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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.

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.

Come meet our latest startups

We are excited to be launching our fifth batch of pioneering startups at the ProVeg Incubator. Over the next three months, we’ll be working closely with the founders of these innovative companies to help them take their businesses to the next level. Read on to meet the startups.

From algae-based dairy alternatives to the world’s first chicken made from peanut protein, these startups are ready to disrupt the global food industry. This week, we are officially launching the latest cohort of pioneering companies to join the ProVeg Incubator.

In total, we’ll be working with six startups from around the world, including China, Chile, India, and several European countries. The companies were selected from a record number of startup applications to the Incubator and we’re really looking forward to supporting their growth.

Due to the ongoing pandemic, we’ll be hosting this batch of startups online, just as we did earlier this year with our fourth cohort. We already know that the format works well, and in these trying times we want to offer startups all the support we possibly can. So, without further ado, here is our fifth cohort!

Meet the startups 

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

Update Foods

Update Foods is on a mission to help more people around the world tackle the difficult challenge of ditching dairy. Clémence Landeau, Céline Bouvier, Gaëtan Gohin, and Franck Manifacier founded the company in France. Together, they are producing algae-based milk and other dairy alternatives.

The team is motivated by the conviction that it’s time to step back from animal-based products and embrace plant-based eating. To help more people take the plunge into a new lifestyle, Update Foods offers a line of nutritious, affordable alternatives. They taste like dairy, but without any of the negatives.

Haofood

One of the first startups in the world to use peanut protein as the key ingredient for creating plant-based meat. Haofood’s initial product is a fried plant-based chicken, developed using a rigorous, scientific R&D process.

The company was founded in China by Astrid Prajogo, with the aim of helping flexitarians to reduce their meat consumption without foregoing the pleasures of the meals they know and love. Haofood’s plant-based chicken is targeted for use in familiar Asian dishes. These include Chinese street-food fried chicken (鸡排), chicken katsu, and the Indonesian speciality ayam geprek.

The Fast Good Company

An impact-driven, plant-based-food startup, founded by Dylan Duinmaijer in the Netherlands. The Fast Good Company’s mission is to turn fast food into fast good with the power of plant-based ready meals.

Currently, the Fast Good product line consists of three different dishes: Lasagna Bolognese, Sweet Potato Pie, and Tikka Masala. The meals are 100% plant-based and free of any added sugars or preservatives.

As well as being passionate about reducing global animal consumption, the Fast Good Company also aims to reduce food waste.

Founders of the Fast Good Company, Dylan Duinmaijer and Stephanie de Jong

Naka Foods

Naka Foods was founded by Kushal Aradhya R, in India, in order to create innovative alternatives to animal-based foods, using microalgae and plant-based-superfood ingredients. The company develops sustainable products, with a focus on nutrition, taste, and high-quality, natural ingredients.

Naka Foods’ first product, the 4pmbar, is a plant-based chocolate bar made using algae-derived spirulina and probiotics. Now, the startup has set its sights on the plant-based meat sector. Naka Foods has produced a chicken alternative that is specifically designed to suit Indian and Asian cuisine.

Fellow Creatures

Fellow Creatures is taking plant-based treats mainstream by showing just how delicious vegan food can be. The startup was founded by Zsolt Stefkovics and Fraser Doherty, in Scotland, in order to create chocolate that causes no harm.

The current Fellow Creatures range consists of five flavours (creamy hazelnut, raspberry white, salted caramel, matcha white, and the basic milkless option). The conventional dairy element is substituted with creamed coconut.

Humans are continually striving to make progress towards a better world, and that includes making conscious food choices. This might be just chocolate – but it’s part of something much bigger.

Chorizo alternative from Pow! Foods

Pow! Foods

Pow! Foods produces meat alternatives that are scientifically designed to contain more protein and less fat than their animal-based counterparts.

The startup was founded by Amy Leon in Chile. Her team has researched the interaction between different plant proteins and used that knowledge to design a unique biotech process that replicates the flavour and texture of meat without the need for animals or additives.

Pow! Foods has a strong focus on minimising the involvement of animals in the global food system and lessening the impact of our food choices on the environment.

Be sure to stay up-to-date with our blog. We’ll regularly be posting news and information about the startups in our latest cohort here. Meanwhile, if you’re the founder of a startup and would like to join the ProVeg Incubator in 2021, then apply now. 

