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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.

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.

We are celebrating our second birthday!

Today (1 November) the ProVeg Incubator turns two years old. Since launching, we have reached many milestones on our mission to transform the global food system. To celebrate our second birthday, we’d like to share some of the highlights with you.

On World Vegan Day 2018, the ProVeg Incubator officially opened its doors for the first time. The months have whizzed by since then, and, somehow, we’re already celebrating our second birthday!

The ProVeg Incubator was launched by ProVeg as part of its mission to reduce the global consumption of animals. It was the world’s first incubator to exclusively support startups producing alternatives to animal-based foods. 

If people are to adopt a more plant-based lifestyle, we strongly believe that they need to be provided with products they will love. Consumers will eat fewer eggs and less seafood, for example, when they can purchase attractive, accessible, affordable alternatives. That’s where our startups come in.

We are supporting the companies at the forefront of innovation. Our alumni have developed a whole range of plant-based and cultured-food products, ingredients, and supporting technologies. In the last two years, we’ve achieved a lot together. Let’s take a look at the highlights…

We’ve built a startup community

To date, the ProVeg Incubator has supported more than 45 startups from around the world. We’ve worked with plant-based meat companies in Russia, fermented dairy startups out of Israel and Germany, and cultured food companies from Latin America to Australia.

Founders from the Incubator’s second cohort of startups

Over 100 entrepreneurs have participated in the ProVeg Incubator programme. They have gone on to continue building thriving businesses and we’re proud to be helping them along that journey. 

However, this is also much bigger than any one individual’s success. What we’ve built is a life-long startup community. A collective, collaborative hub of entrepreneurs that continue to share knowledge, advise one another, and help each other tackle challenges.

We are funding startups

Running out of money is one of the top reasons for the failure of new companies, so securing funding is crucial for a startup’s success and sustainability. At the start of 2020, the ProVeg Incubator announced it would be expanding its support package to startups by including grants and financial investment.

Every startup that joins the programme now receives a grant of 20,000 Euros. There is also the option for follow-up investment of up to 180,000 Euros following the completion of the programme. In addition, we connect founders with investors from our network in order to help  them secure the funds they need to build their companies.

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

We are supporting female entrepreneurs

The food industry remains male-dominated. However, more and more female entrepreneurs and scientists are moving into this sector and choosing to start their own companies.

With every call for entries that we launch, we are receiving increasing numbers of applications from startups with women in leading roles. In fact, the majority of the entrepreneurs in our latest cohort, which kicked off last week, are women.

We’re helping startups to get their products onto shelves

Our alumni have launched over 40 products onto the retail market. That means that the foods they are producing are out there in the world, being purchased by consumers as alternatives to conventional meat, dairy, and animal-based snacks.

Greenwise, for example, is selling its plant-based meat in more than 2,000 stores in Russia. You can find the Nu Company’s chocolate bars in 16 countries worldwide. Better Nature’s tempeh products are available in UK supermarkets and online via Amazon. And in Germany, you’ll find Vly Foods, Mondarella, Cashewbert, and Von Georgia products stocked in supermarkets, drug stores, and cafes.

Chocolate bars from the nu company are on sale in 15+ countries

And those are just the plant-based examples. Food tech companies such as Mushlabs and Legendairy Foods that are working on fermentation, require more time before they can launch tangible products to the public. However, when they –  and others – do, it’s likely to change the face of the food sector fundamentally.

We stood together against corona

Companies, big and small around the world, have been rocked by the coronavirus pandemic. When the first lockdown was announced in March, we were just weeks away from launching our first startup cohort of 2020.

We decided to stand up for startups in these trying times and swiftly moved our whole programme online. By the end of this year, we will have hosted two full cohorts of startups digitally.

The ProVeg Incubator’s first digital cohort of startups

Our job is to support and accelerate startups. We’re proud to have been able to continue to do that, even under particularly tricky circumstances.

If you would like to keep up to date with all the latest news from the ProVeg Incubator, subscribe to our newsletter below. You can also follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram @provegincubator

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. 

Top 10 tips for launching a food startup

We work with startup founders from all over the world to help them build thriving companies. Although starting a business is challenging, there are certain steps you can take to give yourself the best chance of success. In this blog post, you’ll find our top 10 tips for getting your startup off the ground.

Launching a food startup is exciting. Having a great idea for a new product or service that the world needs and actually turning that into a viable business is hugely rewarding. However, it can also be a daunting and difficult process. We’d be very surprised if any entrepreneur reached their goals without making any mistakes along the way. 

Now, don’t get us wrong, because mistakes are not always a bad thing. They are how we learn and adapt to be able to do better in the future. However, you don’t necessarily need to make all the mistakes yourself in order to learn from them. You can also learn from the experiences of others.

