Built for scalability: New Zealand’s plant-based meat firm Sunfed enters next phase of growth
According to Sunfed Founder and CEO Shama Sukul Lee, one of the company’s areas of focus from the very beginning has been to ensure that everything was built with scalability in mind.
“Phase One for us after lots of deep R&D was to launch and commercialise Chicken Free Chicken in New Zealand last year, as New Zealand is a really good test bed for new products, sort of a microcosm of the big macrocosm food market,” she told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“Now, some 12 months on, we have completed Phase Two, where we scaled up our proprietary technology, focusing on scalability and manufacturability. This enabled us to enter Australia and launch nationwide, as there is a much larger market there by at least five times.
“For any animal-based system to scale up, the negative impacts come around fast, as it takes out more than it gives – this is the reason why although most food companies want to scale, they can’t, and end up having to compromise on quality, e.g. injecting chickens with antibiotics and hormones.
“For Sunfed, we’ve always focused on building a regenerative, highly scalable protein system so that scaling up will not bring any negative effects, but instead enrich the environment.”
In line with this concept is the product itself – Chicken Free Chicken claims to be unique from other plant-based meats as it presents as whole pieces of chicken breast, and not a patty made from mince.
“The result of our deep R&D was the ability to create long, succulent meaty fibres, and we are the only company that can do this worldwide,” said Lee.
The primary ingredient in Chicken Free Chicken is yellow pea protein, which Lee claims to be the ‘most environmentally sustainable crop to grow’.
“Yellow peas are hardy, they enrich the soil they grow in, they’re good in terms of water use and they’re even good for the bees – all in all, the use of this crop does not cause any environmental damage and depletion,” she said.
As for why chicken was chosen as the area of focus, this was in accordance with global trends and demand.
“Especially in the Western market, chicken and fish consumption is increasing due to health concerns, as red meat has been linked to multiple diseases of affluence. [We] are targeting consumers who want an alternative source of protein which is nutrient-dense, gluten-free, soy-free and cooks like meat.”
Room for all
In terms of standing out from the competition, Lee told us that Sunfed’s main competition was mainstream animal-sourced meat, and not any other plant-based meat company out there.
“Companies like Impossible, Beyond and Sunfed, we’re all part of the new generation of meat alternatives, focusing on getting the meaty experience right,” she said.
“The market is really big, and we’ve all taken different routes, for example Impossible has gone with genetic engineering with heme to create their burger patties and we’re focused on minimal, clean ingredients – as far as I can see, there is room for all.”
Expansion and NPD
“We are now in Phase Three and this is global expansion, taking our technology everywhere globally. That is the ultimate goal, to go global.”
Although Lee said that Sunfed’s key target markets will first look at North America, the United Kingdom and Europe, she added that Asia is a ‘big part of the plan’ too.
“Asia is important for us, especially in terms of exports – Australian and New Zealand products are highly regarded in the region, and China especially would be a big market,” she said.
As for other types of meats apart from chicken, Lee added that Sunfed’s current technology means that making different types of meat ‘is not so difficult’.
“We want to expand both in terms of reach and product range, so although infrastructure and scaling up is our current priority, we will be launching other products like beef, pork and fish soon too.”