Protein, the better way

Better Nature is an alternative-protein company based in Indonesia and the UK. The founders joined the ProVeg Incubator programme with their tempeh startup, back in 2019. Since graduating, they’ve gone on to hit some major milestones in the plant-based space.

Tempeh was discovered more than 300 years ago in Indonesia. It is made via the process of fermentation, where soybeans (or other legumes) bind together to form a meaty block. The resulting product is plant-based, high in protein and fibre, and it’s good for the gut, too.

Due to its meaty texture and the variety of ways in which it can be prepared, tempeh is most often used as a meat alternative. However, until recently, it wasn’t particularly well-known outside of Indonesia, where it is a street-food staple.

That’s where the team at Better Nature spotted an opportunity. They wanted to build a company that would take tempeh mainstream, while introducing more plant-based and planet-friendly food options to the market.

Better Nature Co-founder Chris Kong pitching at the ProVeg Incubator. Pictured above with Co-founder Elin Roberts.

With two of the founders having grown up in Indonesia, and the others bringing a passion for plant-based nutrition and fitness to the table, it was a match made in veggie heaven. 

Better Nature joined the ProVeg Incubator in 2019. They went on to be named Best Startup of the Cohort at the end of the programme. Let’s take a look at the team’s top five achievements since then.

Taking retail by storm

Since graduating from the ProVeg Incubator, the team has launched several new products including tempeh rashers, mince, and better bites. Consumers eager to hop on the tempeh train can find these in over 120 retail locations in the UK, with more product variants in the pipeline. Better Nature has also tripled its revenue since March. 

A cash injection

In early 2020, the Better Nature team raised seed funding of £430,000. The funding round was led by serial investor and technologist Nicholas Owen Gunden, along with Capital V founder Michiel van Deursen.

Van Deursen was previously responsible for overseeing the expansion of The Vegetarian Butcher across Europe. At the time, he commented to The Grocer that Better Nature was “very well positioned to play a huge part in the consumption of future foods”. The funding will be used for accelerating new product development and marketing.

Tackling the plastic plague

In July, Better Nature became the first plastic-neutral meat-alternative company in the world. That means that the team is contributing to the removal of the same amount of plastic from the environment as it uses in its packaging and shipping. The company is achieving this impressive feat through its partnership with rePurpose Global

Due to the complicated food-safety aspect of tempeh production, it’s difficult to remove plastic completely from the packaging. However, the team admits it is something that frustrates them and that they are working on. 

They’re making progress, however, but it’s a long process, and going plastic neutral provides them with a feasible interim solution.

Expanding horizons

Following a successful launch in the UK, Better Nature’s products are now available in Germany. You won’t see them in retail stores just yet, however. Instead, you can purchase the company’s full range on Amazon. 

And they didn’t stop there

The startup is continuing its European expansion, with its next port of call being Scandinavia. Better Nature has teamed up with one of the ProVeg Incubator’s partners, Kale United, to take their products to the region. 

Keep your eyes peeled for these protein-packed products, which will soon be appearing on supermarket shelves across Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland.

Get all the latest alt-protein news

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Our new partnership with KitchenTown 

We are delighted to announce that the ProVeg Incubator is partnering with KitchenTown to accelerate global food innovation. If you haven’t heard of it yet, KitchenTown is an innovation platform that helps to develop impact-driven food products. Read on to learn how we’ll be working together. 

Across the world, there are many people working to transform the global food system – and we think that’s incredible. The more people who are championing new ways of eating and developing solutions to make that happen, the better.

The impact we can have is amplified when we work together in teams, organisations, and partnerships. Collaborating with the right partners can be hugely beneficial. It enables the sharing of knowledge and expertise, for example, and can accelerate projects by bringing more hands on deck.

Shaping the future of food

At the ProVeg Incubator, our mission is to reduce the global consumption of animals by 50% by the year 2040. We believe that the best way to achieve that goal is to offer people affordable, attractive, and widely available alternatives to conventional animal-based products. 

By supporting startups that are working on plant-based, cultivated, and fermented foods — we have become a driving force in getting new, alternative products to market, and, ultimately, into the hands of consumers. 

KitchenTown focuses on sustainable food solutions, tech innovation, and planet-friendly foods.

