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Becoming a brand, not just a product

Claire Barrett is Strategy Director for Hunger Craft, the specialist brand strategy and packaging agency for all things edible. Hunger has worked extensively in the plant-based sector and the company directors are mentors for the ProVeg Incubator, coaching our startups in building the right brands for their businesses. In this blog, Claire shares her brand strategy 101 tips.

A brand is a promise made and kept

For over ten years now my job role has included the words ‘Brand’ and ‘Strategist’. Both terms tend to cause confusion outside of marketing circles. It’s totally understandable. At the best of times, the words are pretty nebulous and can be subject to many different interpretations, so let’s kick off with a common definition: 

A brand is a promise made and kept. 

The promise is made by your visual and verbal communications and it’s kept by your people, product, service, and reputation. Put simply, Brand Strategy is the tool you use to define your promise and how to keep it. 

In a company or startup, you may be lucky enough to employ a brand manager or head of brand. Alternatively developing your brand may be one of the many plates you spin as an entrepreneur. Either way, no matter how big or small your company is, it’s important that everyone holds an intimate understanding of your brand because it’s more than just a logo and a colour palette. It’s your vision, what you stand for, how you behave, what you look, sound, feel, taste, smell like, it’s your business’s very soul.

Defining your brand from day one helps on every level, whether that’s: employing the right people and creating the right culture internally; securing pitches with customers and sales with consumers; ensuring every partner ‘gets’ you so every piece of communication nails it; informing future NPD and diversification; and, of course, creating consistency across how you look, how you speak and what you say.

Incubator alumni startup Vly Foods recently rebranded their alternative milk products

Why brand matters

Firstly, brands communicate. Fast.

Okay, I’m not going to summarise Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman here, but trust me  – go read it. It explains how our brain operates using two systems, with the majority of our choices being made by the instinctive, intuitive, ‘auto-pilot’ system: System 1. To make these quick calls, the brain rapidly decodes information based on years of information. It’s main source of information? Visuals. We’re wired to decode visuals at a far greater pace than words. In System 1 90% of the information our brain uses to make its decisions is visual. If your product will find itself on shelves, consumers’ 3-5 decision-making seconds rely on System 1, relying on your brand to speak volumes. 

Secondly, it sells the vision 

There will obviously be a lot of people spending more careful, conscious time considering your offering. Getting your brand and messaging crystal clear upfront sells the vision to potential investors deliberating whether to buy in and sells the opportunity to potential customers deciding whether to stock it. It makes for a stronger, more memorable and ultimately more successful conversation.

And talking about first impressions, brands set expectations

In an ideal world, your product would speak for itself, but in reality, your product is mute until it gets in front of people’s eyes or into their hands, baskets, and mouths. From deciding to hover over an Instagram ad and swipe up or deciding to pause at a shelf, your visual and verbal brand will make the first impression. And when it does, it’s crucial it promises all the right things. That way brand expectation s and brand experience align.

Finally, good brands win space, trust, and fame 

There is a surplus of brands, and noise, in the world. Good brands cut through based on the real value they create for the consumer. Whether that’s a better night’s sleep and a clearer head thanks to lack of choice (Casper), an entertaining respite from the day (Recess) or a ‘does-what-it-says-on-the-wrapper’ transparency (RX bars), if your brand is promising something that is of value to your audience, and delivering that promise through every brand interaction and touchpoint, you will build trust, fame and reach the holy grail of marketing: word of mouth recommendations.

Hunger Craft has worked with brands like the plant-based Abbot’s Butcher

Where to begin with your brand

So, where to start. Well, to define the foundations of your brand, dig deep into three crucial areas: 

  1. Know your audience

Who is your audience? What role do you perform in their lives? Can you identify what tension you are resolving? What need are you answering? Which brands outside the category are already winning with them and why? Knowing your audience means you can be bolder with your brand. For example, Nuggs is appealing to a very clear audience so it can take the ‘make friends, make enemies’ attitude with a strong, polarising personality; it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea/plant-based chicken nugget and that’s just fine. 