At the ProVeg Incubator, we support around 20 new startups every year and we continue to help our alumni after they graduate from our programme, for as long as they need us. 

From working with such a variety of companies from around the world during different stages of their journeys, we’ve gathered a wealth of information about launching successful businesses. Some members of our team also run their own companies or have done so in the past.

Of course, there is no magic recipe for success; we know you know that already. But, there are some key pieces of advice that we give out to all our startup founders. Now, we’d like to share these with you, too.

Pick the business that is right for you

Your startup will become your life. To get it off the ground and make a real go of it, you’re going to need passion for your business. If your heart isn’t in it, you won’t want to do it for long. Plus, you’ll have a hard time convincing other people like investors and customers to buy into your idea, if you don’t love it yourself. Pick a mission that you truly believe in, and you’re already giving yourself a great start.

The founding team of plant-based milk company, Pläin

Put the right team in place

We cannot emphasise this one enough. Even the best idea in the world won’t come to much if you don’t have the right team to execute it. Having the relevant skills and experience is important, but you should also choose to work with people who share your ambitions, your energy, and your vision for the company.

Do not underestimate branding

Branding is much more than just a logo and a font. It’s your company’s soul. It’s your values, your look-and-feel, and your vision. Nowadays, building a trusted and respectable brand is just as valuable as having a good product. In an ideal world, your product or service would speak for itself, but it cannot. That’s what your branding is for –  so don’t leave it to the last minute.

Branding from plant-based food startup, the nu company

Nail your elevator pitch

When it comes to introducing your company, you should aim to impress. You never know when you might meet somebody who could help your business, and having them listen to a fumbled explanation of your startup will not inspire confidence. Prepare two-to-three short, sharp sentences that describe who you are, what your startup does, and why, and then practice them so you’re ready to make a great first impression. Also, practice and nail other, more detailed versions of your pitch, especially your investor pitch.

Do your research

This one might sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people are not thorough. Are you solving a real problem? Is there a big enough market for your solution? Will people actually pay for your product? If so, how much? How will you reach your customers? Do you have competitors, and what are they up to? You should know this information like the back of your hand.

Never stop talking to your customers

That research that we referred to above is not a one-time task. Your customers can continually provide you with valuable insights if you keep engaging with them. Test out ideas with consumers, request feedback, and pay attention to how people interact with your brand. This learning process could help you to improve your brand and product and might even spark fresh, new ideas.

Create content

To build a connected community around your brand, you need to provide your audience with added value. A good way to do this is with content marketing. Are you selling plant-based dog food? Don’t just advertise your kibble – write blogs about pet health and nutrition, film behind-the-scenes videos of your startup journey, and share photos of customers enjoying your products. Engage with your customer community. People love stories and are enticed by interesting content shared on the channels they use.

Plant-based meat company Greenwise pitching at the ProVeg Incubator Demo Day

Find mentors

Reach out to people, network, and speak to fellow founders and entrepreneurs. Seek out people you can learn from, and listen to their advice. Check out incubators and accelerators that can support you. You’ll still want to make your own decisions at the end of the day, but having trusted advisors who’ve been there and done that will give you an incredible advantage.

Build in buffers

This is not meant to scare you – but everything is going to take longer than you expect. Bear this in mind when fundraising, looking for production partners, and trying to get listings, for example. Build in time buffers if you can, plan realistically, and always have a Plan B in your back pocket, just in case things don’t go according to plan.

Stay on top of your cash flow

One of the main reasons for startup failure is running out of funds. Establish budgets, track all of your spending, and limit your early expenses in order to help mitigate that risk. Don’t dream when it comes to your financial model – make solid and plausible forecasts. Make solid and plausible forecasts. Also, don’t feel pressured to quit your day job if you can’t afford to do so right away (although, at some point, you will need to fully focus on your startup). Having a steady flow of income can give you financial peace of mind until your business really takes off.

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Meet the team: Alan Ramos

Alan Ramos is the Programme & Startup Coordinator at the ProVeg Incubator. He is originally from Mexico but was raised mainly in the United States. After graduating from university, Alan moved to Taiwan to continue his Mandarin Chinese studies before joining the Incubator in early 2019.

Alan, what do you do at the ProVeg Incubator?

As the Programme & Startup Coordinator, I am actively involved in putting the cohort together, (recruiting, screening, interviewing, and selecting startups). Afterwards, I provide support by putting together tailored programme topics and content for our selection of startups.

During the programme, I support startups by coaching them through workshop activities, deliverables and strategic planning. Lastly, I manage our alumni community with post-incubation check-ins to continue providing support after startups graduate from the Incubator. 

How did you end up working in this position?

After receiving my Bachelor’s Degree in Philosophy, I was admitted to law school in the US. However, I chose to defer my admission for one year while I moved to Taiwan to master my Chinese language learning.