KitchenTown is also working to support startups in the food space. The innovation platform was founded in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2014 and its hub in Berlin is amplifying the European startup scene. KitchenTown provides a test kitchen and scientific lab equipment to support a startup’s product development. The team focuses on sustainable food solutions, tech innovation, better nutrition, and planet-friendly foods.

This is where we cross over. We are both shaping the future of food and, by working together, we believe we can achieve much more.

A cooperative mindset

By establishing ties of friendship and cooperation, we’re essentially agreeing to help each other out and to use our shared resources to better support our startups. 

The key purpose of the partnership is to accelerate global food innovation. In order to do that, we’ll be promoting one another’s work, sharing insights and industry knowledge, and introducing each other to potential exciting new opportunities.

Moving forward, we hope to establish an ongoing exchange with KitchenTown. As such, we’ll be looking for potential collaborations in terms of investment opportunities, research and development, and new technological business solutions. 

Solving problems that young companies face

Two of the companies that we have incubated at the ProVeg Incubator are now based at KitchenTown in Berlin. 

Zveetz is a plant-based desserts company founded in Germany and the UK, with the aim of reducing sugar consumption. 

Vly Foods has developed a milk alternative from yellow-split peas — you may have seen their products for sale in Edeka supermarkets.

Small batch production at KitchenTown

One aspect of both the ProVeg Incubator and KitchenTown is that the startups find particularly important is the community that is created in an accelerator environment. Of the ProVeg Incubator, Nicolas Hartmann, Co-founder of Vly Foods says, “The network that ProVeg provides is unique and helps to solve all kinds of problems that a young company faces.” 

Of KitchenTown, Hartmann says: “The space is great and the exchange within the community is satisfying us a lot. Working with other exciting startups that also have big plans is a great added value for us.”

Building a collaborative community

The ProVeg Incubator is also partnering with NX-FOOD, a food innovation hub of the wholesaler METRO, as well as a range of investors, media outlets, and other organisations in the food space. 

Having a vast network and supportive partners is one of the key benefits we can offer to startups. It expands the services we have access to and increases the knowledge we can share. It also means that we’re connected with all the right people who can help entrepreneurs to grow their businesses. 

We’re accepting applications right now to join our next cohort of startups. If you’re the founder of an innovative food company, we’d love to receive your online application. Just make sure you get it to us before the deadline of 31 July. Good luck!

What can an incubator do for your business?

When joining a business incubator, it’s important that the partnership is a good fit for both the company and the incubator. Entrepreneurs want to receive high-quality support, while incubators want to find startups that have significant growth and impact potential. Signing up for an incubator is not the only way to grow your company, but we (obviously!) think it’s a good one. Let’s take a closer look…

It can be daunting to take an idea that you’ve come up with and share it with the world. Doing so opens your plans up to feedback, criticism, and judgment. It may expose weaknesses in your concepts or raise questions you hadn’t considered yet. However, it’s essential for entrepreneurs who want to improve, innovate, and ultimately succeed.  

Incubators exist in order to support startups and help them succeed. They can offer funding, industry contact networks, and invaluable resources. However, they will also challenge you, question your ideas, and give you constructive feedback. This is a good thing. 

Building a company is extremely rewarding but it’s also a lot of hard work, and you’ll be glad you tackled any potential problem areas as early as you could. The staff working in incubators have specific areas of expertise and they’ve worked with plenty of startups before. They are great at recognising what you’re doing well and helping you to build on that. They’ll also identify potential pitfalls in your company and help you to avoid or solve them.

Are you almost ready to take the plunge? To help you decide, here are five positive things that an incubator can do for your business:

1. Gives you access to information

Incubators are hives of valuable information. The teams employed there are made up of experts who have worked with many startups before. They’re also really well connected to investors, retailers, and other organisations in the space. 

What’s more, the environment in an incubator is one of creativity and innovation. Entrepreneurs are keen to bounce ideas off of one another. If you’re facing a challenge, it’s likely that someone else is facing something similar, or has already solved it! By joining an Incubator, you’re joining a collaborative community that is difficult to replicate elsewhere.

Investor panel at the ProVeg Incubator Startup Demo Day

2. Introduces you to the right people

Networking is absolutely essential. While incubators provide startups with in-house services, they also offer expertise and coaching from outside sources too. These networks can help to break down the barriers of technology, retail markets, and financing. 

