Umiami wins QUORN Food’s Innovation Challenge at Future Food Tech with technology that could scale whole cut meat analogue production. Current extrusion technology does not allow for the complex texture and structure of whole cut meats. Umiami’s proprietary technology created the world’s first, at scale, chicken breast made from plant protein.
Nicole Astra: Welcome to Talking Plant Protein. My guest today is the winner of the Quorn Foods Innovation Challenge, representing Umiami, co-founder, Martin Habfast. Welcome, Martin.
Martin Habfast: Hi, welcome thank you.
Nicole Astra: First, I just want to talk about what you presented to the team and tell me about your proprietary technology, Protein Texturization Technology.
Martin Habfast: Yeah so, as you probably know in our markets, in the plant-based meat industry, there are a lot of products which are minced products. So you have a lot of burger patties, a lot of sausages, a lot of meatballs, right? You also have small chicken chunks. But the one thing that's really missing are whole cuts. So think of a whole chicken breast, a whole cut of cod, salmon, a steak for instance or a filet mignon. All these things they don't exist on the market currently. Well, they actually represent 60% to 80% of the meat that we consume. And that big piece that is missing, well there's one cause why that's the case, and that is because the technology that all companies in this industry are using doesn't allow to recreate the complex structure and texture of those whole cuts.
So all companies in our space they're using extrusion. There are two versions of it, dry extrusion and wet extrusion. One allows to create minced product, the other allows to create small chicken bites, if you will, but there's no technology to create those large whole cuts at scale, and that's exactly what we're doing. We're providing a brand new technology, it's proprietary, no one else in the world has that technology, and it allows to create at scale the world's first chicken breast.
Nicole Astra: And tell me what this partnership means for the future of your business.
Martin Habfast: Well actually this partnership with Quorn is extremely strategic. Why? Well I just mentioned that 95% of the companies in our industry are using the same two technologies to create their plant-based products, which is called extrusion. Well actually Quorn is one of the very few companies who is using a different technology, they're basically using fermentation to create plant-based meat and fish.
Now imagine what you can do if you combine Quorn's unique technology and our unique technology, so you use their ingredients and you use our technology to transform them into whole cuts like a chicken breast, for instance, or something else. Imagine what kind of products you can obtain and the unique selling propositions that you can get. So you can get meat that's absolutely unique and that no one else on the market has achieved so far.
Nicole Astra: How long have you been in R&D for your finished products that you're presenting?
Martin Habfast: So actually we've been starting to work on this technology almost two years ago. So it's been a long time, the company is now a little bit over one year old. And at the beginning it was just my co-founders and myself who were working on this technology, and then we hired several additional food scientists, researchers, process engineers. So currently we're almost turning the company working full-time on that technology, so just to show how complex it is.
Nicole Astra: And I can only imagine what this partnership does for a startup like yourself. Tell me who has provided your funding thus far and where you hope to take it?
Martin Habfast: So we closed actually our first round in February of this year, so it's a seed round, and we've had a lot of different investors. We had VC funds, including funds that are specialized in the plant-based industry. We've had business angels who invested, including people who are very familiar with food industry like for instance Laurent Cardinali who used to be the number three at Mondelez International in charge of the entire production plants in the entire world. Well, he invested, and we also have the French Government and banks who followed in this round. So it's a 2.35 million Euros round about, $3 million, and that was closed in February.
Nicole Astra: Fantastic news. Besides the challenge of funding, what other challenges did you face as a startup in such a giant industry?
Martin Habfast: So one of the main challenges when you create a new technology is really to scale it. Because it's one thing to create a product in a lab where you can produce a few kilograms for instance. But then it's another thing to create a production line that can produce hundreds, 500kg an hour, or one ton an hour, and that's actually what the market at the end expects you to do. To have that production line that can produce at least 500kg an hour. So that was a huge challenge, I would say today we've solved most of it, there are still a few technical challenges that we need to solve there but most of it is already solved and we're currently actually building our first pilot line that will be able to produce 100kg an hour.
Nicole Astra: And who is your customer currently?
Martin Habfast: So we're a B2B company, we're a technology company. What we focus on is the technology and then we produce products that are either finished products, in which case we're a private label manufacturer, or semi-finished products, in which case we can even be an ingredient provider. And those products, while they are sold to existing brands and then bring it to the end consumer. So we don't brand the products ourselves, we focus on where we can add the most value, which is that technology, and then we'd let others do the work of bringing that to the end consumer.
Nicole Astra: Explain to me your commitment on clean label.
Martin Habfast: Well clean labeling is becoming a very important issue in our industry. So consumers are more and more aware of the very long ingredient lists, of the hard to pronounce ingredients that you sometimes find in plant-based meat substitutes, as well as the nutritional facts which aren't always that good. So today brands are trying to replace those ingredients that are hard to pronounce, they're trying to get better in nutrition facts, and that's not always easy.
Well our technologies, it actually solves many obvious issues at once. First of all, we have super short ingredient lists. Our technology works with three simple ingredients which are protein, water, and salt, that's all we need, right? And then you add flavors, you might add spices for instance, but basically you can already get very interesting products with 7, 8, 9 ingredients for instance. And all these ingredients are very easy to understand for a consumer.
There is no Methylcellulose, no binding agent, no gum, or these kinds of things. And then we also have very good nutrition facts. So our current products they all are Nutri-Score, which is a nutritional profile that we use here in Europe. So not only are the ingredient list very clean but also the nutritional values are really good.
Nicole Astra: And what's next for Umiami?
Martin Habfast: As I said, we're currently building a pilot plant, but the thing is that this pilot plant only answers to a fraction of the demand that we're currently facing. So after that we'll need to build a much larger plant with a much larger capacity, and to do that we're actually opening our next funding round in September to actually finance this plant and to actually face the demand that we are currently facing.
Nicole Astra: And give me your best guess on when this technology will be available to U.S. Companies.
Martin Habfast: So the pilot plant will be up and running in 2022, so the products will be available in Europe in 2022. Now we hope to bring it to the U.S. As soon as possible, we just need to solve some regulatory barriers that any food company that is going from Europe to the U.S. has to solve. But I hope that 2022 we'll find some products in stores in the United States.
Nicole Astra: Fantastic. Again, thank you for joining us on Talking Plant Protein. We wish you all the best and we'll be keeping a close eye on you.
Martin Habfast: Thank you very much for having us here.