It's been a busy two years for Brazilian plant-based meat pioneer Future Farm — also known as Fazenda Futuro in Portuguese.
The company, founded in 2019 by Brazilian entrepreneurs Marcos Leta and Alfredo Strechinsky, burst onto the scene in the South American country known for having one of the highest rates of per capita beef consumption. Now, according to statistics from the company, Future Farm has a near 25% market share in burgers — both made from meat and alternatives — at Pão de Açucar, one of Brazil's largest supermarkets. It's sold more than 9 million burgers in its home country.
Under the name Future Farm, the company has expanded to 23 countries worldwide, selling its products in Europe, Canada, Latin America and the Middle East. Future Farm has raised nearly $30 million, crowned by a $21.3 million investment round last year, according to currency conversions on Crunchbase. U.S. CEO Alexandre Ruberti says the company's valuation has been estimated at more than $110 million.
All of that has been a prelude for what Future Farm is doing next: expanding into the United States. Ruberti said Future Farm is already a huge global movement, but in order to succeed in the massive plant-based meat market that is the United States, a product has to be at a higher degree of readiness.
"We're going to be neck-to-neck with the big players," Ruberti said. "...We did a lot of blind tests. Our product, it is one of the top of the top in terms of taste, in terms of sensorial. I think that we do have a good price to offer here as well. And we are ready with marketing."
Starting this month, Future Farm's Future Burger, Future Sausage, Future Beef and Future Meatballs will become available to U.S. consumers. Much of the initial rollout will be on the brand's e-commerce page, though there are pending agreements to make the brand available both in foodservice and at retail. Ruberti is confident that the brand is ready to grow throughout the United States, where he said Future Farm expects to earn up to 65% of its sales within the next couple of years.
Ruberti knows all about helming a trendy and growing space. He previously served as executive vice president of sales for Red Bull North America and U.S. president of Red Bull Distribution Company. Ruberti said there are some similarities between the two spaces, but there are big differences, too — namely that energy drinks are pitched at enabling a consumer lifestyle, while he sees plant-based meat as a vital tool in slowing global warming and pollution.
At Red Bull, Ruberti sold a dream of an active lifestyle with the help of a beverage. He sees himself as selling a different dream now.
"We don't need to go to Mars because we can save the planet here," Ruberti said. "...Inviting people to come into this cause is going to be the key to change the way the world eats."
Winning on price
When Ruberti talks about what differentiates Future Farm from other plant-based meat companies, he's not keen to point to technology. In this sort of space, where advanced processes turn grains, legumes, vegetables and oils into something that looks and tastes like a beef burger, Ruberti said the technology is a given.
What he starts with is price. When two-packs of Future Burgers become available to U.S. consumers, they will cost $5.29 — slightly less than comparable offerings from Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, and close to the price of beef patties at $4.24 a pound. At this price, Ruberti said, Future Farm will democratize the plant-based meat category, making it more available to all consumers. Although the plant-based meat category is relatively new, Ruberti said it's always been premium priced.
"Of course, it's everything to do with scale, everything to do with the technology, but we need to start with this price down in order to make it available for more more people, affordable for more and more people," Ruberti said.
Future Farm is able to keep its prices low because everything is sourced from Brazil, where the company also owns its own factory, Ruberti said. The value chain is short and has already been optimized. In all of the markets where it is sold, Future Food is either the least expensive plant-based option or competitive on price, he said.
For the time being, Future Farm's factory in Brazil will be manufacturing 100% of the product for the United States, and the company will be working with Superior Foods International as its U.S. distribution partner. Ruberti said Future Farm is flexible with its manufacturing and packaging needs, and may start working with co-packers as needed.
Ruberti also plans to lean into Future Farm's clean labels to gain popularity with U.S. consumers. The burgers are made with non-GMO ingredients, including soy, peas, chickpeas, coconut fat and beets.
A jolt from the energy drink category
Ruberti started his career working for Coca-Cola in Brazil. When he left the soft drink maker for Red Bull, he remembers joining as a small player in an up-and-coming category. Both Red Bull and the energy drink segment had great potential, he said.
It's the same with plant-based food, Ruberti said. But he sees the need for plant-based food as more critical from a sustainability standpoint, and believes the segment's potential goes far beyond profits.
"It is a cause for the future," he said.
That said, the way to approach consumers about plant-based meat is similar to energy drinks. It's all about connecting with them, talking about the lifestyle the product offers, and why they should purchase products in the category. Red Bull is a legacy player in the energy drink space, which now has scores of products that meet different niche consumer needs. But the constant thread between all of them is the lifestyle that energy drinks offer, he said.
Plant-based food is a way for consumers to get to a more sustainable lifestyle, Ruberti said. Like most brands in the space, the target consumers are flexitarians who are interested eating a meat substitute from time to time. But a wide message needs to go out to all consumers about the environmental impacts of eating meat, the possibility of slowing down climate change through food choice, and that plant-based meat is designed for — and accessible to — everyone, he said. Ruberti feels this message has become diluted through the talk of high valuations, market success and technology in the plant-based space.
"We have to talk with the consumer, we have to help with [the] consumer, because the category is so new, still. Having the consumer try our product, if they like it, they're going to buy more," said Ruberti.
Future Farm's future
The ground meat-like products coming to U.S. consumers this month have been proven by sales around the world, but Future Farm has more in store, Ruberti said.
In fact, Future Burger recently debuted a significant reformulation: the "2030 Burger," or what Ruberti referred to as "version 3.0." This burger has an improved health profile, with 15 grams of protein, reducing fat content to 6.5 mg and 178 mg of sodium.
"We don't need to go to Mars because we can save the planet here. ...Inviting people to come into this cause is going to be the key to change the way the world eats."
U.S. CEO, Future Farm
While Future Farm is always incrementally improving its products, there are more launches in the wings, Ruberti said. Last year, the company introduced a plant-based chicken product in Brazil. It is slated to roll out in the U.K. later this year, Ruberti said. The company has also formulated plant-based tuna and pulled pork products, currently slated for launch in the U.K. and Brazil.
But Future Farm isn't all about plant-based meat, Ruberti said. The company is also working on plant-based milk and cheese, which it is currently testing in Brazil. Much like the burgers, launching and refining these products in other markets will help Future Farm key into consumer feedback before hitting the more competitive market of the United States, he said.
Ruberti believes Future Farm will be very competitive with other plant-based providers in the United States, but is willing to work with them to win over meat-eating consumers. No producer on its own can do the job of attracting consumers to plant-based meat, he said.
Considering Future Farm's success in his native Brazil, Ruberti expects more to come from the United States and other markets worldwide.
"We are well known to consume animal protein seven days a week, by the way," he said. "If we can introduce a [successful plant-based] brand over there, it is a very good sign."