You’ll meet people who you need to know and who will introduce you to other key contacts. If you’ve ever tried cold-calling or emailing, you’ll know that getting a personal introduction to an investor, retailer, or business mentor makes things a whole lot easier.

3. Opens up funding options

Finding funding can be one of the biggest challenges for a startup and is a pressing priority. Incubators can save you time and money by connecting you with suitable investors. What’s more, many incubators actually invest in startups themselves.

The ProVeg Incubator, for example, works with many investors, and when you are ready, we’ll introduce you to the right people. We also include funding as part of our programme. 

Every startup to join the ProVeg Incubator receives a €20,000 grant. There is also the option to potentially invest a further €30,000 to €180,000, following a startup’s completion of the programme.

The Nu Company plant-based chocolate products from our first cohort of startups

4. Provides you with a unique testing ground

Validating an innovative idea is a crucial step for entrepreneurs in determining if an idea is actually viable and scalable as a business. Incubators monitor how startups plan to address market needs and give them feedback in order to improve. Proper validation outside of an incubator space can be more difficult to obtain. 

There’s also less risk associated with testing out your product or service while on an incubator programme. It’s a great chance to iron out the kinks in your business before launching in the real world. If your product is a flop with consumers on the retail market, you might not always get a second chance, even if it’s only a minor tweak that is needed.

5. Accelerates your growth

While nothing is guaranteed, incubators are recognised as boosting the probability of startup success. In one study, the five-year survival rate of startups that participated in incubator programmes was estimated at an impressive 75-87%.

By joining an Incubator you’re also signing up for a programme that runs for a specific length of time. You’ll want to get the most out of it. 

Three months of intensive networking opportunities, workshops, product development and testing, pitching, and coaching sessions will drive your company forward at an impressive pace. Not to mention, you’ll likely garner valuable media attention which can really propel your business into the spotlight.

Are you feeling inspired now?

If you’re feeling inspired by what you’ve read here today and feel that a startup incubator would be the right fit for your company, we have some good news! The ProVeg Incubator is currently accepting applications. If you have an innovative food product or brand, then we would love to hear from you. Just go to the application section of our website and fill in the online application form. Good luck!

Plantcraft: the startup making deli meats from bananas

Plantcraft is a Hungarian food startup working to optimise human health and environmental sustainability. The startup was part of our second cohort here at the Incubator and produces plant-based meat. Find out more about Plantcraft’s story by reading on.

Globally, the popularity of plant-based meat is booming. Sales of alternative protein increased 280% in the US in March – when much of the world went into lockdown. Meanwhile, plant-based meat products are making their way into major fast-food chains all over the globe and Beyond Meat just partnered with two of them, to bring their products to China. Investors are also following suit. A record $930 million of funding was invested into the alternative protein sector in the first quarter of this year alone. 

Back in 2018, Kati Ohens and Csaba Hetenyi were already convinced that plant-based proteins would outcompete animal-based products in the future. That’s when they decided to found Plantcraft. The startup, based in Hungary, produces a plant-based deli range – specifically alternative meat slices and Pâté

Plantcraft platter with plant-based deli meats

“The future of food is plant-based and there is more than enough for our growing population”, says Csaba. “We just need to use creativity to produce foods that are good for us and for the planet, but also tasty and affordable.”

Sometimes, that aforementioned creativity takes the form of unexpected ingredients. Green bananas, for example, are a staple component of all Plantcraft recipes. These fruits reportedly help to increase nutrient absorption, improve digestion, lower blood pressure, and boost metabolism.

“We believe that food is the single strongest lever to optimise human health and environmental sustainability on earth.”

Other ingredients are born from what some may consider food waste. While winemakers discard grape seeds during the winemaking process, Plantcraft collects them to make oil. “It’s so high in Omega-6 fatty acids and Vitamin E that people use it as a natural beauty product,” says Kati. “We use it in our plant-based pepperoni.”

We live in an era of ecocide

Kati and Csaba are motivated to create products that benefit human health but that are also good for the planet. “Human inflicted damages such as climate breakdown, wildlife annihilation, and the destruction of land and waterways put all of earth’s inhabitants in danger,” says Kati. 

815 million individuals across the world are estimated to be malnourished and scientists are urging people to lower their meat consumption for the good of the planet. The Plantcraft team identified a problem they could help to solve, by producing affordable meat products – just made from plants. 

