attractive pool of potential customers. Adopting a plant-based lifestyle is also crucial if we are to cope with the world’s environmental, health, animal welfare, and social justice challenges.

Secondly, some people still struggle with going plant-based, even if they genuinely want to. For example, many consumers say that they “miss the taste” of cheese or milk.

The current alternatives available on the market are not (yet) convincing enough to seduce flexitarians or hardcore cheese-lovers. There is therefore still a need for accessible, affordable, and delicious plant-based dairy products to be developed.

Finally, the current plant-based sector still has a long way to go. For example, my father cannot make the switch to plant-based dairy alternatives because they are generally soya-based or inaccessible.

He cannot eat soya and he lives far out in the countryside. Our goal is to help people like him to replace conventional animal-based products with alternatives that suit 21st-century living.

Tell us about your team. Why are you the right people for the project? 

Céline: Clémence Landeau is our CEO and I would describe her as sincere and future-oriented. She has dedicated her professional life to easing the global transition to plant-based eating. Clémence has supported consumer choices as a V-Label account manager, lobbied for political changes in the plant-based space, and worked to change the image of veganism, with the SMMMILE Vegan & Pop Festival.

Clémence: Franck Manifacier is our Head of Sales. Franck is experienced in managing brands, having led Pepsico in establishing new premium brands in France. His background will help Update Foods to strengthen its position in different markets and build a strong and efficient commercial strategy. 

Céline Bouvier is our Chairwoman. She has developed sharp insights into effective marketing strategies in the food business, thanks to her former position as Managing Director for Coca Cola France, and her current position at Vojo.

Céline: Update Foods is also supported by Algama Foods as a founding partner. Algama is a french food tech startup developing microalgae-based foods (the Good Good and Nøko Foods) that has raised more than $10 million. This collaboration brings unique algae expertise to our team and a strong potential network of retailers and partners for us to work with.

With our collective professional and personal experience and educational backgrounds, we have a strong understanding of the way we need to think about our brand and our products. We know how to make them attractive to the different target markets we have in our sights. 

What are your favourite parts about building your business? 

Clémence: Building a business is a beautiful mess. We love the freedom to create, iterate, fail, and rebuild that it allows. We love the idea that, if well-executed, we can have a real, game-changing impact on the food industry. Our startup is a project that people and the planet really need. 

What is it that makes your company unique? 

Céline: Update Foods combines a unique production process with an innovative formula based on micro-algae and faba protein. We are following a modern direct-to-consumer business model and have established a thorough approach to our branding. Our team is also introducing the daring concept of a dehydrated DIY product called ‘M!LK it yourself’.

Why did you decide to join the ProVeg Incubator? 

Clémence: The ProVeg Incubator is the perfect place for Update Foods to scale. The accelerator programme provides a strong entrepreneurial ecosystem and a supportive but challenging environment, with input from experienced mentors and sharp analysts.

When we looked at the previous startups it has supported, the potential of the ProVeg Incubator was immediately clear to us. We are convinced that it is just what we need to reach for the sky and make waves on the European (and hopefully global) food market. 

What do you hope to achieve with your company in the next 12 months? 

Clémence: We plan to launch our first product, M!LK Update Original, in D2C in 2021, and raise awareness of M!LK it yourself (our DIY product) in the global plant-based and food-industry spaces. Additionally, we are striving to fund the startup and make new hires. We also want to strengthen the bonds between our team members and to become a certified B Corporation.

The chocolate brand championing fair pay and body positivity

Fellow Creatures is a plant-based chocolate company from the UK developing milk-style and white chocolates. Zsolt Stefkovics founded the startup and Fraser Doherty later joined him as a co-founder. The pair are part of the current cohort at the ProVeg Incubator. This is their story. 

What does your startup do and what is your mission? 

Zsolt: I grew up in a very non-vegan environment; my granddad ran a dairy farm and my uncle is a livestock trader. However, as a kid, deep down, I always felt that the exploitation of animals just wasn’t right. Like all of us, I was conditioned to consume dairy and eat meat, and so I became numb to it, growing up. 

Times have now changed, thankfully. My little 8-year-old niece can’t bear the thought of consuming an egg ‘from which little chicks are born’. She also objects to eating meat. My family, like many others, accept that we should all be consuming fewer animal products, not only for our health but for the planet. 

Although this all sounds very serious, Fellow Creatures is colourful and fun – it truly jumps out on the shelf.

The curvy characters on the wrappers are half-human, half-animal. They celebrate not only the fact that animals are our fellow creatures, but also that we should be positive about our bodies – whatever shape they are. Growing up as a flamboyant kid in the early 2000s in Eastern Europe, I was picked on, so this is something important for me. 

We set out on a mission to bring non-vegans closer to a plant-based diet by showing them what vegan food can be. As well as selling through our own D2C platform, we’re listed in all Planet Organic stores in London, as well as many independents, while we have our eyes set on premium supermarket chains in the UK and Europe.

Three of the flavours from the Fellow Creatures chocolate range

Where did the idea for your company come from? 

