Bringing home the plant-based bacon: Sunfed aims to provide a more healthy ‘guilty pleasure’
Boar-Free Bacon was supposed to be launched around the time that COVID-19 hit, but the outbreak led New Zealand supermarkets to halt all product launches so Sunfed opted to launch at traditional music and barbecue event Meatstock first and into supermarkets just last month.
“COVID-19 has led people to be much more conscious and aware of the risks that their food can bring, especially with no one wanting to fall sick during this time,” Sunfed CEO and Founder Shama Sukul Lee told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“Apart from COVID-19, there have also of course been other concerns such as microbes like salmonella and campylobacter, and the recent African Swine Flu – all of this already combined to drive consumer demand for our plant-based products.
“In addition, bacon is a known guilty pleasure for meat-eaters, and we’ve managed to give our Boar-Free Bacon that same sizzle, flavour, smokiness and crunch that regular bacon has, which drove demand up even further – we sold out in supermarkets within two days of launch as people were buying it by the tray, so we’ve had to keep working at production.”
Sold chilled at supermarkets, by weight the plant-based bacon is more expensive at A$6.58 (US$4.60) for 100g at Countdown, as compared to the store-labelled Rindless Free Farm Streaky Bacon at A$3.00 (US$2.10) per 100g, or Hellers-branded Danish Free Range bacon at A$4.00 (US$2.80) per 100g.
This has obviously not deterred consumers in any way though, especially given that the 120g retail pack is similarly priced [A$7.90 (US$5.53)] to the Countdown bacon [A$7.50 (US$5.25) for 250g] and lower than the Hellers bacon [A$9.99 (US$6.99) for 250g].
Lee aims to make Sunfed’s plant-based products available to everyone and at a cheaper price eventually. She described the price as ‘competitive’ especially given the health benefits associated with the plant-based version.
“Bacon is well-known to be an unhealthy food, with the WHO even saying that it contains Type I carcinogens – everyone knows this, but still eats it anyway because humans are just not rational creatures,” she said.
“It’s why we know there’s no point in preaching or judging, but just had to make sure that the Boar-Free Bacon provides exactly the same experience as regular bacon to give consumers a better choice that has clean ingredients and no E numbers – if both are side by side on a supermarket shelf, I have faith that they will choose the option that is better for them.”
The Boar-Free Bacon is made primarily of water, pea protein and olive oil with the bacon colour coming from fermented red rice. Sunfed’s proprietary water-based technology processes the protein by cross-linking it in long fibres to give the bacon its meaty texture.
When we spoke to Sunfed last year, the firm had just entered Phase Three of its business development strategy with the launch of its Chicken-Free Chicken into Australia to kickstart overseas expansion and building its manufacturing plant to reach scale.
This time around, the firm has entered Phase Four where the focus is on much wider global expansion.
“We’ve commercialised and scaled and proven we can do it even without having done any official capital-raising so far. Now the goal is global expansion and replicating our model as fast as possible in as many key geographies as possible to do this,” said Lee.
“The main bottleneck right now is that we’re experiencing such high demand for Chicken-Free Chicken and Boar-Free Bacon, especially through the COVID-19 period, that we have to meet demand for this first.
“But we’re definitely moving to replicate the model to enter Asia and other markets as soon as we can as well as produce more products, such as the upcoming Bull-Free Beef. Within the next 18 months, I think we should have even more capacity to look at entering newer export markets.
“Asia is definitely a key one for us, as the New Zealand brand is already very strong and considered premium in places like China a lot of New Zealand meat and dairy goes to Asia, and I think it would be easier for us to enter the market as there are already existing distribution partners and supply chains there.”
The Boar-Free Bacon is only in New Zealand for now, but Sunfed will be launching it in Australia in ‘another couple of months’, said Lee.
“After that, we’ll also be launching Bull-Free Beef in New Zealand – we’re staggering all the launches for practicality, but have a range of plant-based meats to bring to the world.
“[Having a whole range] is important as COVID-19 has brought awareness to the risks of animal protein production, as well as with ASF wiping out a third of the world’s pork production. The old system of protein production is an existential risk to the world as factory farms are really the perfect places for viruses to mutate quickly, [so] we want to offer a better choice against that.”