A group of food industry titans banded together to form a new platform company for plant-based meat — the LiveKindly Co. — that seeks to move the world toward plant-based eating through an opening $200 million investment, as well as brand acquisitions, investments in similarly aligned companies and an online advocacy platform.
"I think this is the real moment where you see ... the acceleration of the industry," Chairman and CEO Kees Kruythoff told Food Dive. "It's happening and many things are coming together. The first one is that the technology is at such a level that consumers don't need to compromise on taste or nutrition to make the shift from animal to plant-based. The second one is basically that the consciousness, consumer consciousness, is really growing, and you see that the consumer, in my view is basically ahead of where the industry ... is."
Kruythoff, a 27-year Unilever veteran, served as president of two of the global company's largest divisions — United States and Home Care — before stepping down last year. Joining him at the helm of the new company are founder Roger Lienhard, who also founded food tech investment firm Blue Horizon, and will serve on LiveKindly's board of directors; Chief Marketing Officer Mick Van Ettinger, a former Unilever advertising manager and executive vice president for tea; and Chief Operating and R&D Officer Aldo Uva, former COO and open innovation officer at Ferrero and CEO of Firmenech's flavor division.
These industry giants have collected what Kruythoff called a "founders' round" of $200 million to start their platform. With these funds, they have started by making acquisitions of global plant-based food companies — South Africa-based Fry Family Food Company and German producer LikeMeat. They took an equity stake in pea protein giant Puris. They also bought LiveKindly media, a website dedicated to vegan lifestyles.
Right now, Kruythoff said, LiveKindly is looking to bring high quality plant-based chicken to the world. Fry Family Food — founded in 1991 and one of the world's oldest vegan food companies — and LikeMeat will get the support they need to scale and expand to more countries. Kruythoff said the brands should be launching in the United States in the second half of 2020. The platform will also launch its own products under the LiveKindly brand. And, Kruythoff said, they have several other potential acquisitions and partnerships in mind. Companies are also reaching out to them, saying they want to be part of LiveKindly's movement.
The movement, Kruythoff said, is combining funds, industry experts and good quality brands to make plant-based food more available and desired around the globe.
"We call it plant-based food for humanity because that is obviously where the big shift needs to happen," he said. "Why are we different and why is it so unique? ... We are a global business from the start. We really think about how we can be a global plant-based food business."
Kruythoff said that chicken is the world’s most consumed meat, so it makes sense to start there; the more plant-based options consumers have, the less they will eat chicken and the bigger difference LiveKindly can make. He also said plant-based chicken can be made using few simple ingredients, unlike the long ingredients list and processing needed for plant-based beef.
Tammy Fry, international marketing director for Fry Family Food, told Food Dive that in the company’s nearly 30 years of business, there were ample opportunities for them to sell to a larger company. But Fry has always been purpose-driven to its core.
"We didn’t believe that the organizations that were coming to us were aligned in value,” she said. “When LiveKindly Company came to us, we felt for the first time that this was actually in consensus, and the people that were in it were driven by the same things that we were driven [by]."
Consumers may see the impact of the new company soon, as more plant-based chicken products become available to them and offerings from the LiveKindly brand appear on shelves. But, Kruythoff said, the team, the funding, the mission and the product are in position to disrupt the industry.
"The magic here comes together between what has been created over the last ... years in these brands and … through these businesses," he said. "Which now it's been combined on a bigger platform, which … creates the opportunity to have [an] even faster and even more effect."