Swiss company Planted has concocted a plant-based chicken that, well, tastes like chicken. The startup is part of a growing movement to create plant-based alternatives to meat, joining the likes of Impossible Burger, Beyond Meat, and various other companies offering plant-based beef products. But for Planted, chicken was first on the list to tackle.
Planted makes its “chicken” with just four ingredients: pea protein, pea fibers, sunflower oil, and water. Co-founders Pascal Bieri, Lukas Böni, and Eric Stirnemann aim to keep the ingredient list as simple as possible, while still being able to recreate the texture and flavor of real meat. Ultimately, they’d like to entice meat-eaters to consume less meat, offering up planted.chicken as a tasty, healthy and cruelty-free alternative. The company first began selling their plant-based meat in May, and so being new, its product is still priced as high-end meat. To learn more about Planted’s plans to scale up and tackle meat consumption, we put our questions to co-founder Pascal Bieri.
What inspired you and your co-founders to launch Planted?
I realized a long time ago that we absolutely have to do something about our meat consumption. The amounts – simply not sustainable. The way animals are kept and treated – nobody could possibly want that. Climate-change and pollution related to animal husbandry – same. But yet, people seem to disregard obvious facts and keep living the lives they’ve always known, eating what they’ve always eaten. I reached out to my cousin Lukas who was finishing his PhD in Food Science at ETH. It was there we met Eric who was already advanced in his research how to structure plant proteins in a way to resemble meat and its fibrous structure.
The market need for a product that is sustainable, cruelty-free, healthy and just overall delicious was evident. We also didn’t have to think twice before deciding that we wanted to make that product with ingredients that people would be familiar with – clean, healthy ingredients that don’t scare you when you read the ingredients list.
Can you tell us a little bit about the ingredients, process, and technology Planted is using to create plant-based meats?
We use four ingredients only to create our planted.chicken. It’s made out of pea protein, pea fibers, sunflower oil, and water. The proprietary process is based on a high moisture extrusion technology – the innovative process works by mixing the raw materials and selecting the right parameters every step of the way along the production process without the need for any chemical additives.
Why are you tackling chicken, in particular?
White meat is considered healthy and consumption keeps increasing. Consumers often don’t even realize that they eat chicken when they have it – and yet often consume antibiotic resistant bacteria when eating it. Chicken to us was the low-hanging fruit that needed to be taken care of before anything else.
How do the greenhouse gas emissions of your plant-based meat compare to traditional meat? Could you share some numbers with us?
While chicken is – like every animal – generally ineffective in turning plant-proteins into animal-meat, it’s still more efficient doing so than for example a cow. We’re generally very conservative when it comes to numbers. But our process uses 70% less land, emits ⅔ less greenhouse gas emissions, and uses 90% less water than going through the animal. We also have just started the process of scaling up our production, which should further increase these ratios.
What are some of the biggest obstacles facing Planted today?
As with a lot of early stage companies, we’re asking ourselves daily who are the right partners that share our values, mission, and drive. There’s a ton of industry interest, but choosing the right fit for each market we want to tackle is certainly of utmost importance to us at this stage.
What is the cost of the Planted products in comparison with traditional meat?
We’re currently pricing at high-end meat, however, this should change considerably in the near future as we’re scaling up our production. In the end it always comes down to one thing: plant-based meats create 2lbs of finished product out of 1lbs of plant-protein. This has to be more cost effective than taking a way bigger amount of plant-protein, feed it to an animal, grow the animal, transport it, slaughter and dismember it.
It all comes down to one root cause why meat is currently so cheap: government subsidies in basically all western countries that support growing crops for animal feed instead of growing crops for human nutrition. Basically, we’re all supporting this inefficiency with our taxes.
How did you source your funding as a startup? Which VCs or companies have invested in Planted?
We started out with a lot of support from ETH Zurich, and among other things received a Pioneer Fellowship. In the meantime we’re closing our seed round that should allow us to open a new production facility near Zurich, Switzerland. We’re backed mainly by powerful private investors, some with PE background, some industry.
Do you have plans in the works for new plant-based products?
We’re working on a number of new products all with one goal: creating a great tasting, clean, and healthy plant-based product that will make an impact on consumer behavior and therefore our planet. Our next one, closest to the finishing line is our tuna.