Zsolt: Fellow Creatures was born out of my (unsuccessful) search for creamy, indulgent plant-based chocolate, since becoming vegan. Having tried literally every plant-based chocolate in the UK and beyond, I found they were all missing the creaminess, sweetness, and fun factor that we all remember from childhood.

I found dark chocolates, which are naturally dairy-free, too bitter; and found the holier-than-thou raw chocolates too gritty to my taste. So, I set out to make my own. 

Thanks to my obsessive personality, I got into making my own chocolate at home. I invested in some basic equipment and started experimenting with different replacements for dairy in my recipes.

I found that creamed coconut and almond paste are the perfect replacements for dairy. Together, they give products a pleasantly nutty undertone. Having shared my countertop samples with my plant-based friends and family members, I realised I was onto something. 

One morning, I took a deep breath and went for it. I commissioned the fun and playful packaging and logo design, which are reminiscent of 90s packaging designs and started looking for a manufacturer who was happy to take on a then crazy-sounding project. 

Tell us about your team. Why are you the right people for the project? 

Zsolt: I had been working at a food-and-drink brand-development agency that consulted with many food startups. I always wanted to apply what I had learned in order to develop my own brand, and so I set out to launch Fellow Creatures. 

Fraser joined me as a co-founder when the product got to market. He had already founded the well-loved UK jam brand SuperJam when he was just 14. He also later co-founded the world’s most successful DTC beer subscription club Beer52.

Fellow Creatures Founder Zsolt Stefkovics

What are your favourite parts about building your business? 

Fraser: Every day brings something new. For us, building a business is a great way to embody our own values through our products. We are truly passionate about promoting a plant-based lifestyle and making it easier and more enjoyable for people to eat products that are made without animal agriculture. We think this is one of the most pressing issues of our generation, for so many reasons, and building a business that promotes these values is something we truly care about. 

 What have been the main challenges you’ve faced? 

Zsolt: What I soon had to realise is that things take so much longer than you’d expect, once other people are involved. It took me about eight months to identify potential manufacturers. Once we’d signed the agreement, it took a further six months to figure out how to upscale countertop recipes without losing their character. 

Fraser: It’s tough starting out as a new brand. Perhaps the biggest challenge, as with all new plant-based brands, had to do with perception. A lot of consumers assume that, because something is plant-based, it’s not going to taste good.

We do sampling at non-vegan events and, the people who taste our products are genuinely amazed. They can’t quite believe something ‘vegan’ could be so tasty and indulgent. We plan to do a lot of in-store sampling in order to educate consumers about how great vegan chocolate can taste and, perhaps, make plant-based eating a little more accessible. 

What is it that makes your company unique? 

Zsolt: It is easy to find plant-based chocolate that is either raw or dark but almost impossible to find premium-quality vegan milk chocolate that does not compromise on taste. I created ‘Milkless’ with a completely new angle in mind; to launch a product that has the exact taste and texture of milk chocolate, without any dairy.

I experimented with a variety of milk replacements and found that using creamed coconut results in a lovely mouthfeel without overpowering coconut notes. I’m also a huge fan of white chocolate. So, after Milkless, I created Raspberry White and Matcha White as well as a Salted Caramel variant. The latter is reminiscent of Caramac, which is a popular childhood favourite. 

Fraser: We have ethics at the core of our brand. We fight the exploitation of cocoa farmers by paying more than the fair-trade price for their produce, and save mother cows from exploitation for their milk. Our brand messaging promotes kindness to others and to ourselves. It may be just chocolate but it’s part of something bigger.

Chocolate from plant-based brand Fellow Creatures

Why did you decide to join the ProVeg Incubator? 

Zsolt: Fraser and I had been working on Fellow Creatures together and we wanted to expand our network to include other plant-based entrepreneurs going on similar journeys.

ProVeg offered us a fantastic chance to learn from mentors, share lessons with other entrepreneurs, and learn from the Incubator team – who have already supported so many great plant-based food and drink brands. We’re super excited to be a part of this programme! 

What do you hope to achieve with your company in the next 12 months? 

Fraser: Dairy is over – vegans have long seen it coming. Flexitarians are gradually realising that they feel much better after a no-meat Monday. Or that going dairy-free really clears your facial skin in the long term. Oatly has done loads to bring non-vegans closer to adopting plant-based milk. We want to achieve the same with chocolate. 

Zsolt: We set out to become a major plant-based chocolate brand in the UK and beyond. We are currently working on some seasonal, festive flavours, as well as some very exciting new product developments.

Our plan is for the brand to be a platform from which we can extend into other areas of snacking. The mainstream consumer is slowly realising that plant-based eating isn’t that hard. And when it comes to eating plant-based chocolate, it’s now incredibly easy. 

Startup advice from founder to founder

Some of the best advice in business comes from the people who have been there and done that. We asked the founders of the six latest startups to join the ProVeg Incubator for their advice to fellow entrepreneurs. Here’s what they told us.

There is no single right way to build a food company. In the end, you will always want to decide what is best for you and your startup. However, there are some tricks and tips that can help make your entrepreneurial journey less bumpy. And no-one is more familiar with those bumps than the people who have been there and done it themselves.

