PHW Group: “We Have Always Taken Unconventional Paths.”

Marcus-Keitzer: New board member for "alternative protein sources"
© Timo Lutz Werbefotografie

Many milk and meat producers are aware of the growth of vegan products in the market and are adapting their ranges accordingly. The PHW Group has gone one step further and established a new business area called “alternative protein sources”, which includes involvement with SuperMeat and the distribution for Beyond Meat. We asked Marcus Keitzer – the new board member for alternative protein sources – about vegan developments within the PHW Group.

How are Wiesenhof’s vegan-label products developing?
The vegan products are a small but quite important part of our portfolio. We want to position ourselves more broadly in this area and are confident that we can achieve corresponding success there. Of course, meat substitutes are still a niche market and will tend to remain so. However, niche markets are still attractive. We are satisfied with the development of our veggie range and are continually working on further listings, closely monitoring the market. According to the IRI Symphony, growth in meat substitutes has increased – sales increased by 8.6% in the first quarter of 2018 compared to the first quarter of 2017.

Where do you primarily sell your vegan products?
We offer vegan products to the food industry as well as the out-of-home market. That’s why we recently presented the two high-protein products Veggie Power Burger and Veggie Power Snaps at Internorga for the out-of-home market.

Since the beginning of July, you have been responsible for “alternative protein sources” on the Executive Board. What are your tasks there?
The newly created “alternative protein sources” area will bundle our existing activities in this area at board level and thus take their increasing importance into account. In the future, we will focus even more strongly on this area and will try to gradually expand it into an important business area alongside the core poultry business, both through our own product development and through strategic partnerships and targeted acquisitions. We will continue to look for promising new approaches and business ideas and work with new and innovative start-ups.

Which alternative protein sources will Wiesenhof consider next? Insects, maybe?
It’s true that we are closely monitoring developments and believe that insect food has a future. We are holding some interesting discussions with various market participants, but have nothing concrete to announce at present.

When will you launch your first SuperMeat products?
SuperMeat’s approach to research is quite practical. They are focused on bringing meatmix products to the market as quickly as possible and are not trying – as many others are – to make the finest chicken breast fillets. The scientists just want to create marketable products within three to five years.

For which regions do you have the distribution rights for Beyond Meat products?
To begin with, the PHW Group will take over some sales and distribution in the German market. We will start marketing Beyond Burgers in the catering industry – the first burgers will be on the market in August. Further sales channels will follow later.

Can we expect further news about alternative protein sources this year?
It’s incredibly exciting what’s currently happening on the worldwide market in this area. And in my new role as board member for alternative protein sources, I am constantly dealing with these questions. It is part of the DNA of the PHW Group to proceed with caution, to examine offers intensively and not to make hasty decisions. But if we are convinced and enthusiastic about a company or start-up in this area, then we will act quickly and invest as well. There is, however, nothing specific I can tell you at the moment.

More and more conventional meat and dairy producers are switching wholly or partly to plant-based products. How do you assess the state of the meat market? Will meat producers have to look around for additional pillars (e.g. vegan products) in the future in order to remain competitive?

As a company, we have always taken unconventional paths. Long before the organic boom, we looked at alternative approaches to animal agriculture, enabling consumers to make conscious choices in favour of specific concepts. It all started in 2000 with pasture-raised free-range chicken, followed by organic chicken in 2002. In 2011, we incorporated the wealth of experience gained here into the Privathof Poultry concept, which focuses on more animal protection and bears the label of the German Animal Protection Association. In March 2015, we launched a diverse range of vegan products to offer consumers who want a meat-free diet a good alternative to poultry meat. Since the beginning of the year, we have been going one step further and developing meat from cell cultures. Why?

We believe in growth through diversity. Our task as a food manufacturer is to create as many different choices as possible; we offer the consumer a wide range of products, from conventionally produced poultry meat to privately farmed poultry and a vegan range. This is why we’ve chosen SuperMeat and a distribution partnership with Beyond Meat. Basically, we want to keep our finger on the pulse of the times and become aware of possible future market opportunities at an early stage. Poultry meat will remain our core business. However, we are broadening our product range and defining ourselves as a supplier of high-quality proteins. And as soon as in vitro alternatives become available, they will certainly play an increasing role. However, we do not believe in black and white scenarios; we believe that traditionally produced meat will still have a huge market in 30 years’ time.