eco eco interview with Planted co-founder Pascal Bieri
Key words: Alternative-meats, entrepreneurship, food, health
Philip: Hey Pascal, tell us:how did it all get started?
Pascal: After finishing my studies at the University of St. Gallen I knew that I didn't want to end up in the financial sector, so I was looking for industries that produce something. I ended up at Migros Industries, went from departments making dairy to Bischofszell and then to the US with Chocolate Frey, where I spent three years living abroad, organising the supply chain and logistics.
One day I was at a bar eating a plant-based burger and the chef told me that these are not really healthy and have an ingredients list of hell, as I call it.. I came up with the idea of a clean plant based version of meat – so I contacted my cousin Lukas who did a PHD in food science at ETH and asked him what he thinks. During my next trip to Switzerland we stuck our heads together and came up with a basic two pager that was describing what we tried to create: meat from plants in a clean and natural way, but keeping all the positive attributes.
Then we got to know Eric, he did his masters thesis on texturising plant proteins, and when we tasted the product he did for his masters thesis we were like, "this is better than the plant-based chicken I've had in the US" that's pretty much how the project started. I left my job in the US and came back and we started Planted.
Then Chris joined us who’s the mind behind the branding, and with great experience in M&A – which helped us tremendously with fundraising.
Philip: How big is the team?
Pascal: We are 13 full-time, of which 9 are food scientists at ETH or had studied there, really getting the science right. I don't know if you've tasted the product yet?
Philip: No not yet. Hopefully in the next weeks.
Pascal: Ok so what we do really well is the fibre structure. Our first product is our planted.chicken and we have an incredible 'pulled pork' coming out in December. If we want to copy meat we have to understand the science behind every little bit of the plant based structure, which is what we are pushing.
Philip: I read online that the team is not vegetarian or Vegan, or maybe some of them are by now as you have more team members... I eat meat all the time but I'm becoming more and more interested to try alternatives, there's a lot of Mediterranean and middle eastern options I'm discovering. However, I think a lot of times vegetarian options I've seen are just not appealing, and they are sold in an unattractive way. You guys combined Planted chicken with really tasty looking recipes and give good ideas, getting people motivated and making it interesting. You think this could be due to seeing from both sides?
Pascal: We have one guy on the team who is vegan, few vegetarians, but everyone else is at least a hardcore flexitarian. We realise that if we want to attract meat eaters to our product, we need to have a really tasty product, and not just a mediocre tasting meat analogue, because they won't stick with it long term.
Philip: You touched a bit about the fibre structure, what are the possibilities and limits? Would something like fish be possible?
Pascal: Actually we are working on that. I think it tastes ok, it’s 'canned tuna' but it isn't where we want it to be at for a meat eater to say this is an alternative. This is the goal, like it must taste better than the average tuna you can buy, because otherwise it's just another alternatives and not a great tasting one. Through our approach with fibres, we have the option of making them longer, shorter, thicker, thinner basically going from as thin as a with fish, all the way to beef.
Philip: Currently I think you sell online and are available in certain restaurants in Switzerland, what are the next goals looking forward, what's the long term vision.
Pascal: Long term: To make the best tasting proteins, mid term to: replicate meat from plants. Why is this different? We believe that at one point we as consumers will not want a replicate of a dead animal but just a great tasting product, whatever protein source it comes from that helps your body to do whatever you want the body to do. Be well nourished, be functional for sports, activities, or great for digestion.
Philip: referring to a recent instagram post that said: you are science focused vs putting science in the food. could you explain this?
Pascal: We want to use science to better understand how to recreate certain foods, and structures. We see ourselves as a technology company, that understands how plant based proteins, fibers, water, oil anything plant based interacts with each other. The more you understand this the better the product. Using the scientific approach we are getting closer and closer. That's part of our DNA, right now we have our chicken version 1.5 out, we are working really hard to get 2.0 for December, meaning the colour will be on another level. Right now its whitish like chicken, it will have an even better mouth feel, it will have B12,
Philip: Just made me think, there are many different qualities of chicken so what's your standard you compare it to? Maybe a French Bresse Chicken?
Pascal: We are often hearing that we are at a chicken leg which is kind of soft in your mouth. Working towards a breast, where we have different fibers going in different directions.
Philip: How long is the shelf life?
Pascal: If it's frozen it's nine months or probably longer. But fresh to restaurants we say 20 days in the fridge. Once cooked, best to eat it right away, the next day it will be a bit dry, just like animal meats.
Philip: No risks like Salmonella?
Pascal: All the risks that come from animals are avoided.
Philip: How is it in terms of pricing? Is it comparable to regular chicken?
Pascal: In food you make a lot of impact with pricing, that's the sad truth, but a lot of people have to check their wallets before they buy food. However there is also an increasing group of people spending a higher amount of their paycheck for great tasting, healthy and sustainable food. We are probably targeting that segment first, before going into the mass market.
We are selling for 25 CHF (25$) per kilo to restaurants. Our online store is a lot more expensive but that's because we ship it to you for free. the Swiss postal service takes 19CHF (19$) for an overnight delivery. Long term what we argue all the time is that we take one plant protein and make two grams of meat, half of it is water, same with chicken, however, with chicken its 5-7g of protein to make 1g so our conversion rate is so much more effective, yet we are more expensive, the reason for this is also that farming is heavily subsidised, the feed of animals, the animals themselves, thus making meat prices lower.
On top of this there is an incredible efficient supply chain, in the modern slaughter house, there is no one there that makes good money. Which is effective if you run the slaughter house, however I don't think any consumer would like to see what the reality of a slaughter house looks like.
Philip: A bit about ETH, it's known worldwide, it's one of the leading institutions, are they particularly big in this field of food science or are of new foods solutions? Is it a good support/ecosystem for you guys?
Pascal: Yes it is, we love the support we get there, I think ETH like us there as well as a spin off. Food wise there are a few schools internationally that are renown and ETH is certainly one of them. Our goal is not to hire only from ETH, our goal is to have the best people we can get, they might be from different schools.
Philip: Regarding the nutritional values. I think there is a fear especially amongst non vegetarians that they will not get full enough, or not get the required nutrition. How does your product compare to chicken?
Pascal: Our 'chicken' has 26.7 grams of protein per 100grams, which is a little more than chicken has. Further the amino acid profile is similar to chicken which helps to make it a full valued protein we also have some dietary fibers in our product which come directly from the plant fibers , 4.4g per 100 which technically would be considered digestion friendly, we don't use that claim but we could. We fulfil all the value propositions that the chicken or meat does, but without antibiotic resistant bacteria, no salmonella, cholesterol, basically a lot more healthy than meat.
Philip: One question we tend to ask most people we interview: What are some tips you have for other people that are trying to combine entrepreneurship and sustainability?
Pascal: Most importantly, don't fake what you truly believe in. Even though I might have not always acted as the most environmentally friendly individual, I think I always understood that we only have one planet, and we need to change something as a people to preserve it somehow. So there are people that fake sustainability, and I think at some point it shows. Focus on a different business model and don't just yell sustainability all over the place. It will show, if your company is truly doing something good.
Philip: Last question: If you could have lunch with anyone in the world, who would it be with?
Pascal: I think Richard Branson would be a really interesting one, I admire his energy and go-getter attitude. And I guess somehow I would also like to have lunch with a politician that has an impact on the world. I would love to understand some of these egos a little better – I feel like we could do so much good if it wasn’t for personal or sometimes national vanities…