At the ProVeg Incubator, we’re delighted to be building a lifelong, collaborative community of startup founders. After successfully completing our accelerator programme, startups join our alumni, and we continue to support them for as long as they need us. What’s more, they also support one another by exchanging resources, sharing contacts, and offering advice.

In October, we launched the fifth cohort of startups to join the ProVeg Incubator. We asked the founders of each of the six companies the same question: “In your opinion, what does it take for a startup to be successful?”. Here is what they told us.

Stéphanie from The Fast Good Company:

To begin with, a product that the market needs, a good story that people believe in, and a mission that others can get behind. Once you have established that, you need the right margins and the capacity to be able to scale your products.

Dylan Duinmaijer and Stéphanie de Jong, founders of the Fast Good Company

Dylan from The Fast Good Company:

You need to be prepared, learn to adapt from your mistakes, and make sure that your product is market-ready. Then you need the right network to help take you to market and create some noise around your products. They say that getting in is the easy part – staying around is when the hard work really starts. That’s why we believe that branding, marketing, and collaboration are crucial to a business becoming and staying successful.  

Zsolt from Fellow Creatures:

The food and drink market is extremely competitive and there are many new plant-based brands launching all the time. The best way to stand out and to create a product that has longevity is to focus on branding, building a community, and creating a strong and unique company culture.

It isn’t really enough to have a great product anymore. Brands these days need to be living and breathing organisms that join the conversation, tell a joke, and create a community. At Fellow Creatures, we use Instagram to actively engage with our customers. Our page is a social club of chocolate lovers, a place to get inspired and banter with fellow choco-fiends. We actively listen to them and take on their feedback to continuously reiterate our products, messaging, and online experience.

Chocolate from Fellow Creatures

Kushal from Naka Foods:

Persistence: building a business takes a lot of time and you will face challenges along the way. You need persistence and determination to be able to jump those hurdles and keep going. Focus: startups have a lot of moving parts. You need to be able to focus and dedicate your attention to the most worthwhile tasks, the ones that will take you closer to achieving your mission. Finally, timing. Connecting a good product to a gap in the market at the time that consumers are looking for it is key.

Eyleen from Pow! Foods:

Startups have the advantage of being close to their consumers and building a meaningful relationship with them. It is worth taking the time to research and truly understand what your customers are looking for in a product and why they might choose your brand over others.

As companies get bigger, it’s common for them to move further and further away from the people who are buying their products. They become strangers to one another and the company loses this competitive advantage. At POW! Foods, we co-create with our consumers. They are at the centre of the majority of our strategies that focus on what we create and it’s important for us to have a deep understanding of what they want. For us, that’s the key to success.

Two of the founders of Update Foods, Clémence Landeau and Céline Bouvier

Clemence from Update Foods:

Belief, determination, modesty, and resilience. For us, the success of a startup starts with the attitudes of its founders and extends to a range of elements aligning with each other. For example, both the product you are offering and the price have to be correct and your branding should resonate with your audience.

At Update Foods, our definition of success is managing to seduce consumers who are not currently following a plant-based lifestyle to enjoy our alternative dairy products. This will maximise our positive impact as a company, offer our team a fulfilling working environment, and assure that our startup continues to grow and reach its full potential.

Astrid from Haofood:

Put your customer first. Do consumers want your product and does it meet their expectations? Listen to their feedback and incorporate it wherever possible. Aim for excellent quality. From your startup brand to your team to the final product, what you are sharing with the world needs to be worthwhile. To that list, we would also add trust, innovation, and synergy. For Haofood, it’s important for us to know that we are contributing to a global mission that extends beyond what any one company can do alone.

If you enjoyed this blog post, you might like to read more about the startups featured in it. Check out this feature from when the cohort launched, introducing all six companies and the projects they are working on.

Naka Foods: the future of meat in India

Naka Foods is a plant-based food company from India that is developing a range of chicken alternatives for the Indian and Asian markets. The startup was founded by Kushal Aradhya, who is part of the current cohort at the ProVeg Incubator. This is the Naka Foods story.

What does your startup do and what is your mission? 

Kushal: Naka Food is developing superfood-based products, mostly to replace products that currently exist, but with more sustainable, healthier alternatives. We use high-quality, naturally derived ingredients in order to create food products that are nutritious and tasty. 

The first product developed by Naka Foods was an algae-derived snack bar, which provides a healthier alternative to other options on the market. For our second product, we are developing plant-based chicken. The main ingredients we are using are jackfruit, chickpeas, and spirulina. 

Our mission is to help solve inefficiencies in the global food system by introducing more plant-based and sustainable options.

Where did the idea for your company come from? 

Kushal: I was involved in a project that focused on between-meal hunger. That’s when I came face-to-face with disturbing data that suggests more than 70% of corporate employees in India are prone to heart disease and lifestyle diseases.

The main cause of these illnesses is unhealthy eating habits. That’s why I decided to dedicate my work to helping to solve this issue. Alternative food products are the answer.

Tell us about your team. Why are you the right people for the project? 

