Planteneers is a young startup formed last Autumn when Hamburg’s Stern-Wywiol Gruppe turned the plant-based unit of its subsidiary Hydrosol into a separate company. Headquartered in Ahrensburg, Germany, the company produces custom system solutions for plant-based alternatives to meat, sausage and fish products, as well as cheese, dairy products and deli foods.
With revenues of over 500 million euros and some 1700 employees around the globe, Stern-Wywiol Gruppe is one of the world’s most successful international suppliers of food & feed ingredients.
Dr. Matthias Moser, CEO of the Food Ingredients Division of Stern-Wywiol Gruppe, tells vegconomist about the first 100 days of Planteneers.
Last year brought special challenges, not just for the industry but for the world as a whole. Was it a good decision to found a new company right in the middle of the corona pandemic – especially in view of the fact that leading international fairs like FIE were cancelled?
Conditions for the market entry could naturally have been better. But we’re quite satisfied with how the start went. Planteneers has developed nicely. With the general insecurity due to the novel virus and the pandemic situation, aspects like sustainability and health have gained a new importance. And so despite, or perhaps because of, the pandemic we’ve received many interesting inquiries from new customers, domestic and international. What’s more, we didn’t start from ground zero, but were able to build on experience from Hydrosol.
What does that mean in practical terms?
Over six years ago, Hydrosol brought to market the first functional systems for making plant-based alternatives to cheese and sausage. Since then, both our product range and our expertise in this new market have grown immensely. Over time we have become an established international expert for plant-based alternatives.
Wouldn’t it have been much easier to just expand on Hydrosol’s existing successful market position, instead of founding a new company?
No, we’re convinced of the value of focusing on customers and their applications. It would not have been possible to implement this strategy under the Hydrosol umbrella. Hydrosol specialises in stabilising and texturing foods, including traditional dairy products, meat, sausage and fish products, and their plant-based alternatives. With Planteneers we’ve definitely moved beyond the field of just stabilising and texturing. We focus on the development of trendy product concepts in growth categories. Unlike with Hydrosol, our ingredients are not used in tiny doses to improve certain properties of the final product, but instead they ARE the final product, more or less.
What are your goals with Planteneers?
As an independent subsidiary within Stern-Wywiol Gruppe, Planteneers is now the expert for plant-based alternatives. This market segment has already reached substantial scale, but it still offers outstanding growth opportunities, which we can take advantage of much better through a separate company with its own targeted strategy. Our tagline “Planteneers – The Plant Based Pioneers” reflects that. Through concentrated research, creative ideas and untiring pioneering spirit, with Planteneers we intend to actively help shape the future of the industry.
What clientele do you focus on?
Our solutions are targeted at all companies marketing plant-based products or hybrid foods, i.e. foods in which the animal ingredients have been partially replaced by plant-based ingredients. These can be companies who are already at home in the plant-based sector, as well as those in traditional industries like meat and poultry, fish, dairy, deli foods and ice cream who want to expand their range with plant-based foods. Caterers as well as manufacturers of convenience products can also create their own products with our solutions.
A broad target group, with very different expectations and production conditions. How will you meet all of these needs?
We always think in terms of applications. So we concentrate on product solutions that our customers can manufacture on proven, commonly used production equipment. But naturally we also supply companies that work with new production technologies and systems designed expressly for the plant-based category. Regardless of the production conditions, there are many parallels.
Whether plant-based start-up, conventional dairy or traditional meat producer, a company wanting to market alternatives to yogurt, cheese, meat and sausage needs to have a very precise knowledge of the different plant proteins and ingredients that affect the properties of foods. We built up this expertise over many years, and bundled it in the Plant Based Competence Centre we founded in 2019.
What advantages do your customers have from the Plant Based Competence Centre?
We’ve done hundreds of application tests and have built a solid and growing database on the characteristics of different proteins, as well as intermediate products like protein texturates. This wealth of experience is the foundation of our Plant Based Competence centre. There, we advise customers on the ideal choices and combinations of proteins, as well as on flavouring and nutritional enrichment. Naturally we also observe the trends on the global markets and share them with our partners. The Plant-based Competence Centre is thus a seedbed for food concepts with high future potential, as well as a dialogue platform for our customers.