  1. Know your category

When it comes to the category, look near, far and further. Near at competitors: Pinpoint the space you want to own in the category. Market maps or a competitor attribute matrix are two of the simplest and most useful ways to do this. Far at adjacent categories: what inspirational case studies or codes can you find in related categories such as other ‘free from’ products? Further at consumers’ wider brand worlds: through its simplistic branding and bold colour choice, Impossible borrowed the already ingrained visual language of tech to position itself as the future of food. 

Melt ice cream offers ‘sweet relief’, all of their communications are chilled and mellow

  1. Know yourself

You know how people say you have to love yourself before other people will love you? Well, that’s true in branding, not just romcoms. You need to pinpoint what makes you special and own it. That means asking yourself the deep questions, the uncomfortable questions: What are you fighting against? What do you stand for? Why should people care? What’s your personality? A brand is a promise made and kept so, put simply, you need to know what you’re promising. If you’re promising to ‘Banish the Bland’ like Rub ‘a’ Dub spice mixes, make every touchpoint vibrant and vivacious. If you’re promising some ‘Sweet Relief’ like Melt CBD ice cream, make all your communications chilled and mellow.

Claire has over ten years of experience building brands across the world, working on everything from global rebrands for Coca-Cola to entrepreneurial startups like Abbot’s Butcher. Claire’s forté is carving out compelling spaces for brands using consumer insight, category intelligence, and brand truths. ProVeg Incubator works together with Hunger Craft to help startups build the right brands for their businesses, as part of its accelerator programme. Interested startups can apply online here

How we’re standing up for startups

Stay informed. In this update, we talk about our upcoming cohort of startups, how we’ll be supporting them through these challenging months, and what we’ll be doing to play our part in flattening the curve.

Coronavirus is having a huge global impact. Everyone is feeling the effect in one way or another. For some, that’s in a professional capacity, for others, it’s more noticeable in their personal lives. For many, it’s present in both of these spheres. 

At the Incubator, our team switched to working from home a few weeks ago and since then we have definitely found our groove, but there are challenges too. For established businesses and startups, this is a particularly difficult and uncertain time. As a startup incubator, it’s our job to provide stability, to help founders navigate hurdles, adapt to the situation and to enable them to build, grow, and push forward under adversity.

So, that’s exactly what we’re going to do. We’ve had to tweak and update our plans for the coming months, but we’re all in the same boat there. It can be tough, but it can be exciting too. We’re finding new ways of working and new opportunities to engage with people that we hadn’t always focused on before. Read on to find out how we’ll be handling our next cohort of startups in the coming months. 

Working from home presents challenges but also plenty of new opportunities

First, some good news

You might remember, we recently ran a campaign searching for startups to join ProVeg Incubator in our spring cohort. We are delighted to say that we received a record number of applications! At a time like this, it’s inspiring for us to see such a large number of people working to have a positive impact on the world. 

At ProVeg Incubator, our goal is to support plant-based and cultured food startups that have the potential to significantly impact the global food system. Our team has spent the last month studying all of the applications we received from exciting and innovative startups. We’ve been speaking with founders from all over the world, listening to business pitches, and taking on the tough task of coming up with a shortlist. 

We have now selected ten pioneering startups to join our fourth cohort. The group originates from nine different countries and represents a whole range of innovative, new product types and services. We can’t tell you who they are just yet, but we are really looking forward to sharing that list soon!

The digital cohort 

Due to the ongoing global situation with coronavirus, we have decided to move our spring 2020 cohort of startups online. Emerging companies are facing new challenges during this difficult time and need our support more than ever. It’s therefore important for us to keep the Incubator functioning as normally as we can.

Our top priority is providing the best support possible while keeping everyone safe. By hosting our upcoming three-month accelerator programme online, we can continue to support startups with the training, mentoring, and networking they need to grow their businesses. We’ll just be doing it from the relative comfort of our own homes. We’re also lucky enough to live in a time where digital technology makes this totally feasible. We’re looking at you, Zoom. 

By moving our programme online, startup founders, mentors, and the Incubator team can avoid international travel and continue to comply with regulations to help flatten the curve. We’re already in the midst of planning a host of digital events, workshops, and networking opportunities and can’t wait to share them with our startups. The new cohort will officially start with us (from afar) on Monday 27 April. 

