This is one of the best fundraisers for French FoodTech, and the largest ever for a food product intended for the general public. La Vie, a startup that manufactures vegetable lardons and bacon, has just raised 25 million euros in series A, it announced on Wednesday January 18.
Among the investors, funds (Seventure, Oyster Bay, Capagro, Partech, Entrepreneur First and Bleu Capital), but also CEOs of successful French companies such as Back Market (Thibaud Hug de Larauze), BlaBlaCar (Fréderic Mazella) and Vinted (Thomas Lodewijk Plantenga), as well as a celebrity: American actress Natalie Portman.
A partnership with Carrefour
Created in 2019 in Paris by two Frenchmen, Nicolas Schweitzer and Vincent Poulichet, today respectively CEO and director of new technologies, La Vie has managed to patent a recipe reproducing animal fat from plants. The objective: to fill a gap in the vegetable meat industry which, according to its founders, contributes to penalizing the taste and culinary experience.
Lardons and bacon, made by a partner in Vendée, are the first application of this recipe. The first were launched on the French market in October, thanks to a partnership with the distributor Carrefour which has referenced them at the national level, while the second is already offered by restaurateurs such as Pokawa or Hank. The operation was a success: at Carrefour, “sales exceeded forecasts three times”, assures Nicolas Schweitzer.
Conquering mass distribution
The fundraising aims to go much further, by conquering mass distribution in France, where the startup hopes to cover all brands from 2022, but also in Europe, starting with an extension to the United Kingdom. . At the same time, the company intends to invest in partnerships with the largest restaurant chains, as well as in research and development, in order to multiply the products incorporating its innovation. In 2022 alone, it plans to recruit 40 people, doubling its workforce. In 2030, it aims to join the world’s top 3 FoodTech in plant-based meat.
The market for plant-based alternatives to animal products has been growing steadily for years. According to experts from Xerfi Precepta, quoted by LSA, the cumulative sales of the three flagship segments (drinks, dessert and catering) increased by 8.7% in supermarkets in 2020, reaching 356 million euros. It is driven by the interest of some consumers in healthier and more ecological food: La Vie also puts forward “products rich in protein, rich in fibre, with 11 times less saturated fat” than real lardons and bacon, as well as “greenhouse gas emissions seven times lower compared to pork, and obviously the protection of water resources, soil, and animal life”.
Obstacles to overcome
In recent months, the excitement, which has so far led to a proliferation of start-ups specializing in plant-based alternatives ($2.1 billion in investments globally in 2020, according to the PitchBook consultancy), has however left the room for a certain disenchantment. In France, the market could well reach a peak at 400 million euros in 2022, but could then drop to 394 million euros in 2025, according to Xerfi Precepta. All these young shoots find themselves faced with several major obstacles to overcome in order to survive, analyzes Matthieu Vincent, co-founder of DigitalFoodLab, consulting firm specializing in FoodTech.
The first is the difficulty, recently increased by soaring raw material costs, of reducing the prices of vegetable products, to bring them closer to those of meat. But the main challenge remains that of taste, which is obviously a central issue in the agri-food sector and which, despite great progress, can still be improved for these products. Not to mention the ultra-processed nature of many plant-based alternatives to meat, which puts their positive impact on health into perspective, explains Matthieu Vincent.
“This very good fundraising precisely shows the appetite of investors for companies providing a new response to these issues,” said the expert.
The quest for taste excellence
La Vie believes that it has the right formula to face all these challenges.
“In terms of taste, our products are incredible. When blind, we cannot distinguish them from real lardons and bacon, we even prefer them”, assures Nicolas Schweitzer.
The search for taste excellence, which was the origin of the creation of the company, must also guide the development of new products: “Our rule is that none should disappoint”, emphasizes the CEO, whose goal is to bring consumers together beyond just vegetarians.
The price is lower than that of “all other plant-based alternatives”, says the entrepreneur who explains betting on volumes. As for the health benefits, La Vie has chosen to enter the plant-based meat market with animal product substitutes that are already highly processed and poorly rated from a nutritional point of view.
“Our bacon has eight ingredients… like that of major charcuterie brands”, notes Nicolas Schweitzer.