Csaba came to the project from a commercial banking background with a focus on financial consulting in retail and small to medium enterprises. With over ten years of CEO experience, Csaba also brought food industry knowledge to the table, having worked previously as the manager of a pasta factory.

Kati meanwhile had spent most of her professional career in advertising and software development. That is – until she made a significant change and decided to dedicate her time to planetary stewardship. Kati is immensely passionate about improving human health through diet on both a personal and global level.

The duo joined the ProVeg Incubator as part of our second cohort of startups in 2019. They were in the midst of preparing to take their products to market this year (2020).

Plantcraft Pâté – one of the first products in the range

Then Covid-19 struck

“Overall the current situation has urged us to rethink and restructure some of our strategies”, says Kati. “If anything, it has accelerated our plans to hit the market with our products”.

Plantcraft had been gearing up to launch in the US before the pandemic hit. As a result of Covid-19 however, the team has been unable to travel stateside for product testing and co-manufacturing trials.

Kati says that instead of fully focusing on a US launch, the team is now “exploring the possibility of bringing the EU launch forward” and that it’s “likely” they will still launch their products before the end of 2020. Being flexible and building resilience has been key for these founders under the difficult circumstances of the current crisis.

What do we look for in a startup?

At the ProVeg Incubator, we typically work with around 20 startups each year, split across two cohorts. We receive a large number of applications for these limited slots – so how do we select who to work with? What are we looking for in a startup and in the founding team? Read on to find out. 

From plant-based seafood to dairy alternatives and cellular agriculture, the ProVeg Incubator has worked with a strong and diverse array of startups in our 18-month history. Thus far, the Incubator has supported 46 startups from around the world, helping them to raise over €22 million and launch more than 40 products. 

Although our alumni startups are varied, they have a number of key attributes in common. These qualities made them stand out to us and ultimately encouraged us to accept them onto our accelerator programme. We like to keep our application process open and transparent – our Incubator should be a good fit for you and for us. So here is a rundown of the top five things we are looking for in a startup.

Your mission

Why does your company exist? What is your goal? In general, when establishing a startup, it’s crucial to have a mission. It’s your reason for being. For us, it’s important that your mission aligns with ours. As part of the food awareness organisation ProVeg International, we are working to reduce the global consumption of animals by 50% by the year 2040. 

In the plant-based space, there are many companies doing great things, and that’s exciting to see. However, for us, it is key that the startups we support are working to remove animals from the global food system, rather than simply being plant-based by nature. This means your project should have the potential to transform the global food culture – by replacing traditional animal-based foods with plant, fungi, recombinant, or cultured solutions.

That’s why you will see us working with, for example, companies in the plant-based dairy, alternative meat, and cellular-agriculture spaces. They offer promising alternatives that allow animals to be removed from the food chain. 

The founders of Incubator alumni startup Legendairy, an alternative dairy company.

Your team

The founding team is perhaps the most important element of any startup. We want to know who you are and why you are the right person or people to drive the project to success. In order to answer these questions, we look at your professional and educational background, industry experience, and skills. We also want to see evidence of your passion. If you are highly motivated and enthusiastic about your startup, that makes us excited to work with you. It also makes you far more likely to succeed. 

Generally speaking, we find founding teams of at least two people to be the ideal setup. Every person on the team needs a specific, defined role, and the skill sets represented should complement one another rather than overlap. Likewise, there shouldn’t be any major skill gaps on your team that could stall your project.

That said, we do accept solo startup founders to our programme. If you come to us with a great idea and the right energy, then, of course, we will consider you for the Incubator. What’s crucial is your drive and passion. After all, you can’t hire that on LinkedIn. 

Impact and scalability

We are looking for companies with sound business models that have the potential for major impact. The innovation that you present to us should be able to function on a large scale. Otherwise, it might not help us to reach the mission that ProVeg and its partners are striving to achieve. 

It’s okay if your startup is still in the early stages when you apply for the Incubator programme, but the ability to scale your business model, ingredients, and process in the future is vital. 

Thinking about your long-term vision for the company also shows that you are ambitious. It tells us that you want to make a real difference in the world with your project, which takes us back to point one – aligning with our mission.

The third cohort of startups at the ProVeg Incubator.