Kushal: We are a small team of dedicated people, who have substantial knowledge of the food and biochemistry spaces. We all love food. However, what we can’t stand is the current level of animal cruelty and inefficiencies that exist in the global food system.

We believe that with our previous experience in creating a food product – the algae-based snack bar – all the way from initial idea to lab prototype to commercial launch, we are the right people for bringing a new plant-based meat product to market.

What are your favourite parts about building your business?

Kushal: Acting on an idea that could potentially revolutionise the food system and have a positive impact on millions of lives.

What are the main challenges you’ve faced? 

Kushal: Getting appropriate lab access for creating our prototypes was an initial challenge. Distribution was another key challenge for us.

Founder Kushal Aradhya and the Naka Foods team

What is it that makes your company unique? 

Kushal: Our past experience in creating a richly nutritious product, together with our approach of minimal processing and using abundantly available jackfruit, makes us stand out. Additionally, we are also reducing our raw-materials usage and improving the lives of farmers in India.

Why did you decide to join the ProVeg Incubator? 

Kushal: Because of the ProVeg Incubator’s focus on accelerating plant-based startups. Several friends, who had previously taken part in the accelerator programme, recommended the experience to me.

What do you hope to achieve with your company in the next 12 months?

Kushal: We would like to develop strategies for the execution and launch of our plant-based-meat product, as well as developing business and investor connections.

If you enjoyed this blog post, check out this interview with Hafood – the startup making the world’s happiest chicken. Haofood is based in Shanghai, China, and develops plant-based alternatives to fried chicken.

Haofood: the startup making chicken from peanuts

Haofood is a Chinese food company that is developing peanut-based chicken alternatives. The startup was founded in Shanghai by Astrid Prajogo, Shaowei Liu, Jenny Zhu, and Kasih Che, who are all part of the current cohort at the ProVeg Incubator. This is their story. 

What does your startup do and what is your mission?  

Astrid: We started with the aspiration of helping foodies reduce their meat consumption without losing the pleasure of eating the familiar dishes that they love. That’s why we are developing a plant-based chicken that is specifically designed to be cooked as Asian fried chicken. Our mission is to ensure that eating good, plant-based food is possible.

Our definition of good food is tasty and nutritious products that are healthy, safe to eat, environmentally friendly, and free from animal cruelty.  We are committed to giving consumers the foods that they crave, particularly comfort foods, but delivered in a way that’s good for people and the planet.

Where did the idea for your company come from?  

Astrid: I love to eat good-tasting food so much. And to be honest, meat dishes, for me, usually taste way more delicious than vegetable dishes. Yet, at the same time, I am fully aware that eating meat, especially from large-scale industrial farms, is dangerous for ourselves and the planet.

Damaging our planet is equal to damaging my own home. Putting our health at unnecessary risk is equal to hurting myself. Although I am fully aware of this issue, it was too difficult for me to give up meat. So, I contemplated deeply as to how I should tackle this conflict within myself.

Then I found out about plant-based meat – a perfect solution for my never-ending dilemma. And so, I decided to go with developing plant-based meat. From there, I met my co-founders and we decided to go along this path together. 

Tell us about your team. Why are you the right people for the project?

Kasih: Astrid is a seasoned entrepreneur with over 17 years’ experience in the gastronomy, nutrition, and healthcare sectors. She was also in charge of international gastronomic diplomacy for the marketing campaign Wonderful Indonesia.

Jenny: Professor Shaowei Liu has over 25 years of experience in food sciences and technology. His key focus is on extrusion technology and food safety. During the course of his career, Professor Liu has been published in over two hundred scientific journals.

Shaowei: Jenny has over 20 years of experience in finance, accounting, and taxation. She has created business systems that have improved the efficiency of some of China’s top 50  food companies. 

Astrid: Kasih has over seven years of experience in food services and plant-based food marketing and has greatly increased the popularity of products such as tempeh in Shanghai. We are all foodies and all have a strong background and experience in the food industry. The core skills that each one of us brings to the table also complement one another. This makes us the right team to bring our company and our mission to life.

Haofood founder Astrid Prajogo

What are your favourite parts about building your business? 

Astrid: I really love making our Tao (business principles and strategy), designing our brand and our products, actually putting our product out there in the culinary world, and being able to engage with so many interesting people from different backgrounds. 

What are the main challenges you’ve faced? 

Astrid: For me personally, the Chinese language is a challenge, as I am still learning. I am originally from Indonesia but our business is based in Shanghai, so I have been working hard to improve my Chinese vocabulary and accent. Chinese is a tonal language and it works completely differently from any of the Latin-based languages.

I deliberately took on this challenge from the beginning, both because I know it will be worthwhile for building Haofood and also for my own personal development. The moment I am able to speak Chinese fluently, I know, there will be much positive transformation within myself, too.

What makes your company unique?  

Kasih: Haofood is a melting pot of science and art. The inspiration for and application of our products are very much grounded in the culinary arts. However, we believe strongly in the ability of science to help people overcome social challenges such as food security.