During my time in Taiwan, I realised that what I was truly passionate about was improving our current climate crisis and its collateral damages. Once I came across a project that addressed these issues through my second biggest passion, food, I knew I had to take part. 

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I often find myself saying how grateful I feel to wholeheartedly love my job.

Working with so many diverse teams and innovative products allows me to learn something new every day. However, one of my favorite aspects of the job is working closely and learning from amazingly talented entrepreneurs from around the world united by the same mission.

It is incredibly motivating and nourishing to find oneself in a room full of people from different backgrounds and walks of life all pushing for positive change.  

What are some of the challenges of your job?

Because our project is so dynamic, there are always new and exciting challenges to face. However, one of the main challenges is not being able to help all the interesting projects that apply to our programme.

There are so many talented teams and amazing ideas from around the world aimed at helping us achieve our mission to reduce global animal consumption by 50% by the year 2040.

Choosing which companies to support is always a challenge because you want to help so many of them, but that is of course, not always possible.  

What are the values that drive you?

The values that drive me are environmentalism, social justice, and human rights. It is important for me to help create and co-exist in a society where all beings are recognised, respected, and appreciated for their differences.

It’s important for me to conduct myself with integrity, humility, and love and treat others with empathy, dignity, and respect.

Alan, tell us three interesting facts about yourself?

  1. I’ve lived and worked on three different continents. 
  2. I spend a lot of my time in the kitchen cooking up the plant-based goodness. 
  3. I’m a martial arts enthusiast. I’ve competed in mixed martial arts and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and actively train both. 

What are your top three podcast/book/documentary recommendations?

  1. Las Venas Abiertas de América Latina [book]
  2. Ice On Fire [documentary]
  3. How I Built This [podcast]

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

Mainly spending time with friends. I like attending festivals, gatherings, and going out for food together. When I’m by myself, I enjoy writing, reading, and exercising. 

If your flat was on fire, what items would you save? (assume family and pets are safe)

I would save my bag of personal collections, which include photos, postcards, and notes from friends and my bill collection, which contains bills from most of the countries I’ve visited.

How do we pick the startups we work with?

The ProVeg Incubator team is currently reviewing applications from founders looking to join its next batch of startups. The process involves analysing all of the companies that apply, conducting interviews, and hosting pitch sessions. How do we move through these phases to select a new cohort? Read on to find out.

“How do you pick the startups that you work with?” is a question that we often get asked at the ProVeg Incubator.

Every year, we work with around 20 startups, split across two batches. To select those companies, we run a global call for entries, and we always get more companies applying than we could possibly work with.

Our most recent call for entries closed on 31 July and we received a record number of applications. Since then, the Incubator team has been diligently reviewing all of the applications and deciding which companies to move forward with.

Delving into the details

The first stage is to analyse the written application that startups submit via our website. At this point, we are looking mainly at the type of product or service a startup is offering, as well as the team and what kind of progress the company has made to date.

For the upcoming cohort, we are particularly interested in startups developing egg, chicken, and seafood alternatives. However, we will of course also be accepting companies that are working on other exciting and impactful innovations.

The second stage in our process is to conduct an (online) interview with the founders we are keen to move forward with. This helps us get to know the people behind the projects, and learn more about how they plan to build their startups. It also allows us to identify the areas in which they will need the most support.

Finally, we reach the pitch round. The startups that have made it this far have five minutes to pitch their companies and products to a panel of ProVeg Incubator team members and external experts. The pitch is followed by a Q&A session.

This is an opportunity for us to delve deeper into the details of a company and look at everything from financing and product development to branding, go-to-market strategies, and team development.

It’s also a chance for founders to ask us questions and learn more about the programme we offer. At this point, we also ask startups to provide certain documents, such as financial projections, and clarify any remaining questions they may have.

Then comes the hardest part (for us at least) – deciding which startups to invite to join the Incubator.

Founders of alumni startups Legendairy, Better Nature, Panvega, and Greenwise

The final stretch

During each stage of the assessment process, we unfortunately have to let some startups go. That means that, by the time we come to the point of selecting the final cohort, we are down to what we believe to be the strongest companies.

We use all of the information and feedback that we have gathered during our evaluations to make the final decision. There are a number of key factors that we examine, which we covered in more detail in our blog post: What do we look for in a startup?

In short, you need to have a strong team, an innovative product or service, and your mission should align with ours. As part of the organisation ProVeg, we are working to reduce the global consumption of animals by 50% by the year 2040. 

If your startup doesn’t contribute to that mission, it doesn’t make much sense for us to work together. In addition, your business model should be defensible and scalable. By supporting companies that tick all of these boxes, we’re giving ourselves the best chance of being as impactful as possible. That’s important to us.

Every startup that joins the ProVeg Incubator receives a grant of €20,000. Following completion of the programme, ProVeg has the option to invest a further €30,000 to €180,000 in those startups. This means that we also look at how much investment potential a startup has to offer. 