In the coming months, we’ll publish content on this blog and in our newsletter to help startups during this tough time and beyond. Signing up for our email updates is quick and easy and we only include the best bits – promise. Just scroll down to the bottom of this page. 

Stay safe, your Incubator team.

Plant-based ice-cream: the bird is the word

Pink Albatross is Spain’s first clean-label, plant-based ice-cream company. The startup was founded in Madrid by Luke Saldanha and Pepe Biaggio, who were part of the third cohort at the ProVeg Incubator.

Did you know that 75% of the world’s adult population is lactose intolerant? For Pepe Biaggio, allergies became a major topic when his first daughter began suffering from many of them. His challenge was finding quality products that catered to her nutritional needs, and appealed to the whole family, particularly when it came to sweets. 

Meanwhile, Luke Saldanha, who has been following a vegan diet for five years, was struggling with a lack of plant-based food options on the Spanish market. When the pair met, they realised that they had two different objectives but that, “the solution was the same”.

In 2018, Luke and Pepe bought an ice-cream machine together and started experimenting, making their own ice-cream at home. The result is Spains’ first clean-label, plant-based ice-cream company: Pink Albatross.

Pepe Biaggio and Luke Saldanha, co-founders of Pink Albatross 

So, why ice-cream?

“When you walk into the supermarket, 15 to 20% of the allocated milk space is dedicated to plant-based alternatives”, says Luke Saldanha. 

In fact, studies show that half of all American and European customers 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.

“That same reality, however, does not transfer over to the ice cream section”, says Luke. “Why wouldn’t those same people be looking for dairy alternatives in other categories?” 

The options for plant-based consumers in Spain, or those with allergies, were non-existent at that time, despite ice-cream being a 1.7 billion sector in that country. Luke and Pepe identified this gap in the market and decided to fill it. 

“Our raw materials are real food. If we can’t draw the ingredient on the packet, it’s not going into our ice-cream.” – Pepe Biaggio

Pink Albatross ice-cream products with flavours including mango, hazelnut, and chocolate

Nothing artificial here, please 

For Luke and Pepe it was extremely important to create a clean product using “real food” and no artificial components. “If we can’t draw the ingredient on the packet”, says Pepe, “it is not going into our ice-cream”. “I can draw a coconut for example, but I can’t draw an emulsifier or an E-471.”

In this way, Pink Albatross ice-cream, which comes in five different flavours, caters to plant-based eaters, clean eaters, and people suffering from allergies such as lactose, soya, or gluten. The base ingredients are coconut and cashew milk. 

“Our raw materials are real food and we only use seven to nine ingredients per ice-cream flavour”, says Pepe. “From that angle, it’s healthy food. That’s why we have ‘pink’ in our brand name because pink suggests a healthy status. For example, someone with pink cheeks is understood to be looking well. The colour has a positive connotation.” 

“We’re trying to get the world to move towards a more sustainable, compassionate diet.” – Luke Saldanha

Let’s talk about the bird

Luke and Pepe decided to name their company Pink Albatross because they wanted to stand out, but also because the albatross is an inspiration for them.

Luke says, “The albatross is capable of flying extremely high above the earth, up to 10,000 feet. It also travels around the earth multiple times in its lifetime. This species has a very unique perspective of what’s going on below and our target consumer is like that. They are forward-thinking and aware of what’s going on in the world.”

In the largest report of its kind to date, scientists agree that a high consumption rate of meat and dairy products is fuelling global warming. They recommended adopting a plant-based diet as one of the top actions that could be taken to combat climate change. 

The future of the albatross

Pink Albatross started selling ice-cream in 2019 and now has products in almost 70 locations in Spain. Next, the company is planning to expand to Portugal and Great Britain and explore other product options like plant-based desserts.

Luke says, “Both of us used to work in the corporate world, where your ability to make a decision and see the impact is limited. Here it’s the contrary. In the startup world, nothing gets done unless you’re pushing it. You have to make that effort, but that effort is rewarded immediately”.