Our chicken alternatives have been developed during a rigorous, scientific R&D process in order to ensure that the taste and texture meet the expectations of meat-eaters. We’re also one of the first startups in the world to be using peanut protein as the key ingredient in plant-based meat products.

Why did you decide to join the ProVeg Incubator?  

Jenny: Our vision is to be a well-known and respected international food company with great longevity. To implement this strategy effectively, we know that we need to collaborate with partners that share our mission. Proveg is definitely an ideal organisation for us to work with.

We hope that joining the Proveg Incubator will help us to accelerate our growth by opening opportunities for acquiring new knowledge, networking, and meeting potential investors. We will also benefit from being a part of a supportive, collaborative startup community with shared goals. 

What do you hope to achieve with your company in the next 12 months? 

Shaowei: We are going to be focusing on four key topics: product development, commercialisation, funding, and infrastructure. We plan to submit three patents on our product and we’ll also be running market testing, where we are aiming for five-star feedback from our customers.

In terms of commercialisation, we’d like Haofood products to be present in 100 restaurants in China and to be generating $350,000 USD in revenue from those products in a year’s time. Finally, we’ll be looking at raising funding, in two rounds, and we want to be in a position to head up our own R&D facility.

Did you enjoy this blog post about Haofood? Check out this previous Q+A that we did with the founders of Pow! Foods – the Chilean startup making chorizo from peas, corn, and rice.

Pow! Foods: the startup making chorizo from plants

Pow! Foods is an alt-protein company from Chile, that is developing plant-based meat alternatives scientifically designed to contain more protein and less fat than animal-based options. Pow! Foods was founded by Bárbara (Amy) León and Eyleen Obidic, who are both part of the current cohort at the ProVeg Incubator. This is their story.

What does your startup do and what is your mission? 

Eyleen: Pow! Foods was founded with the belief that anyone can enjoy and celebrate animal-free food. Our company focuses on improving human health with nutritious products. At the same time, we are helping to reduce an individual’s impact on the environment – one bite at a time.

Amy: We understand that the key factor in reducing global meat consumption is to develop tasty products that people are familiar with – just made with plant-based ingredients instead of the conventional ones. Also, our technology allows us to create food not just to be tasty but also highly nutritious. Our products contain up to three times more protein and 70% less fat than conventional animal ones. Using our approach, we can replicate any product that you consume on a daily basis, but made from plants.

Where did the idea for your company come from? 

Amy: For ethical reasons, Eyleen and I have not eaten meat for many years. However, for the majority of our lives, we both loved eating animal-based products because of their delicious taste and texture. We have known each other for a long time. We share the same mission of creating protein alternatives that offer an identical experience, in terms of taste and texture, to eating conventional meat products. 

Around the world, there are plenty of people like us, who enjoy animal-based meat but who want to be more respectful with regard to their food choices. Many of those people would like to give up meat completely, but it’s difficult for them to change their habits. Delicious, affordable, available alternatives will help enormously with that.

Eyleen: Amy started the research upon which Pow! Foods is based while at university, which is where she created our first product: a chorizo alternative. Chorizo is one of the most commonly purchased and consumed foods in Latin America. Our chorizo has been developed to reproduce the flavour and texture of animal-based versions. In this way, it will appeal to all consumers, not just those who nourish themselves through a plant-based lifestyle. Pow! Foods’ chorizo also supports human health by providing up to three times more protein and 70% less fat than conventional meat products.

Pow! Foods was founded by Bárbara (Amy) León and Eyleen Obidic

Tell us about your team. Why are you the right people for the project? 

Eyleen: Amy studied food technology with an international specialisation in food development, innovation, and entrepreneurship, and has more than five years’ experience in the food industry. Amy always wanted to create a food tech company with the purpose of encouraging people to reduce or eliminate their consumption of animal-based meat products.

Amy: Eyleen is the CMO – she studied Marketing at Duoc UC in Chile and has more than three years’ experience in marketing and sales. Eyleen previously held positions at marketing agencies working with food companies, including Danone and Carozzi. She is in charge of Pow! Foods’ marketing and sales strategy and her work has brought us 30 active clients in less than a year.

Eyleen: We also work with Rubén Bustos, our Head of R&D. Rubén has a PhD in chemical engineering and more than 28 years’ experience working in research and academia, as well assessing companies in the areas of R&D and biotechnology.

Amy: We are confident that we are the right team to lead this project because of everything we have achieved so far. In less than a year, we have designed a unique process that allows us to replicate the texture and flavour of meat products with plants – specifically peas, corn, and rice. We have built our company from nothing and have already moved from a laboratory prototype of our products to a pilot project. Our pilot products are available at more than 30 locations around Chile.

What are your favourite parts about building your business?

Eyleen: At Pow! Foods, we believe we can help to create change in the world, one bite at a time. Every time someone buys our products, they are making a powerful and conscious statement about choosing more sustainable foods. It is very moving for us to have the opportunity to create a business with tremendous purpose. We have the ability to impact positively on the lives of many people by helping them to change what they eat.

What have been the main challenges you’ve faced? 

