Why does the poultry breeder Wiesenhof invest in fake meat?

For about three years, various startups have been working on producing artificial meat from muscle cells. Celebrity investors such as Bill Gates, Richard Branson and Elon Musk’s brother Kimbal believe in the lab product, investing millions in young biotech companies. One of them is the Israeli startup Supermeat, which also involved the PHW Group in January. Behind the poultry farmer from Lower Saxony are brands like Wiesenhof and Bruzzzler.  Wiesenhof is one of the largest German poultry farmers.


Marcus Keitzer manages the investments and takeovers of the PHW Group. In an interview he talks about the poultry breeder’s the startup plans.

Mr. Keitzer, when will Beyond Meat’s burgers be available in Germany?
We plan to start in the summer to serve our customers – initially in the catering system. However, one must not forget that Beyond Meat is still a startup and is therefore very busy in production in the USA. So, we have to be a bit flexible as well.

Will the vegan burgers also be on the market?
Absolute. We will not confine ourselves to specific channels. But when exactly that will happen, I cannot say.      In January, Supermeat completed its round of financing, including with capital from the PHW Group.


When was it decided to invest in the startup from Israel?
We monitored the topic of in vitro meat over a period of two to three years and analyzed how Wiesenhof can get even closer to the subject last year. In 2017, we decided that the group can only be close to the industry when it joins one of the startups in the in-vitro sector.


What is your involvement with Supermeat concretely?
First, we are there in the observer role. In the current first step, we support where we can, but of course, in-vitro technology is not our core competence. Our contribution is very clear when the product is ready for the market. For example, we then consider which product categories could be offered, how the sale will be organized in the European market and will certainly be able to provide support in logistics and distribution.

Are there any plans when the laboratory meat will go on sale?
I wish I could give an answer. But realistically, we’re talking about three to five years here. And even that is not a conclusively reliable statement. Producing a single in-vitro burger or an in-vitro chicken breast is one thing; to go into industrial production, another. The industry still faces great challenges at this point.


Prior to the funding round of Supermeat, the PHW Group never appeared as an investor. In which startups is the PHW group still involved?
For us, the topic of startup and investment is not new. Supermeat is not the first participation, but certainly the most prominent. We are relatively active in the field and seek exchanges with young entrepreneurs. For us, it makes sense to help startups with smaller investments – but do not always make it public.

Tyson Foods is one of the world’s largest meat producers and also involved in Beyond Meat. To what extent is the US company competition to Wiesenhof?

I think their strategy and ours are going a bit in the same direction. Tyson Foods is picking up the same trends as us and they also have their own venture capital fund – even though Tyson is a different order of magnitude. However, the stake in Beyond Meat is not a competitive issue for us because Europe is not a core market for Tyson Foods and we do not serve the American market.


The big butcher Tönnies has retired his veggie line because the sales numbers have dropped. And according to GfK, the market for meat substitutes is also declining. How does Wiesenhof adjust to this?

Chicken remains our core business. But we are broadening our product range and want to define ourselves as a provider of high-quality proteins. And that includes vegan proteins. Of course, we also see the market development, but you have to look more differentiated.

In what way?
In the past, manufacturers could sell these foods because it was vegan. Today, the products are mainstream, the Flexitarier has taken up the topic. Our target audience is no longer just the vegan consumer, but the flexitarian; who still wants to eat his chicken breast, but also wants to have a highquality vegan product. This development is relevant for us.

Such substitute products of plant origin currently make up much of Wiesenhof’s total sales. How should this develop in the future?

The vegan products are a small but important part of our portfolio, in which Wiesenhof invests corresponding sums. We want to broaden our scope in this area and we are confident that we will be able to achieve corresponding results. Of course, meat substitutes are still a niche market and that will tend to stay that way. But even so, a niche market is attractive.


The Osnabrück Startup Bugfoundation has just launched the first burger made of insects in Germany. Is this also a possible meat substitute product, which interests Wiesenhof?

I can not answer that in general. Insect foods have definitely taken a very interesting development and we perceive that as a theme. But the question remains whether the products are currently accepted by the customer and to what extent this can be sustainably successful.


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