The global non-dairy milk market is expected to be worth an estimated $38 billion by 2024. In Spain, there was a rise of 10%  in the number of plant-based eaters in 2019 alone. This is a sector that is growing and a trend that is not going away. In such a lucrative market, we are excited to see the progress of Pink Albatross in 2020!

To see more of the ProVeg Incubator alumni from our past three cohorts, click here.

Does the perfect startup team exist?

“The team is possibly the most important element of a startup”. In this blog, we speak to ProVeg Incubator Mentor Nick Willer about finding the right founding team for a startup. 

Nick is the founder and owner of ACT – Advanced Coaching and Training – a Network of over 600 coaches, trainers, and consultants in Berlin. He is the chairman of the Bundeskommission für Startups und Unternehmensgründungen of the BVMW, Germany’s largest SME-Association. Nick loves coaching and consulting startups and other companies that want to make a change in the world. 

Why is the team such an important element of a startup?

“The team is maybe even the most important element. In the end, everything is based upon the people who are running a project. How they fit together regarding their skills and personalities is absolutely crucial for the success of a startup. Unfortunately, the best idea in the world is not worth very much if you don’t have the right people to execute it. 

“Money is always a big point as well, but it can be a trap at the same time. If you start with a lot of funding, but the team does not fit well together, it is possible that you will find this out too late. Money can cover up insufficiencies in the team for some time. I personally do not know any decent investor, who does not look very thoroughly at the team before investing.”

What does the perfect startup team look like to you?

“The personalities have to fit together. This does not mean that founders should be identical, it’s good to have different characters, skills, and personalities on the team. However, they should complement one another. Even some conflicts or differences of opinion can be positive. Too much harmony can be a false friend because it can lull you into addressing potential problems (which will happen) too late. 

“On the other hand, deep respect and appreciation for one another is the basis of being able to solve issues effectively. If those elements are missing, conflicts can escalate and endanger the whole project, instead of speeding it up and sharpening it, as they should. 

“The Share Structure is another important point here. How a team is organised should be recognised as fair when considering the value of each person’s input. Contributions include ideas and inventions, time, and money. 

“You should not only think about the here and now but consider the future as well. How does your Share Structure fit, if your company makes a million or more a year? is a question you will hear very often in my coachings. 

“You have to make sure that the input of each team member is recognised fairly and grows with the size and demands of the company. Vesting-models can be a good option if you are not sure about the future output and development of each team member. 

“Last but absolutely not least: What are the motivations of each team member? Do they fit together and is there a common goal uniting the team? Motivation is what will carry you through the tricky times, so make sure this is synchronised and strong enough to do so.”

Co-founders of Pläin, Michael Sysoev, Julia Deuter, and Jonathan Herrmann

What should entrepreneurs look for in a co-founder?

“Keep in mind the recommendations above and remember that at this point you have the choice about who to work with. 

“Good questions to ask yourself are: What is really missing in my team now and what will be required in the long term? People are often a little short-sighted when they are extremely involved with a project or situation, for example when identifying gaps in an existing team. 

“Take away the pressure. Ask yourself how the person you are considering for a role will work with you and the growing demands of your company in the long term. If you are sure it all fits, then make a fair deal. The shares you give out should fit with what you get in return from a co-founder.

“Good expectation management is crucial at this point as well. Is the potential co-founder happy with the deal you are offering and will they continue to be happy with it in the future? Are his or her expectations about the coming work and the development of the company realistic? If not, you might encounter problems further down the road.”

What are the three top tips you would give startup teams to help them work well together?

“Always focus on the value everybody has to the team. This will keep up the respect and appreciation when you have problems.

“Make sure that everybody is 100% aligned to the goal and that you are all fighting for the same cause.

“Be fair and open with one another regarding company shares and duties. Be flexible enough to change everything, if your original deal doesn’t fit anymore.”

Plant-based queens: celebrating female founders

In honour of International Women’s Day (March 8) we are celebrating the inspiring female founders we have worked with here at ProVeg Incubator. From cultured meat to plant-based cheese these women are making waves and encouraging others to follow suit. 