Defensibility 

Having strong competitive advantages will increase the chances of your startup becoming successful. Defensibility, however, is what will help you stay there. You need to be able to protect what you’re doing from the competition.

Perhaps you are planning to protect your product under intellectual property (IP) rights,  using patents or trademarks, or maybe you are planning to focus on building a recognisable brand with a stellar team. Perhaps you’ve worked in this industry before and that gives you the inside track.

There is no magic bullet for defensibility. If you are building something that is truly great, others will want to replicate it, and that creates competition. You just need to have a strategy for how you’ll deal with that – either by protecting your innovation or outpacing or outperforming your competitors.

Your product category 

We consider applications from startups working in all product and service categories – from plant-based drinks and snacks to cultured meat and dairy proteins produced by precision fermentation. However, if you bring something new to the table we’ll be excited about that. 

It could be an idea that hasn’t been worked on before, or you have a completely new take on an existing product. Perhaps you have identified a gap in the market that is under-represented or you are working in an industry that’s still in its infancy. You could be just the right team to fill that space!

We hope that you feel inspired to join the ProVeg Incubator and if you think we would make a good match, then we’d love to hear from you! We are currently accepting applications for our next cohort and you can apply directly on our website.

Maybe you still have questions? Check out our FAQ page or contact us on social media and we’d be happy to help.

 – Your Incubator Team

Startups wanted! Apply now

Are you a food innovator with a passion for plant-based nutrition or cultured food? If so, then maybe you are just who we are looking for! We will be recruiting up to 10 innovative companies to join our next cohort of startups and you can apply now. Are you a good fit for the role? Let’s find out…

Who you’ll work with: ProVeg Incubator

Where you’ll work: Berlin, Germany + home office

What you’ll earn: up to €200,000

Application deadline: Sunday, 7 February 2021

Apply: Fill in the application

Role description

We are looking for innovative, highly motivated founders to join our next cohort of startups at the ProVeg Incubator. Your startup should be focused on plant, fungi, or recombinant food products or solutions, or cellular agriculture. 

It’s important that your company has the potential to remove animals from the food system. This means, for example, replacing conventional animal-based products, rather than your products simply being plant-based.

If selected for the Incubator, you will join our three-month accelerator programme and will need to work hard to build and improve your company. In return, we’ll support you with all of the tools, skills, and contacts you need to succeed.

The ProVeg Incubator is the world’s leading Incubator for plant-based and cultured food startups. Since its launch in November 2018, our team has worked with 46 startups from around the world, helping them to raise more than €22 million and launch over 40 products. 

Your profile

  • You are the founder or co-founder of a food or beverage startup working on plant, fungi, recombinant, or cultured food products or solutions. 
  • Your startup is dedicated to the mission of reducing the global consumption of animals. 
  • You are working on an idea that could replace conventional animal-based products or services and has the potential to have a major impact.
  • Your startup has a sound business model that is scalable, defensible, and backed by a stellar team. 
  • You are passionate, hard-working, and ambitious.

What we offer

  • A three-month, tailor-made accelerator programme based in Europe’s startup capital.
  • Up to €200,000 in funding.
  • One-on-one mentoring from leading food industry experts.
  • Access to our extensive professional networks of investors, mentors, and other industry experts.
  • Lifelong membership of our startup alumni community, as well as the opportunity to collaborate with fellow founders in your cohort.
  • Exclusive workshops, talks, events, investor introductions, and the use of ProVeg services such as V-label certification and our research department.
  • Access to our large, open-plan co-working space and test kitchen in the heart of Berlin.
  • Marketing and PR support for your startup and promotion via the ProVeg Incubator channels.
  • Fresh fruits and a daily plant-based lunch. We’ll also invite you to play ping-pong and kicker with us!

Requirements

  • Active participation in the three-month ProVeg Incubator accelerator programme. At least one founder must also be available to attend the online and/or in-house sessions (Covid-19 dependent) of the programme.
  • We conduct the programme in English. This doesn’t have to be your first language, but you will require a good level of understanding.
  • Once the programme is complete, you will join our lifelong Incubator alumni community. We may call on you from time to time to support future startups that we work with. It’s not really a requirement, but it would be nice if you did.

How to apply

This is the easy part. To apply to join our next cohort of startups, all you have to do is fill in the application form on our website.

