GERMANY, Frankfurt. British veggie startup Meatless Farm is about to enter the nationwide market. Previously only available online and in individual Edeka and Rewe test markets, the company now wants to gain a foothold throughout Germany.
As a supplier of vegetarian meat alternatives, Meatless Farm (MF) has been active not only in its home market of Great Britain since it was founded five years ago. Almost half of total sales are now generated beyond the company's headquarters in Leeds. MF is represented in 26 countries. Compared to the veggie giants and stock market darlings Beyond Meat or Impossible Foods, MF is still rather a dwarf with a turnover of just under € 35 mill., but pure size is not the yardstick against which founder Morten Toft Bech wants to be measured. "I left the financial sector because it focuses on the wrong values," he explains in an interview with the Lebensmittelzeitung. Instead, he says, he is driven by the question of how the much-cited climate goals can be implemented in practice in concrete terms.
Since minced meat is used almost daily by many families, it was obvious to the father of three to provide a meat-free substitute for it. This was ready for the market a year after the company was founded in 2016. Since then, Bech has built up a company that covers the entire UK market from food retail to food service and restaurants.
MF had just begun supplying pub operator Wetherspoons with 400,000 burger patties a month when Covid-19 crippled the country. Until then, foodservice accounted for 40% of sales generated in the U.K. "Most recently, it was maybe 2%," Bech says. On top of that, there was the Brexit. Still, in 2020, the startup touted a 149% increase in sales in its home market. 135 employees work to advance the brand. They include industry leaders such as former Lidl top managers Jesper Hoyer as chairman, Erwin Meijer as head of expansion and Michael Nieberl as COO. From the consumer goods industry, Lone Thomsen (Coca-Cola), Ferry Kamp (Unilever) and Michael Hunter (Kellogg) have joined Meatless Farm.
To fuel the expansion, £38 mill. has been raised from investors over the past three years. A further round of funding is due to run this year, in which private individuals can also participate. The target is around GBP 70 mill. To deliver on its sustainability promise, Meatless Farm has built its own production facility in Calgary - in the middle of one of Canada's largest pea-growing regions. "This was necessary so that we no longer had to transport the frozen products for the US market by ship across the Atlantic." Bech has been supplying the US market since its first listing with Whole Foods in the fall of 2019, when MF's line of ground beef, burgers and sausages was added directly to all 600 stores. A company collaboration is in place in Vietnam to serve the Asian market.
The market entry in Germany is managed from the Netherlands. A new plant protein facility has just come on stream at the European headquarters in Almere. It, too, is part of the company's philosophy of keeping its carbon footprint as low as possible and its supply chain as transparent as possible when producing healthy, animal-free meat alternatives. This has also convinced the Real Madrid soccer club. Its commitment to Meatless Farm has an idealistic, not a financial, background, says Bech. "They have Audi, Adidas and Emirates as sponsors, and they brought us on board because they also think something has to change."
The impetus for the collaboration came from Meatless Farm's humorous advertising campaign in the UK, he said. The puns with the company initials M.F. had so amused the players that shortly afterwards Bech's phone rang and a future collaboration was discussed. The brand ambassadors, centered around midfield star Toni Kroos, will be used to support the company's expansion in Europe, which will start from Germany.