Amy: When we moved from creating prototypes in laboratories to producing products on a larger scale, we faced challenges. We managed to scale our production capacity to match consumer demand in less than a year. However, this took months of investigation and testing, as well as improving and optimising our processes. After this, we have continued increasing the production capacity in order to supply more B2B clients.

What makes your company unique? 

Eyleen: We understand that there are many people looking for new, tasty animal-free alternatives to incorporate into their meals. Not all of the products currently available on the market are satisfying to consumers. They are still searching for that combination of taste and nutrition coming together in alternative products. That is what we are going to give them –  the food of the future.

Why did you decide to join the ProVeg Incubator? 

Amy: Proveg is a unique organisation that is focused on boosting plant-based startups from all over the world. We know that startups in the food industry face challenges in R&D, production, marketing, and market penetration. The Proveg Incubator can support us in those areas with a great network of mentors, entrepreneurs, and R&D experts that would be difficult or even impossible to access otherwise. It’s an honor to be part of this intensive programme that will help us to improve our business with the input of experts and to have the opportunity to find investors that share our mission. 

What do you hope to achieve with your company in the next 12 months?

Amy: We aim to be one of the plant-based market leaders in Latin America, with a strong portfolio of meat-alternative products. Within the next year, we want the Pow! Foods brand to be recognised as a pioneer with regard to the quality, flavour, and texture of our products. We also want those products to be widely available across Chile, Brasil, Colombia, and México.

Did you enjoy this blog post? Check out this previous Q+A that we did with the Fast Good Company – the startup turning fast food into fast good.

The Fast Good Company: turning fast food into fast good

The Fast Good Company is a plant-based ready-meal startup from the Netherlands. The company was founded by Dylan Duinmaijer and Stéphanie de Jong, who are both part of the current cohort at the ProVeg Incubator. This is their story.  

What does your startup do and what is your mission?  

Dylan: Our mission is to turn fast food into fast good, with the power of frozen plant-based ready-meals. We produce products that are good for you and great for the planet. By freezing our ready-meals when they are fresh, we not only lock in the health benefits of the ingredients, but we’re also helping to reduce food waste. Consumers can keep our products for up to 12 months, without losing any of the nutritional goodness inside.  

Stéphanie: A third of all food produced for human consumption is discarded as waste, amounting to around 1.3 billion tonnes every year! We believe that it’s time for this to change. With our mission of supporting the planet, we strive towards waste-free operations. We plan on setting an example for the entire food industry. Together, we can drive positive change – for people and the planet – while having some fun along the way.

Where did the idea for your company come from?

Dylan: While running a catering company, I started looking for a more sustainable way to give people easy access to healthy, plant-based food. I did some research and discovered that a third of all of food produced for human consumption is wasted! That’s when I came up with the idea to start producing frozen plant-based meals.   

I really believe that food needs to taste great and fuel your body in a positive way. That’s what inspired the idea of creating fast food which is good for you. To ensure that our meals are healthy, we focus on protein content and high nutritional values, without the need to add preservatives or refined sugars.

Tell us about your team. Why are you the right people for the project?   

Stéphanie: Dylan is the original founder of the business. He previously owned and ran a catering company and has a great passion for food that provides healthy fuel for the body. He is the one with the product-development knowledge, who comes up with tasty new products. This, in combination with a qualification in International Business, makes him the right person for R&D, sales, and directing the company.  

Dylan: Once Stéphanie heard about the idea, she decided to join forces with me since the company matches her beliefs and personal mission. With her academic background in creative business, Stephanie has built a solid portfolio in marketing, communications, and branding for several companies This makes her the right person to build the Fast Good Company’s brand and to get the story of our products to consumers.

The Fast Good Company taste test. Photo credit: Eduardus Lee

What are your favourite parts about building your business? 

Dylan: That moment when everything works out. You have been building and working on your concept for an extended period of time before people actually see your product. This teaches you to appreciate the process – and have fun along the way.

Stéphanie: The fact that while your business grows, you, personally, are also growing. And once you can show off your product, share your mission, and get people to support you –  that is priceless. 

What are the main challenges you’ve faced?  

Dylan: Convincing the Dutch market that frozen food is cool and can be good for you. Compared with some other countries, the Netherlands’ frozen-food sector needs to update its image. Luckily, the image of frozen food is slowly starting to change as the plant-based sector grows.

Stéphanie: A further challenge we’ve faced is being able to scale a product. We need to make sure that the quality of our products remains the same when they are being produced on a large scale.  

What makes your company unique?   

Dylan: Our business is unique because we believe that fast food can actually be good food. Our plant-based dishes retain their high nutritional values because they are frozen while fresh. As our ready-meals have a shelf-life of up to 12 months, consumers will always have the option of a comforting, healthy meal that’s also convenient and perfectly portioned. You won’t have to cook or feel like a jerk for throwing away food that you forgot about!

Stéphanie: Of course we want to stay unique, but we also hope to inspire others to create more products in the plant-based and frozen sectors. We believe we are stronger together and would love to see more brands enter this space and collaborate.

Why did you decide to join the ProVeg Incubator?  

