Great news for Russia was announced earlier this month as the country is now set to host its first plant-based incubator programme. In collaboration with ProVeg International, the newly-formed Association of Alternative Food Producers (AAFPP), has been established by Julia Marsel and Tim Ponomarev, two of the founders of the ProVeg Incubator alumni startup Greenwise.
The incubator, based in the Moscow and Kaluga region, will be ready for its first cohort of startups this spring. We were excited to speak with Co-Founders Julia and Tim about this excellent development for the Russian plant-based market.
As a newly formed organisation, please tell us what the AAFPP is and what you do?
AFFPP stands for Association of alternative food products producers. It’s a non-profit organization for manufacturers and developers of alternatives to foods of animal origin. Being a first alt-protein NGO in Russia and the CIS countries, its aim is to unite people who’re transforming nutrition.
We’re helping enthusiastic, like-minded companies to grow and collectively develop the market for alternative products in Russia and Russian-speaking countries.
You claim to be an industry first in Russia, why do you think now is the right time to start?
Over the last two years, we’ve seen a considerable growth of the alt-protein sector in the Russian-speaking countries. Today, plant-based foods are produced not only by vegan manufactures but also by big meat & oil processing companies. We’ve witnessed how rapidly plant-based products appeared on the federal retail chain stores shelves and how dashingly they’re taking over the HoReCa segment.
At the same time, we see that many alt-protein companies use outdated marketing tools, they don’t operate fresh market data, target solely vegans and vegetarians and neglect flexitarian consumers. We believe that in order to see this market flourish, we need to provide producers with knowledge and expertise that AAFPP’s partners have and we, as ProVeg Incubator alumni, have gained.
You’re preparing to welcome your first start-ups on board, can you tell us some more about them?
It’s a little bit too early to talk about the first cohort of AAFPP’s incubator since we plan to launch it in late spring of 2021. Right now we’re in the process of recruiting members and partners of the Association and we think it will take 1-2 more months.
What feelings do you have about the broader plant-based scene in Russia at present?
Russian and the CIS alternative food market is very young. Despite that, it’s been growing faster than we expected.
For example, in January 2019 the plant-based meat market consisted of four vegan companies. These products were being sold in niche vegan stores in the outskirts of big cities. Today, plant-based meat is produced by 12 companies, three of which are meat-processing businesses and two are oil processors. Meat alternatives are easily accessed and can be found in every retail chain and online marketplace. Overall, alt-protein foods are going from niche to mainstream.
We’re obviously thrilled not only to witness it, but to be at the origin of this change.
You were founders of Greenwise, one of the very first plant-based meat companies in Russia. What skills or experiences from this business have you learned which will help you in your new role?
The Russian market lags behind the European market by 3-5 years and the US by 5-7 years. We were fortunate to take part in the 2nd cohort of ProVeg Incubator and have our vision set by the more developed markets. For us, graduating from the Incubator was like time-travelling. We saw and experienced things that are only just about to happen in our market. This is why we’re more prepared than our competitors – we can anticipate events and be the drivers of FoodTech in Russia.
Although two years have passed, we’re still closely in touch with the Incubator, as well as with European, Asian and American plant- and cell-based community. This connection allows us to be aware of all the trends in our sector and obtain unique insights.
Please elaborate on your relationship with ProVeg.
As for Greenwise, ProVeg Incubator was one of the most important milestones. The program boosted us and allowed us to become the leading manufacturer of plant-based meats on our market.
In regard to AAFPP, ProVeg Incubator became a key partner of the Association with whose help and based on whose expertise/knowledge we’ll launch Russia’s and the CIS’s first alternative protein market.
What are the most important trends for the AAFPP looking to the future?
The most important trend for AAFPP is food transformation: to move away from conventional meat production to the production of plant-based alternatives, and then to cultivated ones.