What if I didn’t get in?

If you didn’t get selected to join the ProVeg Incubator this time around, don’t be disheartened. The process is very competitive. We receive many applications to join the programme and can only select a handful of them to work with each round.

Not getting in does not mean that your startup is not good or that your ideas are not valuable. It could be that your mission doesn’t align closely enough with ours or that you need to strengthen your team in order to achieve your ambitious goals. If you believe in what you are doing, then we encourage you to keep going! 

Don’t forget, you are always welcome to apply again to join the Incubator in the future. We also host various events and webinars and publish informative content on our blog and social media. Be sure to follow us on LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter for all the latest updates.

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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The digital cohort: how did we do it?

For the last three months, we have been incubating 10 food startups from across the globe. However, due to Covid-19, we couldn’t actually meet any of the founders in person to deliver our accelerator programme. So, we adapted. How did we do it and how did things turn out? Read on to find out.

Back in March, nearly the whole world went into lockdown. When the coronavirus hit, we were preparing to welcome a new batch of startups to the ProVeg Incubator programme. In fact, we were just two weeks away from launch day.

We had accepted 10 companies to join what would be our fourth cohort at the Incubator. The founders were based all over the globe, from Australia to Chile to India to Sweden. 

Normally, the startup teams would travel to Berlin to participate in the accelerator programme. With international travel restricted, however, and cities the world over heading into quarantine, this was not going to be possible.

Stand up for startups

The Incubator team had a decision to make: do we carry on with the programme, or do we cancel it? In hindsight, it could have been a complicated choice but the truth is, we all knew what we wanted to do. We wanted the programme to go ahead. Here’s why:

  • We were motivated to work with the 10 startups we had selected. They have strong teams and are working on impactful projects, including seafood alternatives, plant-based baby food, and fermented dairy alternatives. 
  • The founders needed our help now more than ever. Under the difficult circumstances of Covid-19, startups are facing even more challenges. At the Incubator, we have the resources and networks that young companies need and we wanted to put them to use in these trying times.
  • It presented a learning opportunity. We were being challenged to change our programme unexpectedly. Perhaps we would find new ways to help our startups that we otherwise wouldn’t have discovered. We were keen to find out.

So the decision was made. Despite Covid-19, we were going to stand up for startups and run our first-ever digital cohort. In just a few weeks, we converted our entire accelerator programme to an online format and we were ready to go. 

Overall, we are extremely happy with how it turned out and all 10 startups made significant progress during the three months that we worked together. So, let’s have a closer look at what worked well for our digital cohort and what we missed out on while working under social distancing.

Fireside chat with Jody Puglisi, Scientific Advisor to Beyond Meat

What we loved about the digital cohort

  • 99.9% of our sessions functioned well online. We could still host workshops, fireside chats, feedback sessions, and roundtable discussions as we would have done in-house.
  • Being online allowed us to bring in new speakers and coaches from further afield. For example, some experts in the US were keen to host a one-hour webinar with us but perhaps wouldn’t have been able to commit to a session in person.
  • The interactions online were brilliant. There was so much energy in our sessions, with plenty of questions, solutions, and positive collaborations among the group.
  • The advances in technology allowed us all to see, hear, and interact with one another, with relatively few hiccups.
  • By not travelling to Germany, our startups were able to cut down on their travel costs and CO2 emissions.

What we missed during our digital cohort

  • With our startups being based all over the world, differing time zones were a challenge. For every session, we had to consider what time it would be in Australia, Israel, and South America, in order to make sure no-one was getting up at 4 am to join a workshop!
  • The food. Shipping samples from country to country became trickier and the process took longer. Under the circumstances, opportunities for hosting tasting events in order to showcase the startup products were also far more limited.
  • We learned how valuable meeting people face-to-face is. Even with all of the advantages of modern technology, we still love spending time with our founders in person.

The fourth edition of the ProVeg Incubator accelerator programme came to an end on July 17th. All ten startups graduated from the Incubator after pitching their companies to a panel of investors at our Startup Demo Day. 

Due to Covid-19, the majority of the guests were online, but five of our startups managed to join the Incubator team in Berlin for the event. Finally, after three months, at least a few of us got to meet in person! We are extremely proud to have all of these pioneering companies in our alumni and we are looking forward to continuing our collaboration with all of them, going forward.

The next cohort

We will be working with our next batch of startups from October 2020. We don’t yet know exactly what the format will be for that round of the programme. But we do know that it will largely depend on the circumstances surrounding Covid-19. Ideally, we would opt for a mix of in-house and remote weeks, but we are still waiting to see what will be possible.

If you are interested in joining the ProVeg Incubator, we are accepting applications from startup founders right now. Just go to the Apply section of our website and submit your application.

– Your Incubator team.