Can plant-based meats be healthy? This foodtech startup says yes

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Can plant-based meats be healthy? This foodtech startup says yes

Linnea Ahlgren

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Linnea Ahlgren

Barcelona’s food tech startup Heura has unveiled its new patent-pending technology aimed at producing meat substitutes without the lengthy and sometimes off-putting ingredients list. The company says it is the first scalable technology of its kind to add “superior” nutritional value to plant-based foods. 

The data is abundantly clear – if we are to have any chance at halting global warming, we need to revolutionise our food systems. Approximately 14.5% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gases come from the raising of livestock.

Furthermore, research has shown processed red meats to be carcinogenic. This means that what we choose to put on our plates matters, for the health of both the collective and the individual. 

However, the initial enthusiasm for vegan meat alternatives has waned somewhat, with shares in one of the most eponymous alternatives, Beyond Meat, losing over 60% of their value over the past year alone. 

Often, companies behind the fake meat revolution are criticised for relying too heavily on artificial additives, with long lists of unpronounceable ingredients. Furthermore, the ultra-processed products are often devoid of essential nutrients. 

“I think that the worst enemy of the category are bad products,” said Heura’s co-founder Marc Coloma. “We see that there has been kind of a gold rush in this category where a lot of products had been launched super fast to the market without meeting consumer expectations.”

Patent-pending thermomechanical technology

Most approaches to creating vegan meat substitutes are sort of trial and error. Producers experiment with different blends of binders and additives as well as vegetable proteins to see what works. 

Enter Heura’s patent-pending technology. The thermomechanical technique uses heat and mechanical energy to shape or modify a material’s properties. This, Heura says, allows it to create plant-based meat substitutes with higher quality inputs and a shorter ingredients list. 

Día histórico en Heura: hoy presentamos nuestra primera patente (de muchas que vendrán) y no podemos estar más felices. #Sucesores

— Heura Foods #FoodActivists (@HeuraFoods) April 25, 2023

We haven’t been able to glean the exact details about the actual breakthrough. However, during the launch of the project platform, named Good Rebel Tech, last year, the company’s Science and Technology director Isabelle Férnandez, stated that,

“Instead of focusing on extracting and isolating proteins from legume seeds, we are researching ways to leverage the functionality of whole plants in their naturally occurring structures.” 

For now, focus will be on products in the deli, cheese and whole meats. And as anyone who has ever dined in Spain can attest, these are far more popular categories than the most commonly substituted burger patty.

But, protein?

The company has already developed two products using the technology: a frankfurter-style sausage and ham-style slices, both made from soy protein. The frankfurters have a protein density of 72%, and the “ham” 70%. Heura is hoping to have both products hit store shelves by the end of Q4 2023. 

List of ingredients for the frankfurter? Water, soy protein isolate, extra virgin olive oil, radish, carrot and paprika flavour concentrates, lemon juice from concentrate and vitamin B12.

You may have noticed it does not, like so many fake meat products, contain coconut oil. This is due to another milestone reached by Heura’s R&D department last year, where it managed to replace the saturated fat alternative with a 100% olive-oil-based analogue. 

Successful equity crowdfunding

Heura Foods was founded in 2017, in a co-working office in the centre of Barcelona. Its first customer was a small, local business in the Poble-sec neighbourhood. The startup has raised €36 million to date – including an equity crowdfunding campaign which landed it €4 million in just 12 hours. In 2022, the company secured a turnover of €31.4 million, and in 2023, it grew 44% in Q1 compared to the same quarter the year before. 

Furthermore, Heura has tripled its market share in Spain over the past three years, and has agreements with retailer groups in Austria, Switzerland, Poland, the Netherlands, Portugal and the UK.

Could the possession of a patent in an otherwise quite wild west low barrier-to-entry plant-based meats industry lure more investors to Heura’s cause? We will enjoy a cruelty-free frankfurter (or two) while we wait to find out, thank you very much. 

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