In Planteneers’ vision statement it says “Plant-based is the new normal” – do you really believe that?
We’re convinced that plant-based food will make a major contribution to keeping the growing world population supplied with adequate nutrition. Plant-based products that are viable alternatives to animal products also support a more sustainable way of life, and they need to become a completely normal part of our nutrition. But that will be possible only if the food industry is able to appeal to consumers’ tastes by developing products that consumers can include in their daily eating, without feeling limited or restricted. Our mission therefore is simple: We empower the world with delicious plant-based food solutions to feed everyone sustainably.
Feeding the entire world sustainably is a big challenge. What solutions do you offer specifically?
We concentrate on plant-based alternatives to meat, sausage, fish, cheese and dairy products. We also provide plant-based solutions for deli foods and ice cream, as well as convenience concepts for plant-based egg alternatives. Plant-based baked goods round out our portfolio, which also includes hybrid products with both plant and animal ingredients.
Your products appear under the “fiild” brand. The association with agriculture is doubtless no accident, right?
That’s right. “fiild” reflects the plant origin of the products. This branded first syllable is intended to show that our plant-based solutions are real alternatives to the conventional products. They’re equivalent to the animal products in taste, consistency, preparation and eating, but come from the field, not the stall. The “fiild” element makes it clear – whether fiildMeat as a plant-based alternative to meat, fiildEgg for egg alternatives, fiildDairy milk alternatives or fiildDeli for deli alternatives.
What products have you already introduced under the new umbrella brand?
In our fiildFish line there’s an all-in compound that lets customers make vegan alternatives to breaded products like fish sticks and fish filet based on a rice texturate. There’s also alternative tuna, which looks and tastes like canned tuna fish and can be used in many ways. Plant-based sushi alternatives are another solution we offer. With fiildEgg P we’ve introduced a line of products for alternatives to egg patties. These plant-based products are perfect for the convenience and out of home markets, especially bakeries and quick service restaurants for example.
What’s in the pipeline?
Right now, we’re researching solutions in the plant-based cheese alternatives category that have not just the right technical properties, but also the right nutritional profile. We’ve already made some progress. In close collaboration with our sister company SternVitamin we’ve developed enriched plant drinks for special target groups. Now we’re using this knowledge to improve the nutritional profile of vegan cheese alternatives, to combine indulgence and health. In the area of baked goods, in collaboration with our sister company DeutscheBack we’ve developed vegan burger buns. Concepts for plant-based pastries are currently under development, to complete this category. Our developers and product managers always have an ear to the market, in order to identify and address the latest trends in plant-based. The market is evolving very rapidly, and we’ll be presenting new things.
What role does Planteneers play within Stern-Wywiol Gruppe?
Our goal is to position Planteneers as a key pillar within the group. The outlook is good, since plant-based also offers interesting opportunities for our sister companies. With the global challenge of feeding the growing world population, plant alternatives have enormous significance. With Planteneers we’ll develop attractive solutions and make our contribution. At the same time, through collaboration with our sister companies we can offer companies concepts from a single source that cover everything, from stabilising and texturing to flavouring and fortification.
Will the close association of Planteneers and Hydrosol continue?
Definitely. Hydrosol’s expertise in stabilising and texturing foods is very important for Planteneers. Close communication between the two companies’ technologists ensures that plant-based desserts have an appealingly creamy texture, and fish alternatives have the familiar bite. After all, texturing products to get the perfect flavour is Hydrosol’s core competence. Because even the best plant-based alternatives can be successful only if they taste good and have the familiar consistency.
What are your goals at Planteneers for 2021? What will you be working on this year?
Internationalisation is a major goal. We’re concentrating on expanding our sales network and on close collaboration with our group’s foreign subsidiaries. We’re also planning to set up our own production facilities in the important key markets like the US. With regards to portfolio, the launch of an extensive hybrid range and the expansion of the baked goods line are two milestones. Sustainability plays a central role in these activities, including in raw materials sourcing. For this we use local suppliers by preference. We intend to pursue this approach in production and logistics as well.