Plantcraft launches vegan deli meats in the US

Plantcraft, a Hungarian alt-protein startup developing vegan deli meats, has launched in the US. The food-tech company, which joined the ProVeg Incubator in 2019, produces cold cuts and pâté alternatives from unique plant-based ingredients. We spoke to the founders about what they’ve been up to recently.

Despite being founded in Europe, and the founders living in Hungary and New Zealand, Plantcraft has chosen the United States for its official launch. The food-tech company is one of the first in the world that is dedicated to producing clean-label, vegan deli meats.

The first products hitting American retail shelves are the pâté alternatives, which will be available in mild and spicy flavours, with ingredients including green bananas, golden linseed, and grapeseed oil. Other items in the range include salami, pepperoni, and other deli slices – with 16 new products in the pipeline.

Kati Ohens and Csaba Hetenyi started Plantcraft in 2018. The duo then joined the ProVeg Incubator in 2019, motivated by their belief that food is the “single strongest lever to optimise human health and environmental sustainability”. We caught up with Kati to talk about Plantcraft’s debut, why they chose to launch in the US, and what the future holds for this exciting alt-protein company.

Kati, can you tell us about some of the highlights from Plantcraft’s last six months?

Kati: Plantcraft has been hard at work building a strong sales team and scaling production and distribution of our pâté in the US.

We partnered with a number of flagship stores and chains, and had a great launch at Erewhon Markets in South California and Plum Markets in Chicago. We are also currently working with key retailers in several other states.

Meanwhile, we have been developing new product lines with our updated formulation. We can’t wait to introduce our pepperoni, in mild and spicy versions, at the Pizza Expo in Las Vegas.

Vegan deli meats from Plantcraft
Pâté alternatives from alt-protein company Plantcraft

Why did you choose the US market for your launch?

Kati: Europe is a very fragmented market, especially when looking at our category. We are focusing on vegan deli meats including salami, pepperoni, pâté, deli slices, ham, and hot dogs. These products have long and varied histories in each of the European countries with geographically specific flavour profiles, consumption formats, and even meal occasions.

When moving between European markets, there are also language and cultural differences to consider. In contrast, the US is a very large, uniform, and balanced market – which is easier for a startup to tackle. 

It’s true that there are already big players in the US plant-based sector. However, this space is expanding so quickly that we are actually pushing the boundaries of this promising new market together. 

Did you face any regulatory challenges when preparing for the launch?

Kati: If you mean difficulties around naming, for example using the word pepperoni, we luckily didn’t have to face these issues in the US. On the other hand, it’s a new category so it’s not as clearly regulated by the FDA as meat-based products. It was pretty hard to figure out how to determine serving sizes, for instance, as it was unclear to which category the plant-based pâté belonged.

Vegan deli meats presented at ProVeg Incubator Demo Day
Plantcraft founders Kati Ohens and Csaba Hetenyi pitching at the ProVeg Incubator Startup Demo Day

What would you say is the most important aspect when developing new food products? How do you get it right?

Kati: In the food industry, taste is king, regardless of how noble a mission is. When consumers, and by that I mean investors, customers, and retailers, enjoy the product, we know we’re halfway there.

For our products specifically, texture and mouthfeel are just as important as taste. Our food-tech department spends most of its time on getting this right. We have conducted a lot of flavour profiling, and we used culinary advisors to advise us on our final recipes. Luckily, it helps that we come from an Eastern European background, where people have produced tasty deli meats for centuries. We just had to make them plant-based!

Of course, behind all of this, we are deeply dedicated to our mission. We believe strongly in creating a world where our planet and all its creatures – human and non-human – can be respected and protected. 

Does the promotion of plant-based brands differ from other food products?

Kati: At the end of the day, the same branding principles can be used for plant-based foods as any other brand. You need to find a unique angle, create a tribe, and work out the emotional value of your brand.

The only difference I experience is that there is a much stronger consumer bond and loyalty with a mission-driven brand. It is especially rewarding to see this, and we are really grateful to our consumers and to our followers. 

What are Plantcraft’s plans for the coming year? 

Kati: We will shortly be entering our next fundraising stage. In this round, we will raise funds to scale up sales in the US and to enter the EU markets. We’ll also be focusing on expanding our R&D in order to bring our next 16 products to market.

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