Stéphanie: The ProVeg Incubator programme is giving us the opportunity to learn and to get advice directly from experts in the food industry. As a startup, it sometimes feels like we are chartering unknown waters. Especially on the retail side, we don’t have much experience, and getting this type of support really helps us. In addition, by joining the Incubator, we are getting the valuable opportunity of building a network and getting investors on board.  

What do you hope to achieve with your company in the next 12 months? 

Dylan: First, we hope to raise investments to successfully launch in retail, both in the Netherlands and Germany, with our main focus on Germany. In addition, for the Dutch market, we want more people to understand the positive power of frozen food and become familiar with our products. We want to go out and speak publicly about the benefits of frozen food and why it’s important in terms of decreasing food waste.   

Additionally, we would like to get more people on board the plant-based train. We hope to inspire more people to eat plant-based, including non-vegans. With fast, good food, we hope that more people will choose a sustainable alternative.

Stand up for Startups: Meet Jack part 2

In our latest Stand up for Startups webinar, we sat down with the founders of Meet Jack, Kaline van Halder and Marjolein Pleune. This female-led company is a pioneering food startup that is taking jackfruit mainstream. We’ve summarised all of the best bits from our interview across two blog posts. This is part 2.

If you haven’t read the first post in this two-part blog series, we suggest you start there. In that one, we covered how Meet Jack got started, how the company is coping with the coronavirus pandemic, and why jackfruit is a plant-based star.

In this part, we’re focusing on female entrepreneurship, advice for fellow founders, and why people thought Marjolein and Kaline were crazy for launching a startup with no previous experience in the food industry. Let’s dive back into the interview…

Meet Jack on female entrepreneurship

In terms of gender diversity, the food industry is improving, albeit slowly. In 2020, it remains the case that the majority of companies are founded by men and that an extremely small amount of VC funding (1-2%) is invested in businesses led by women. We were interested to get Meet Jack’s take on female entrepreneurship.

Kaline: The industry that we work in is male orientated. Production companies, catering companies, packaging companies, chefs – nearly everyone we meet is male. We are an exception in the industry and this has led to advantages for us. People are curious about what we do and how we are doing it, and I think we can stand up very well in comparison to other startups.

Personally, I haven’t experienced many closed doors – I’ve seen more doors opening. We are very passionate about what we do and I think that draws people in. We are excited about our products and that energy can be infectious.

“Let’s make sure that in 10 years, at least half of the people in this space are female. Let’s change the industry together.”

Marjolein: Kaline and I are both very partnership-driven. We are not from the food industry, except for some time spent waitressing in our university days, and that meant that we needed to speak to as many people as possible. The feedback that we mostly got in our first year was that we were rookies and didn’t know anything, rather than the focus being on us being female entrepreneurs. They just thought we were crazy to start a food business with no background in this area at all!

That said, the industry does continue to be male-dominated and everyone seems to know one another. I can understand how that could be intimidating. However, I would say to other female entrepreneurs, just go in there, and don’t be scared. Let’s make sure that in 10 years, at least half of the people in this space are female. Let’s change the industry together.

Meet Jack on advice

Marjolein and Kaline may have been food industry rookies when they started Meet Jack. However, after speaking with them during the webinar, it’s clear that they’ve learned a lot and are really carving out a meaningful nook for themselves in the food space. We asked them what advice they’d give to other entrepreneurs.

Meet Jack founders, Kaline van Halder and Marjolein Pleune

Kaline: Find a business partner. I could not have done this if I started this company by myself. Meet Jack is successful because of Marjolein and Marjolein always says the same about me. Of course, you can ask others for advice but even then it would be really difficult to do this alone. We are very lucky to have each other as co-founders and also to have a great team.

Marjolein: Never be too proud to ask for help when you need it. Everyone in the food industry is willing to lend a hand. We’re both really good at asking for help and, up until now, no one has ever said ‘no’. We give a lot to others and people give a lot to us in return.

“You’re always on it. A company is a commitment that’s 24/7”

Kaline: It’s also important not to be naive about having a company and the glamour that comes with it. Firstly it’s not really glamorous at all. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s also hard work. You’re always on it. You wake up with it and go to bed with it, and then you wake up with it again. A company is a commitment that’s 24/7. 

We started Meet Jack in our 40s, so we had many years of working experience already. That, combined with the network that we had built around us, were key factors for success. You can really count on that community. We have such a big network and we can easily ask them, “hey I did so many things for you, can you do me a favour here?”. We really use our network wisely and, if you’re straight out of school, you don’t have that yet. You need time to build a network and gain experience.

Meet Jack on the future

Kaline and Marjolein are looking to launch Meet Jack products in supermarkets in the Netherlands early next year (2021) and are already planning to expand rapidly after that.

Marjolein: Our next stop will be retail and food-service in Germany and we are in talks about launching in the UK, France, and Scandinavia. We also want to work towards creating local impact in Asia. In the next four to seven years, we want to take our jackfruit products to the Asian market. We see a lot of potential to expand globally and we want to stay ahead of the competition. We absolutely embrace competitors. There is room in the plant-based space for multiple jackfruit companies – but we want to stay in a pioneering position.