If you have any questions, check out our FAQ section. If there’s anything else you need to know, please feel free to get in touch with us on social media or via email. We’d be more than happy to hear from you. Good luck with your application!

– Your Incubator Team

We come in peas: Vly develops plant-based milk

As the popularity of plant-based milk increases across the globe, we take a closer look at the pea protein alternative from Incubator alumni startup Vly Foods.

In the last decade, there has been a seismic shift in the popularity of plant-based milk. 75% of the world’s adult population is lactose intolerant. Plant-based drinks are therefore a great substitute, but the shift is not just down to allergies.

People are choosing alternatives to conventional dairy products for animal-welfare reasons, to reduce their environmental impact, for the nutritional value, and simply because they like the taste.

Half of all American and European customers reportedly now use plant-based milk, instead of or in addition to cow’s milk. In Asian Pacific and Latin American regions that figure jumps to around two thirds. It’s actually the number-one selling product type in the plant-based sector. In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, oat milk sales have jumped by 300%, which is mainly a result of it being a shelf-stable product. 

If you’re already an avid plant milk fan, you’ll know there are some great options available including rice, coconut, oat, and hemp, but there is also a fresh contender nudging its way onto the field.

Founders of plant-based milk company Vly Foods, Nicolas Hartmann, Niklas Katter, and Moritz Braunwarth

We come in peas

Welcome, the humble pea. This legume packs a protein punch. It is one of the best plant-based sources of this nutrient that you can eat (or drink). In fact, pea-based protein powders have become extremely popular with people looking to boost their protein intake. Many alternative meat products, including the world-famous Beyond Burger, contain peas as an ingredient.

Now, pea protein is working its way into the dairy sector. Berlin-based startup Vly Foods has created a 100% plant-based, sustainable milk alternative using yellow split peas. Nicolas Hartmann, Niklas Katter, and Moritz Braunwarth founded Vly together in 2018. The trio went on to join our Incubator that same year in order to develop their product and build their business.

“To provide the same amount of protein as cow’s milk, Vly requires 13 times less water, five times less acreage, and generates a total of 15 times less CO2 compared with the production of conventional dairy milk,” says the team. “Our diet is one of the most important factors influencing climate change. Peas not only have an excellent carbon footprint, but they also bind nitrogen to the soil. In this way, they actively improve the quality of arable land and reduce emissions of nitrous oxide, an even more harmful climate killer than CO2.”

Vly milk is made using yellow split peas as a base ingredient

Vlying high 

As well as its positive effect on the environment, the unassuming pea also has its fair share of health benefits. Peas are rich in lysine, an essential amino acid that the human body cannot produce. Lysine is important for normal growth and muscle development and helps transport fats across cells to be converted into energy. 

Pea protein also has a positive effect on blood sugar levels, supports muscle building, and helps to regulate appetite. Products developed with peas as a base ingredient are also a safer alternative for people suffering from allergies. Vly milk, for example, contains no lactose, no gluten, and no soya. 

Since graduating from the ProVeg Incubator in 2019, Vly has gone on to finalise its recipe, officially launch the company, and successfully release its products for sale online and in retailers across Germany. 

Where do we go from here?  

In 2018, a study by researchers at the University of Oxford found that producing one glass of cow’s milk results in nearly three times as much greenhouse gas emissions as any plant-based alternative. So whether you’re a fan of oat milk, or you’re ready to jump on the split-pea train, you’re already contributing to a healthier planet. 

This is not the end of the story, however. Scientists and startups are already working on producing lab-grown versions of the proteins in cow’s milk. This would allow the production of replica dairy products without the need for any animals. 

Additionally, the global non-dairy milk market is expected to be worth an estimated $38 billion dollars by 2024. In such a lucrative and fast-moving market, we’re likely to see plenty of exciting new innovations appearing in the future.

Alternative proteins: what does the future hold?

In this blog, we bring you the opinions of experts from the food industry on the topic of alternative proteins. What will we be eating in the future and why are alt proteins important? If you like what you read and want to learn more, we are hosting an event on this topic next month in partnership with NX-Food.

The global food and beverage market is undergoing a dramatic change. Consumer interest in non-animal-based, alternative proteins is increasing and the food industry is developing new ingredients and products to satisfy demand. 

