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Q&A with plant-based start-up, Heura

The Barcelona-born brand, Heura, recently celebrated its third anniversary, and is the fastest growing European start-up in the plant-based meat industry with 450% growth in the last year. Vitafoods Insights speaks to Bernat Añaños, Heura co-founder, about the company's goals to drive a more sustainable food system that protects societal values, environment and culinary heritage.

What's Heura's story and where do products currently retail? 

Our background is social and animal rights activism but we saw that if we really wanted to have an impact on the food system, we had to bring up solutions to make the current model obsolete. Heura was born to bring freedom of choice for people to go plant-based without renouncing to flavour or texture. We started up in April 2017 and three years later, we have launched our plant-based products in seven countries across Europe and Asia. We will soon expand into the Latin America region for the first time and we will continue to grow in different countries, working toward a more democratic plant-based protein landscape.

In terms of the market, there are so many people with veggie food traumas. They once tried a white block of tofu on a pan and obviously they do not want to try anything as tasteless as that again—so our main focus is to demonstrate how possible it is to enjoy a meat experience through the plant kingdom, in a very nutritious way. As we know through Heura testing, 100% of the people think they are eating meat and more than 98% of the people would recommended to their friends and family.

What are key partnership considerations for SMEs? 

The key is being mission and value-aligned. When partnering, find matches with projects that are moving forward in the same direction. It doesn't have to be perfect—to me, perfection is the worst enemy of progress. When finding investors, manufacturing partners or distributors, what matters most is to partner with non-conformists who are dedicated and invested in building a better world. Finding a partner that matches your business's values will prove to be of utmost importance when it comes to strategy, direction and decision-making.

Additionally, don't compromise on sustainability in the interest of cost-saving. For example, we at Heura would never consider a cheaper soy source if it comes from rainforest deforestation. Apart from the monetary cost, the environmental cost of every decision we make is a priority to maintain the mission we want to achieve.

How have do the pillars of sustainability transcend through all aspects of Heura’s business?

Society is becoming aware of a new way of getting the protein intake they need in a way that represents better their values and protects what we love the most: our health, the planet and the animals. Sustainability is the DNA of the company so it transcends through every single decision. This does not mean we do not move forward if we don’t have the most sustainable option because the most sustainable option may not necessarily be available yet. We acknowledge our weaknesses and we continuously invest in the resources that help us to improve. As an example, this year we will reduce the impact of the chilled packaging dramatically as we already have done with our frozen line.

When it comes to water waste, innovation gives us the chance to continually improve in all aspects. Our products at the moment reduce by 94% the water usage when compared to animal meat production but I am sure next year it will be even more efficient.

How has Heura addressed the issues of texture, taste and stability?

Heura's R&D team is multidisciplinary, including the expertise of a food engineer, a biochemist specialised in nutrition, and a gastronomist cooking the future of our food system at the lab kitchen, which is based at Heura House in Barcelona. The primary components of animal-based meat (amino acids, lipids, trace minerals, and water) are not exclusive to animals and are plentiful in plants. Using innovative technology, we choose to shortcut the animal and extract these directly from plants to recreate the structure and experience of meat, with all the benefits of vegetables.

Our first range of products use 'high moisture extrusion technology,' which enables us to create structures comparable to beef, pork and poultryachieving sensory qualities, such as bite, mouthfeel and firmness, comparable to a meat product.  Currently, we are focusing on developing innovative fats to create a juicy experience from olive oil, aligned with Mediterranean values. 

How does Heura monitor market trends to inform future product development?

We do not seek to follow market trends, as they are often only popular for a transitional period of time. We pay attention to societal values to develop and drive solutions that remove animals from the food system equation forever. In our view, society values enjoying food and gastronomic traditions, personal welleing, and the health of the planet. We create products based on that: gastronomic experience, fact-driven nutrition and sustainability.

We mainly focus on developing and enhaving taste, as this is a repetitive and leading purchase driver for protein eaters—especially when it comes to plant-based variants. That’s why we work with a team of chefs and R&D specialists to create best-in-class texture and taste profiles for our products. Some examples of this work are the recent prizes of the 'Best Vegan Taste Award' at Wabel 2019 and 'The Flavor Of The Year' in France 2020.

 

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