Plant-based meat is industrialized

  • Zyrcular Foods has created an almost unique model in Spain: R&D, production, distribution and, now, its own brand

In the last edition of the Alimentaria fair, back in 2018, the Vall Companys meat group was secretly working on a possible entry into the universe of alternative proteins. He did it right there, with a meeting with the CEO of the Israeli SuperMeat, one of the leaders in the sector, and also with exploratory trips to investigate what was happening in other parts of the world. The result is an independent company but also owned by the Vall brothers, which opens four years later with its own business conglomerate in the edition of Almentaria that begins this Monday in Barcelona.

Zyrcular Foods is today a firm with 15 workers, with a turnover of around 2 million euros, which produces ‘plant-based’ products -analogous to meat or fish with vegetable proteins- above all for third parties (La Sirena or Aldi among them), which distributes for brands such as Beyond Meat, Gardein or Good Catch and which investigates other protein sources that it has detected may be key: insects, algae, pressure fermentations and cell cultures.

“The business model has to be based on knowing everything”, synthesizes one of the former employees of Vall Companys responsible for the construction of this company and now its CEO, Santiago Aliaga. “We want to be a provider of sustainable alternative protein solutions,” she states. This approach translates into three meta-companies: Zyrcular Protein Labs, from where they innovate and absorb projects that require research; Zyrcular Brands, the distributor arm; and Zyrcular Plant, the producer.

In fact, one of the features that differentiates this company in a sector in which more and more names are heard is its industrial capacity. Its plant, located in Seva (Osona, Barcelona), is one of the few exclusively for vegetable protein in Spain: Flax & Kale also has one, but works basically for the restaurant world; Noel produces everything from the same complex; Garden Gourmet couples its production to the Nestlé factories in Serbia or Israel; and Heura has its production outsourced.

On the other hand, Zyrcular’s commitment to its own and individualized production is so firm that it has already bought the plot next to its plant in case one day it needs to grow or start producing food, for example, based on insects, a segment to which they would dedicate their own line.

At the moment, in the short term, the plans are to grow in a more traditional way. First, with its own brand called Amara, which for now is only in the Sánchez Romero chain of stores in Madrid, but which will land in other supermarkets in the coming months. Later, expanding the product catalogue, exploring extrusion technologies (with which food is given fibrousness and shape) and starting to work on offering frying: nuggets, ‘crispy burgers’…

In the financial field, Zyrcular hopes to grow, although its CEO does not dare to make specific billing forecasts. He clings to the rise in the price of raw materials (25% in the last two weeks, he says), plastic and electricity. “If we raise the price a lot, people won’t buy from us, so this will probably be a year of planting, of finishing closing projects and just taking on a few more,” he reasons.

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Among these plans there is one that concentrates a good part of their energies: a texturing and extrusion plant project that they will present to the Next Generation funds and that they are convinced can make Catalonia compete in the world league. They have soybean seeds from Semillas Batlle, technical support from the University of Lleida, a potential texturing plant that could be located in the port of Barcelona in Elian, and Metalquimia as machinery manufacturer. “There are only 12 or 13 texturing plants in Europe, basically located in Holland, Germany and Belgium: this would be a tool to go out and compete in the world,” he concludes. Aliaga.

Because this industry, currently small in Spain (not counting vegetable drinks moves 100 million a year), has everything to grow, but it also has to overcome important drawbacks. “Supply chains are not yet efficient: less so if you have to compete with the cost of making chicken or pork,” says the manager. “The same supermarket sells 30 trays of chicken every day, while plant-based products only four or five,” he says.

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