Take the global meat market for example – a $1.4 trillion industry. According to a Barclays projection, alternative meats could make up a $140 billion slice of this enormous market over the next decade. Barclays analysts are actually considering new cultured options that are still years away. This means that they are suitably convinced by current protein alternatives and the expected growth of this market.

By 2050, global food systems will have to sustain a population of 10 billion people. The UN has declared climate change the “defining issue of our times” and leading scientists agree that avoiding meat and dairy is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact. The shift towards alternative proteins is not slowing down. 

We asked a panel of specialists from the industry to share their thoughts with us on this topic. The same panel will be joining us for our first Future Food Series event in March. 

Britta Winterberg, Co-Founder and CSO, Legendairy Foods:

“Almost 20 years ago, still an undergrad biology student, I heard about lab-grown meat for the first time. I can still remember the conversation I had with my husband about the opportunities of animal- and antibiotic-free clean meat. We would definitely be among the first customers when these products came onto the market.

“Little did I know that my path would one day lead me from plant pathology into the world of cellular agriculture and that I would get the chance to contribute to making dairy products more sustainable and ethical. 

“We all know that feeding the world’s growing population is a challenge. I firmly believe that biotechnology and cellular agriculture will greatly contribute to a more environmentally- friendly future for our planet.”

The team from Legendairy Foods, an alternative dairy company. Britta Winterberg pictured far left

Dr. Bernd Boeck, Scientific Advisor, Alife Foods GmbH:

“We need alternative protein sources asap, as our current animal agricultural system has the potential to gravely impact the planet and its many inhabitants. This is due to the enormous negative impacts of land-use change, water dissipation, waste, and emissions. Feeding a population of 10 billion in a sustainable way is not feasible with animal agriculture, at all. 

“Animal-based proteins have very low efficiency in terms of energy and protein conversion. There can be up to 96% protein waste in comparison with nutritionally equivalent plant replacements. Plant-based and cell-based alternatives are promising solutions to feed the growing population. They can also satisfy the world´s appetite for meat without harming people, animals, or the planet.”

Albrecht Wolfmeyer, Head of ProVeg Incubator:

“The trend towards alternative proteins is strong and sustainable. Consumer demand is increasing and the industry is responding. Plant-based meat pioneers Beyond Meat and Rügenwalder Mühle, for example, are working with pea protein isolates.

“Meanwhile, Startups like Vly Foods use pea protein to produce dairy alternatives. Algae are also gaining traction in the food industry, being used as an ingredient in alternatives to fish salads, burgers, and jerky

“Until now, Soy has dominated the ingredients lists of plant-based meat and dairy alternatives, but the kingdom of plants is much bigger. More than 300,000 species of plants all around the world have yet to be explored – maybe the next starter protein will be found soon to create the foods of the future.”

Red algae-based fish salad alternative from Incubator alumni startup Alvego

Csaba Hetényi, Co-Founder and COO, Plantcraft:

“At Plantcraft, believe that plant-based proteins will enjoy preference over animal-based products in the future. We can expect systemic changes due to sustainability, environmental, and public health considerations. 

“Intensive animal agriculture, for example, is responsible for spreading zoonotic diseases such as the coronavirus. Often these come from pigs or chickens on overcrowded farms that the media calls intermediate carriers between wildlife and humans. This, coupled with growing antibiotic resistance, also due to over administering these drugs to farmed animals, creates the perfect storm and a deadly threat to communities. 

“The future of food is plant-based and there is more than enough for our growing population. We just need to use creativity and ingenuity to create foods that are good for us and good for the planet, but also tasty, affordable, and easily available.”

Kati Ohens and Csaba Hetenyi, the Founders of Plantcraft

Gary Lin, Investor and Managing Director at Purple Orange Ventures GmbH will also be on the panel. Gary has more than 20 years of entrepreneurial and investing experience, having worked with many of the world’s most innovative tech companies.

He says: “My investment company, Purple Orange Ventures, is backing leading teams in the cultivated meat and alternative protein space. The key focus for me in the new decade is to support bold scientists to create truly transformative products and solutions that displace animal-derived foods.”

These opinions are just teasers. The members of our panel have many more insights and opinions to share on the topic of alternative proteins. To join them, hear more, and ask questions, register now for our Future Food Series: Proteins event. It takes place on March 11 in Berlin. Just click the link to go to our Eventbrite page and sign up.