Planted, a young Swiss food tech company, claims it is Europe’s fastest-growing alternative protein company. The company raised 70 million Swiss Francs in September 2022 to expand its business. Planted employs 200 people and is growing quickly. They launch their award-winning plant-based chicken and pork products in new European food service markets and retail outlets every few weeks.

Food Inspiration visited an open-glasshouse production facility on an old industrial site in Kemptthal (Switzerland), near Zurich. Fascal Hukker, a Swiss-based editor, met Vicky Kummer (Head of Corporate Communications) to discuss their long-term vision and success.

What is the origin story of Planted?

“Planted is an extremely young company. A Swiss Federal Institute of Technology professor introduced the four founders to each other because they all wanted to create a healthier alternative to meat products. They received startup funding through the university. Then they researched all possible proteins, including sunflower seeds, algae, and yellow peas. Because of their similar nutritional values and fibrousness to real chicken, yellow peas were the perfect choice for their first product, Planted. Chicken. They developed their prototype in 2018.

“From the beginning, the founders wanted their line protein substitutes. This is still their guiding principle. Planted products are 100% vegetarian. They are free from animal products, preservatives, antibiotics, GMO and gluten ingredients, and animal products. After the prototype was developed and launched to market, 7 million CHF funding was secured. In 2020, Judith Wemmer joined their executive board.

What are your goals?

Christoph Jenny, the co-founder of it, strongly believes that current plant-based meat technology will only be able to cover up to 1% -3 % of meat consumption and thus are not changing the negative impact of the meat industry. Consumers often criticize plant-based meat for being bland, expensive, and containing questionable ingredients. Our goal is to make the market more competitive and to promote plant-based meat alternatives. These, along with other initiatives, can potentially replace at least 20%-30% of current meat consumption. It is crucial to create “better meat than the animals do” for meat-eaters to switch. This will result in better taste, price, less environmental impact, and healthier ingredients. We aim to make a real difference by keeping these parameters in mind.

What are the most important factors consumers must consider when switching to meat substitutes?

Consumers can decide whether to purchase our Planted products based on their taste, sustainability, and price. The price issue is particularly complex. Many consumers aren’t sure why a pea-based product isn’t more affordable than an animal-based product. As we grow, we are focusing on lowering the cost point. We were able to lower the price by a third in recent years (from 45 Swiss Francs to 32 Swiss Francs* per kg), and now we want to reduce that figure to 15 to 20 Swiss Swiss francs.

“Lobbying has been crucial in achieving a higher market price. We are lobbying the Swiss government to correct the absurdity that farmers who sell their peas for human consumption to Planted don’t receive any subsidy. But if they sell their peas as cattle feed to another farmer, they get government money. The Swiss Federal Council ratified the 2022 Agricultural Ordinance package on the 1st of January, 2023. Individual crop subsidies will be available to producers who cultivate plant-based proteins for human intake in Switzerland.

The USA’s plant-based meat category saw little growth between 2022 and 2023. What do you think the European market will look like in 2022?

The shift to a more plant-based food system is a dynamic process that should be pursued over time. It takes time to make people eat better. This is a long-term transition that will have highs and lows. The number of products that can be used as meat substitutes in Europe is increasing rapidly, particularly in Germany and Switzerland, where new products are launched every week. According to statistics, the European alternative protein market will grow by 8% annually until 2027. We aim to fill a significant market share by creating delicious products that people will continue eating.

“We want consumers to be able to try our products and purchase them easily. Accessibility is critical in all aspects. This is important for consumers to understand your product and be able to try it at events. Our open slaughterhouse annex butchery is available to everyone. It is a factory, an office building, a restaurant, and an event space all in one. People often comment that the products could be more appealing when they arrive from the production line. But I ask them if they’ve ever been to a slaughterhouse to see how the chicken breast filet and pork chop were made.

I planted recently received funding of 70 million CHF to expand its business. What are your next steps?

“We welcomed new investors during our last round of funding. New investors bring new expectations. These expectations must be met. It is essential to stay focused. While we could spend money all over the place, we must decide where to put our money in the long term. Because we cannot keep up with demand growth, scaling production is the primary goal. We can sell our products even though we only produce one ton per hour of plant meat. We are looking at opening a new European factory in the future. Benelux will be our next market in 2023. According to statistics, Dutch consumers are open-minded about trying new products from plant-based ingredients.

How vital is food service in achieving your growth goals?

Food service is a critical factor in getting the product to the masses. Our sales strategy for food service is to get into our customers’ kitchens as quickly as possible. This is the best way to get past the first hurdle of chefs not being able to use our products. We would instead cook together than speak. Collaboration with chefs is another crucial aspect of our sales strategy. Our team includes 65 chefs, product designers, and scientists who work closely together. We work closely with Michelin-starred chefs such as Tim Raue. We developed the whole chicken breast together; he taught us how to cook, serve and use it. We also collaborate with clients like Deutsche Bahn to create the products and dishes they require in their stores. We are more complex than other producers who sell more traditional products. Our products are new and need more explanation and convincing. Collaborations are valuable because they allow us to share our knowledge.

Where does Planted get its ingredients?

We use only a handful of ingredients in our main Planted products: yellow peas and oat fiber, water, rapeseed oils, and (plant-based) vitamin B12. Our flavored products can also be enriched with natural spices. We are proud to say that all components of our products are made in Kemptthal. We do not buy parts from other suppliers, which gives us complete control over the product from beginning to end. Our competitors can’t claim this unique selling point, especially in B2B channels.

Our ultimate goal is to source all ingredients from Swiss soil. All our ingredients are from Western Europe, and the rapeseed oil and water used in this recipe were sourced from Switzerland. It’s more complicated with yellow peas, oat fiber, and water because we require large quantities. We celebrated our first success in local pea sourcing through a partnership with the Office of Agriculture, multiple Swiss farmers, and many other agricultural producers. We are excited that farmers are switching to other protein crops through this pilot and changing to the subsidy system. Although the pilot was a success, there is still much to do. We are proud to be a founding member of the Swiss Alternative Protein Association and actively promote alternative proteins in the political arena.

What can we expect from the product portfolio side of things?

“Our current product categories include Planted. Chicken and Planted. Kebab as well as Planted pulled, Planted roast, Planted. schnitzel, and Planted. Roast. We have special varieties, such as Planted. Chicken sesame for food service partners to meet the demand for Asian dishes. The most popular product for retail customers is the Planted pulled porc. Our range of ‘plain products,’ which need to be seasoned, is most prevalent in food service. Our focus shortly will be on two things. We focus on whole cuts to make a product line as versatile as meat. We want convenience products that are as accessible as possible. Next on our comfort food and snack wishlist are burger patties and sausages.

There has been much debate about how to name alternative meat products. Which is your opinion?

“We want consumers to be able to adapt to a new way to eat that easily is part and parcel of a sustainable lifestyle. We call our products after their animal names so that you can immediately use them and cook them. A fantasy name can confuse and make it difficult for consumers to buy your product. You must keep things simple for the initial adoption phase and make your product more accessible. We want to be able to name our category and not use meat. We are sure that this will become a reality within a few years.