Hanging Jackfruit, the world’s largest hanging fruit

Kaline: We are also investigating opportunities to integrate Meet Jack products into a circular economy. We want to experiment with the seeds of jackfruit, and with the skin, since at the moment it is wasted. We are thinking of creating sustainable fibres out of it and using those fibres in the production of textiles. Ultimately, we want to be experts in the field that we operate in. That’s certainly enough to keep us occupied.”

If you enjoyed this blog post, check out this previous Q+A we did with Kaline and Marjolein when they were taking part in the ProVeg Incubator programme.

Stand up for Startups: Meet Jack

Meet Jack is a pioneering, female-led food startup from the Netherlands that produces meat alternatives from unripe jackfruit. In our latest Stand up for Startups webinar, we sat down with the founders to chat about their entrepreneurial experiences. We’ve summarised all of the best bits for you across two blog posts. In part one, we focus on jackfruit as a star of the plant-based sector, and how Meet Jack is coping with the coronavirus pandemic.

Meet Jack founders, Kaline van Halder and Marjolein Pleune, met over 25 years ago at university. They had always talked about setting up a company together, usually over a couple of beers. In 2017, those chats finally turned into a tangible plan, when they decided to take the plunge and start a business making meat alternatives from jackfruit.

Since then, the pair have created a full line of products and raised two rounds of funding. They have participated in several incubators and accelerator programmes (including the ProVeg Incubator), and are now in talks to launch Meet Jack with Albert Heijn, the biggest retailer in the Netherlands.

Meet Jack team in Bali

Kaline says that a major turning point for them was raising 130% of their target during a crowdfunding campaign. “In order to launch the campaign, we had to make sure many other elements of the business were ready, for example, the packaging, branding, and product and strategic plans. 

“As a result of the campaign, we had resources, we had some money, and we had validation. When people choose to fund you, they are not just enthusiastic about your company, they are actually putting their money where their mouth is. That is very meaningful.”

Meet Jack on jackfruit

Kaline and Marjolein were inspired by jackfruit while travelling in Asia and, as Kaline is half-Filipino, she already had some experience with the fruit. But what makes jackfruit such an attractive ingredient?

Marjolein: Jackfruit is completely unprocessed. We use unripe jackfruit, which has natural meaty fibres, a neutral taste, and contains no sugar. In terms of processing, the jackfruit is taken out of the skin and put through a blast freezer. It’s then transported from Asia to Europe where it’s seasoned and cooked. This is very different to what happens to [more processed] soya products, for example.

Meet Jack jackfruit tacos

Kaline: We really thought about where we can create impact. We want to create meaty, savoury street food dishes that would satisfy carnivores. Jackfruit naturally offers the attributes that we need to achieve that. Our best-selling product is a plant-based alternative to the traditional dutch bitterballen which can be found on every menu in the Netherlands

We have set ourselves the challenge to be THE bitterball on the menu. We don’t want our products just to be in the vegan section. Eventually, we hope that you will order a portion of bitterballen and have no idea that there is no animal meat in it. You will just eat it with your beer and think, ‘wow this is delicious’. Our whole product line is targeted in this way – to seduce meat lovers in order to reduce global meat consumption.

Meet Jack plant-based jackfruit Bitterballen

Meet Jack on COVID-19

During the webinar, Kaline and Marjolein emphasised that launching a startup has not all been plain sailing. There have been plenty of challenges along the way – not least, the coronavirus pandemic.

Kaline: COVID hit us really badly because we were moving to get a piece of the pie from the food-service sector, and were not yet looking at retail. Prior to the emergence of the coronavirus, people had been ordering hundreds of kilos of our products for events and festivals, and restaurants were calling us every day. February was our most successful month since we started our company, and, then in March, we shut down. No clients, no phone calls, nothing. After two years of working on Meet Jack, Marjolein and I took our first salary in February, and, in March, we felt like it was all over.

Meet Jack food truck at a festival

Kaline: For two weeks, we thought, what do we do now? We just had to jump back on the horse –  it was either eat or be eaten. So we decided to move into retail. This was also around the time that we got accepted to the ProVeg Incubator. That really helped us to move into retail at a faster pace. We developed new products and started knocking on doors. Now, in autumn, retailers are getting interested and we’re in talks with them.

“We just had to jump back on the horse. It was either eat or be eaten”

Marjolein: COVID was a new starting point for us and now we think we can be successful in the retail market. Although we were growing very fast in the food-service sector, behind the scenes, we were not ready for that growth. This COVID-19 period gave us an opportunity to better organise and structure ourselves. We hired two people to work on marketing and operations and we closed a partnership deal with a logistics company. COVID-19 may have set us back from a financial perspective in 2020, but, in the long term, this has been a beneficial time for us.

We’ll be posting part 2 of this blog post next week, focusing on female entrepreneurship and advice for fellow founders. In the meantime, check out this previous Q+A we did with Kaline and Marjolein while they were taking part in the ProVeg Incubator programme.