Consumer/Food/News/

This alternative meat startup’s secret ingredient? Olive oil

Spain’s Heura raises €16m to develop plant-based chicken, beef and pork products.

By Tim Smith in Barcelona

Heura’s plant-based chicken and beef products have taken the Spanish startup’s home market by storm. After just a year of retailing, the company’s ‘chicken’ strips, ‘meatballs’ and ‘beef’ burgers are now the country’s most-sold alternative meat products, according to cofounder and chief executive Marc Coloma.

Now the company has raised a €16m round from a mix of crowdfunding and international funds, including Impact Fooding, Capital V, Unovis, Lever VC and Green Monday. Angel investors from the world of football — Chris Smalling, Sergi Roberto and Cesc Fábregas — also joined the round.

Plant-based meat startups are benefiting from a societal shift in eating habits, with a recent survey suggesting that 39% of Brits plan to reduce their meat consumption. Investors are also taking note, with funding for European alt protein startups increasing by 178% — from €203m in 2019 to €566m in 2020. 

For Heura’s Coloma, the appeal of plant-based protein alternatives goes beyond the ethical and environmental concerns that are turning many away from meat.

“A lot of stakeholders see plant-based meats as a kind of Swiss Army knife in order to tackle global challenges. That includes global warming, but also food security, food justice, and improving our health,” he says.

“What we are trying to do here is to improve the concept of a burger, meatball or chicken, to make it sustainable — and produce it in a way that the whole world can eat it.”

An everyday meat alternative

Heura’s growth has been impressive since its launch in 2017. The startup reported revenues of €8m in 2020, triple its earnings from the previous year. It’s now operating in 16 countries.

Coloma believes that the success hasn’t just come from the taste of Heura’s products, but from their nutritional value as well.

“We feel that most companies have focused on creating tasty products that people want to eat. But we want to create products that people want to eat and can eat every day, so making them super nutritious,” he says.

Speaking warmly of the company’s Mediterranean roots, Coloma says the trick to creating healthy plant-based meat has rested on one key ingredient: olive oil.

“One of the amazing things about plant-based meat is that we can choose what source of fat we are using,” he says.

While many competitors use saturated fats —due to their solidity and stability at room temperature — Heura’s R&D team has developed a method for making olive oil into a solid, improving the nutritional value of its products.

“The result is an amazing juiciness, but with 85% less saturated fat than our competitors,” says Coloma. “We are using many fewer ingredients than our competitors. Our burger has 12 ingredients, while other competitors have more than 20.”

US and UK expansion

Coloma told Sifted that the injection of capital would be used to support R&D with a new plant-based pork product in mind, and also to facilitate the startup’s international growth with new hires.

Heura is putting particular emphasis on its UK expansion, which it describes as “one of the most important plant-based food markets in Europe,” with a mind to use the country as a springboard for a US launch.

“We are jumping to the UK in order to create global awareness — in English — about our mission and vision, in order to prove a concept there to then jump to the States,” says Coloma.

Tim Smith is Sifted’s Iberia correspondent. He tweets from @timmpsmith

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