A mechanical engineer, Bruno Fonseca used to work with diesel engines. In mid-2018 he took on a project in engineering to reduce carbon emissions from engines and fell in love with environmental issues. He left engineering to dedicate himself to this.
In the corporate world he also changed areas, left the auto sector to work in agriculture. “I made this decision because among the industries that most affect the environment there is the meat industry,” he said.
In an agrochemical company, Fonseca could get to know the market for two years. “At that time I no longer consumed meat or any animal derivatives. I was looking for something to solve the problem that we would lack a planet with population growth if we did not change our eating habits. Since then it was clear that I would dedicate myself to food,” he said in an interview with LABS.
In 2013, Fonseca founded his first company: Eat Clean, which produces peanut, chestnut and almond paste. “We do not use any chemical additives and most of our supplies are organic,” he adds.
About four years later, the young entrepreneur learned the technique to imitate the texture and flavor of animal meat: extrusion, a technology used to make pasta, adapted for vegetables to simulate protein fibers. “I thought that if we could get a product like this that was healthy and delivered flavor, considering that meat is part of the Brazilian culture, it would be a perfect path because we would be able to preserve the planet without causing any damage to people’s health.”
The new plant-based meat project was run in parallel with Eat Clean. He says that when he analyzed the numbers and the size of the market, he saw that the business would solve a problem for the environment and decided to focus only on the new plant-based company: he created The New Butchers, in late 2019.
The plant-based startup was launched with equity, a resource financed by Eat Clean. “Eat Clean still exists, we are partners, but I am not part of the daily life of the company so I can dedicate myself to The New Butchers,” he said.
Earlier this year, The New Butchers raised its first investment round from angel investors, including businessman Paulo Veras, founder of ride-hailing company 99. “I chose to follow this funding path because we saw the size of the market and the complexity and relevance of the other competitors,” he says.
Competitors like the well-known Future Farm, which raised $21.6 million from investors this year and will expand the operation to the United States in 2021.
Like Future Farm, The New Butchers understands that its competitors are not the other plant-based firms, but the traditional meat industry.
Fonseca’s bet is not (only) for vegans like him, but for meat lovers who want to replace it with a plant-based product at any meal during the week. “Our positioning is always to be the healthiest of plant-based meats. We see other food techs on a journey with a common goal, which is to build the plant-based category and make it as relevant as possible. There will come a time further ahead that we will have to compete with those who will lead the sector. But the current moment is still to build the category,” he adds.
Beef and chicken burgers, chicken fillets and salmon: all made of peas
The New Butchers products are gluten-free and soy-free, unlike the main competitors in the plant-based market. “Soy in Brazil has the allergenic issue. Brazil is the country that consumes the most glyphosate, which is one of the main pesticides. It is banned in several parts of the world, but here in Brazil it is released and widely used in the cultivation of soybeans, for example, ” he explains. Seeking a healthier product, The New Butchers foods are 100% made from peas, which, according to Fonseca, is 10 times more expensive than soybean production. At the point of sale, The New Butchers products range from BRL 18 to BRL 19.90.
According to Fonseca, The New Butchers is the only plant-based in Brazil with a version of salmon, which, like the animal, is a source of omega 3, and was the first company to launch a version of plant-based chicken in October last year. Plus, with a differential in relation to rivals: all with proprietary technology.
To develop plant-based fish, one of the startup’s strategies was to use jackfruit fiber to mimic meat fiber. “We have the factory and our own R&D since 2017. We developed flavoring, the texture part and simulate fibers”, he says.
According to the startup’s CEO and co-founder, “there is a lot of food tech storytelling” about the technology used to make a plant-based. “There is a lot of technology, but the technology is used in the process. It is an extrusion process that has been used for more than 100 years in the food industry”, he says.
Betting on the ecologically sustainable trend, food techs continue to attract investors. The startup is in the middle of a Series A negotiation to keep with the accelerated growth (of 60% increase in pre-pandemic sales until closed numbers in August), although it does not disclose sales numbers due to the negotiations over the new deal, according to Fonseca. “We are in the due diligence stage, our projection is that we will close the round by February next year”.
With the product already consolidated, the Series A round will be applied in the construction of the team and the brand. “We used a good part of the round with the angels to build our factory. We expanded it and as of January we will have a factory with a production capacity of 80 tons per month.”
Currently, the startup has 18 employees and the forecast is that by March 2021 it will reach 30. The idea is that the current 1,200 points of sales (in Brazil’s supermarket chains like Pão de Açúcar, Oba and Angeloni) will become 8,000 by the first quarter of next year, in addition to partnerships with restaurants at the beginning of 2021.