The ‘European BeyondMeat’ is Catalan: the vegetable meat of Heura aspires to be world leader of the alternative protein
The years ’10 were those of rise of video-based social platforms, the cryptocurrencies, the sports… or the veganism, a nutritional choice on the rise that is linked to a combative lifestyle that transcends the kitchen. In that decade was also born Ivy, which last month turned four years old, and whose CEO and founder, Marc Coloma, defines as “a social mission turned into a company, not the other way around”. Heura is one of the companies that manufactures vegetable meat and whose headquarters are in Barcelona, a few steps from the Sagrada Familia.
Indeed, Marc himself has a long history as an activist in defense of ecology and animal rights, among other causes. And one day he decided to become an entrepreneur. “One day I felt that to make certain environmental problems represented by livestock obsolete, the best solution was to do it through technology,” he explains in conversation with Engadget. No sooner said than done: Foods for Tomorrow, the company behind the Heura brand, thus joined the path marked by Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods, and other plant-based meat companies. And he doesn’t want to settle for becoming someone important in Spain: his sights are much higher.
We love meat, but …
“We love meat, but it has an impact that everyone loses,” says Marc. that of sustainability and efficiency is in fact one of the two main axes of veganism, together with that of the ethics of the animal industry. “That idea of how to create meat directly from vegetables, so that everyone wins, was what led to the germ of Heura.”
The creation of vegetable meat has a much lower impact per kilo of product obtained than the traditional meat industry. In water used, in necessary territory, in consumption of legumes and soybeans and in CO2 emissions.
However, although the number of people who adopt a vegan diet is on an upward trend, the rise of veganism or omnivorous diets that reduce meat consumption have not been able to reverse the continued growth of world meat production during the last sixty years ( since these data are recorded).
The company started up in 2017 with two employees. In 2018 there were already eight, they closed 2019 with 26, and they ate the nougat in 2020 being 38. Their projection for the end of this year is to reach 80 employees. They have also had exponential growth in their income, but not yet in their profits: although the 2020 estimate was eight million euros invoiced, the company admits that it will still be in the red. In 2019, the last year with results delivered in the Mercantile Registry, revenues were 2.5 million euros, with half a million euros in losses.
Marc explains these figures with his own vision of the company: “In the end, we are accelerating the future. We are having investors who have the same vision as us about what the future of protein should look like, and we are deciding to build a bigger impact. And we do that by overinvesting in talent, in R&D, in communication, in expansion… And we plan the next few years with the priority of impacting the market, not profitability ”.
Said the above in another way: they are still in the recruitment phase with sufficient support so that they do not yet worry about making a profit. “To have a great impact we need to invest a lot in bringing the future closer. Lately we have added investors with that vision, one of them is a venture capital San Francisco leader in alternative protein ”.
Among the Heura investors that have been made public we find several that may fit that description. New Crop Capital, although it is based in Washington DC, it invested both in Heura and in several startups related to food and vegetable meat: Alpha Foods, Memphis Meats or Good Catch among others, although none as popular and profitable as Beyond Meat, who went public in 2019.
Is also Capital V, from Dutch Michiel van Deursen, who defines himself as a “vegan investor” and in fact invested at the time in the Canadian The Very Good Butcher, also a public company, among other companies with the same profile.
All that “overinvestment” and growth without profitability (for now) is aimed at a great international expansion. It is the mantra that is repeated throughout the conversation with Marc: the aspiration is to consolidate internationally, and their main market in five or ten years time they believe and want the United States to be, today dominated by Beyond Meat.
Heura has increased its turnover by leaps and bounds, but still does not care about profitability, only about growth
On how to compete with those who reign today, Marc explains that his approach is to improve the taste, nutritional value and price. “We believe that this will be the formula that will lead us to generate something very differentiating at a global level. The players That started they did it from the point of view of San Francisco, we do it from the Mediterranean, with one of the best culinary, flavor, health, etc. cultures. And with one of the longest-lived companies in the world, the Spanish one ”.
The price factor is not trivial: 160-gram packages cost 4.49 euros. That is to say, at 28 euros per kilo. In similar portions, the chicken costs between 6 and 8 euros per kilo depending on the cut. Heura’s “meat” can be bought in higher quantities in herbalists, 2.5 kilos for about 48 euros, or 7.5 for 165. The price per kilo is decreasing, but it is still well above that of the usual meat. The main product is still prepared and spiced pieces to try to improve the flavor and, incidentally, better justify the price. Marketing is careful to make the customer salivate like Pavlov’s dog.
According to Marc, they have achieved juiciness from liquid olive oil, structuring it into a solid mass. Something that reduces the amount of saturated fats present in their products compared to those of other manufacturers and is part of what they call “third generation vegetable proteins” (it is not a standard categorization): before there were the first vegetable proteins, fermented and coagulated from soybeans or tofu. Then came the dry textured, which sensually did not reach the point of meat. Marc believes that his product does so with that generational leap.
The manufacture of Heura is made between the Netherlands and Spain. “We have different partners industrials according to our production line ”, says the CEO. But does not respond to exactly where your product is manufactured in Spain. “We have not communicated it yet. We will do it shortly. We can only say that it is in the Mediterranean area. “
In the Mediterranean area there is also the headquarters of the main food distributor in Spain: Mercadona. We ask Marc to imagine that the genie of the lamp appears to him and grants him a wish: that Juan Roig tell them that he wants their product at Mercadona, or that Heura find partners industrial companies that allow them to multiply their production. He does not hesitate and gives a response consistent with his previous speech: “We have an international vision. I would always receive Juan Roig with a smile, but I would prioritize the industrial capacity to be able to take the product beyond the Spanish borders ”.
Heura’s obsession is to maximize its industrial production capacity and grow internationally
Heura is not sold at Mercadona, but it is at Alcampo, Carrefour or Eroski, among others; who Marc says they are your main clients. It is also in other minority surfaces or in others dedicated to vegan distribution; as well as in restaurant franchises such as UDON. An important objective for the company is to ensure that those who do not have a vegan conscience or concern about the consumption of resources from the meat industry cross your particular Rubicon by trying the vegetable alternative. Something that for the most orthodox can have the appearance of an ordeal. Not for Marc. “We are already at a time when the majority of people who fall into that category are people who eat meat. The idea that it is only people who eat tofu or seitan is broken,” says the CEO.
The international expansion that is so high on the priority list has concrete figures: in 2020 they started with a presence in six countries and ended with twelve. For 2021 they plan “a lot of focus on France, Italy, Poland, Mexico and the United Kingdom as the main markets. We are also expanding into Asia ”. The future will tell how far Heura goes, and whether by 2025 or 2030 they have become the world leaders in the alternative protein they aspire to be.