At ProVeg Incubator we work with many inspiring individuals, it’s one of the best parts of what we do here. Our startup founders have chosen to dedicate their time to building companies that benefit people and the planet. They come from all over the world, all walks of life, and they all have something valuable to offer. However, in honour of International Women’s Day today (March 8) we want to celebrate one group of entrepreneurs in particular: female founders. 

In the one year since the ProVeg Incubator launched, we have supported over 30 startups. We are proud to say, that many have been founded by women or have female leaders on the founding team. Here are four of the most exciting companies led by women that we have worked with. 

Cheese the Queen 

Vera Tinkova established her company Cheese the Queen after being inspired to transform the global food culture. Using fermented, aged cashews she has developed a range of superfood cheeses. They are all 100% plant-based, high in protein, and enriched with probiotics. “I strive to give people the possibility to experience new ways of indulgence while still respecting the planet”, says Vera.

Vera Tinkova, founder of plant-based cheese company Cheese the Queen

“This is a mission that is bigger than me and my confidence in that is what keeps me going”. Vera admits that women continue to face challenges in business and that “there is still so much discrimination”.  However, she says she believes so much in her “contribution to the world” and what she creates with Cheese the Queen that “no challenge” can stop her. 

She says other women should believe in the power they have to influence change: “Be brave, be courageous, there is a lot you can give to the world!”.

“I grew up liking the taste of meat, in a country where red meat is deeply ingrained in the culture. However, I never fully enjoyed eating it because I don’t like to see animals suffer. I decided to take action by building a cultured meat company.” – Sofia Giampaoli

Cell Farm 

Founder and CEO Sofia Giampaoli is building Latin America’s first cultured meat company – Cell Farm – with business partner and CSO Carolina Bluguermann. The duo is developing stem cell lines from Argentinian cows, which will act as the basic starter material for other companies to develop clean meat products. 

Sofia Giampaoli, Founder and CEO of cultured meat startup Cell Farm

Sofia says she was inspired to create Cell Farm because she believes that “companies and new technologies are the most practical and powerful tools to solve global problems” – such as the environmental consequences of animal farming.

Although efforts to close the gender gap in business have advanced, there is still an underrepresentation of women. One study, for example, found that only 17% of startups have a female founder. While analysis from the USA shows that only 2% of venture capital investment went to startups founded by women. 

Sofia says she would encourage other female entrepreneurs to “keep moving forward”. “Just believe in what you are doing”, she says. “Learn to take problems as they come, transform them into challenges, and find a solution. If your project is doing good for people, animals, or the environment you will also find many allies who will help you to achieve your goals. Rest assured you are not alone.”

“The most powerful tools that a woman can have in her career are a bulletproof self-confidence and a strong belief that she can achieve everything.” – Julia Marsel

Greenwise 

Greenwise is one of the first plant-based meat companies in Russia. Co-founder Julia Marsel launched the company as one of a team of three, with two male business partners. This gives her an interesting insight on the topic of women in business. Julia says, “The biggest challenge is for women to be taken seriously”. 

Artem Ponomarev, Julia Marsel, and George Zheleznyi, co-founders of Greenwise

“At every investor pitch or presentation to retailers, I felt I needed to prove that my voice had the same weight as those of my male co-founders. It takes boldness and courage to make yourself heard. Female entrepreneurs must be confident and strong to have their opinions treated the same way as a man’s.”

Despite the challenges, Julia says, “being a passionate animal welfare advocate and a foodie” makes the role of plant-based meat startup founder an “absolute fit” for her. “It combines the topics I care about the most, but it also provides a real possibility to make a huge difference in the world.”

No Mo Moo

For Ana Maria Tuton, the decision to build a business became clear when she discovered her passion. “I always believed that I could do something impactful, but I had no idea what that was”, says Ana. “I was passionate about cooking. When I got into making plant-based cheese, I could see straight away how this could be the something that could help change the world.”

Ana Maria Tuton and Nicu Panfil, co-founders of No Mo Moo

Ana launched her own plant-based cheese company No Mo Moo (formerly Vegan Gourmet) in Romania and brought on her siblings Elena Licsandru and Nicu Panfil as co-founders. Together, their mission is to create healthy, delicious cheese alternatives that encourage more people to eat plant-based food. 

As a woman in business, Ana admits there can be challenges. “I am a mother and find it difficult balancing looking after young kids and building a business”, she says. “However, I get help from my family and from kindergarten so I have more time for work. It gives my husband a chance to spend more time alone with the children as well.”

Ana’s advice to women aspiring to entrepreneurship is simple: “Find something you’re passionate about and become an expert at it”. 

Since the ProVeg Incubator launched in late 2018, we have worked with more than 30 startups from 16 countries, helping them to raise over 8 million euro and launch more than 40 products. To see more of our alumni startups, click here

The Green(wise) Journey

In this blog, we look at the journey of Russian plant-based meat startup Greenwise from our second cohort. Learn about how they got started, burst onto the Russian food market, and what the team is up to now.

Picture this: it’s March 2019 and we’re in Berlin. Dressed in their Greenwise company aprons, co-founders George, Julia, and Tim are running hurriedly to hand out samples of their plant-based jerky to eager attendees of the New Food Conference, Europe’s first conference to focus exclusively on alternative proteins. This would be the trio’s international debut in the food innovation space and the beginning of their relationship with ProVeg. 

Just a few weeks later, Greenwise would join our second cohort of startups, along with ten other promising companies. Among the batch, the startups all had different products and services, but they shared a common mission. They work to reduce the global consumption of animal-based products and joined the Incubator to improve and scale their businesses.

The Greenwise team: Artem Ponomarev, Julia Marsel, and George Zheleznyi

In a diverse cohort comprised of plant-based companies from New Zealand, Hong Kong, Italy, and Germany, Greenwise represented Russia. According to a recent survey, only 1% of the Russian population follows a vegetarian diet and over one third believe excluding meat from your diet is harmful to health. Despite this, the Greenwise vision was clear from the beginning: to become the leading players in plant-based products in Russia. 

Riding the protein wave

The Greenwise team creates products that don’t just imitate the taste and consistency of animal meat but are also versatile and affordable. By using plant proteins, including soy and wheat, they developed a product line of plant-based beef, chicken, and lamb jerky. These snacks contain up to 65% protein. The company’s production facility in the Russian Kaluga region uses innovative technology to create a high-fibrous structure. This helps to gives their meat alternatives chewiness and the texture of conventional meat.

100% Plant-based jerky products from Russian startup Greenwise 

When George, Julia, and Tim came to ProVeg Incubator, they wanted us to help them refine their business strategy. They were clear about their mission, had an attractive product, and were confident that they were the right team to execute.

During the (then) four months of our programme, the team operated between Moscow, where they were based, and Berlin. While with us in Berlin, they attended our exclusive workshops, connected with peers and expert mentors, and worked closely with our Incubator team to build their business. We also took them to exhibit at Seeds & Chips in Milan, Italy. This fair is the world’s leading food innovation summit, where companies can showcase products and validate ideas.  

Up, up, and away…

At the end of the programme, Greenwise pitched their startup in front of high-profile investors at our Demo Day closing event. Here, they surprised guests with a brand new product – Greenwise burgers – demonstrating their technological capabilities and making a clear statement that favorite foods can be made deliciously from plants. The judges awarded Greenwise second place for products and innovation. 

Plant-based burger patty from Greenwise launched at the ProVeg Incubator Demo Day in 2019

Since graduating from the Incubator, the team has continued to push forward and are becoming the rising stars of plant-based meat in Russia. In August 2019, they announced their market launch with a roll-out of their products in over 1,000 Russian stores. To date, their products can be purchased at over 2,000 locations throughout Russia. Their product line has also expanded and now includes three plant-based alternatives: high-fiber vegan meat, dried vegan meat, and vegan ham.

Almost a year since their first showcase, the grass is looking a lot greener over on the Greenwise side. However, we like to think that their journey is just beginning. The team continues to strive towards its goal, to consolidate themselves as key players in the plant-based industry in Russia and beyond. And in this way, move closer to the mission that brought them to ProVeg Incubator in the first place: to remove animals from the food system and create a fairer, healthier, and more sustainable system for us all.