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Why ex Alpro CEO is moving from Danone to The Protein Brewery: I’d like us to function as leaders in fermented fungal food ingredients

Ex Alpro chief Sue Garfitt isn’t replacing a former CEO by itself, because ahead of onboarding at The Protein Brewery there sort of wasnt one. The start-up was founded in 2020 by molecular scientist Wim de Laat, who has since headed up the business as founder and chief scientific officer.

Bringing Garfitt onboard is clear recognition that The Protein Brewery is expanding. It needed somebody ahead in andbring the business enterprise to commercialisation, operationalising it onto a more impressive stage, a more impressive platform, Garfitt explained.

What factors influenced her decision to go over from Danone-owned Alpro to head up a alternative protein start-up in HOLLAND? And how will her expertise help transition The Protein Brewery to another stage?

Danone wanted me to remain

The Protein Brewery is attempting to disrupt conventional protein with fungi-based alternatives. Its first ingredient, Fermotein, is manufactured utilizing a unique mix of proprietary fungi and an easy-to-operate brewing process.

Fermotein is saturated in protein, dietary fibre, efa’s, vitamins and minerals. In comparison to beef production, Fermotein uses just 1% of the land, 5% of the water, and makes up about 3% of the CO2. From the nutrition perspective, Fermotein is allergen-free.

Fermotein originated by De Laat to displace animals in the meals chain, and even though he will no more be heading up the start-up, his vision remains. Under Garfitts leadership, De Laat will still be an essential person in the management team, and can work closely with the incoming CEO in her new role, Garfitt explained.

He and I work pretty closely together.because Im no molecular biologist thats not my background.

protein brewery vat

Fermotein is really a fermented, fungi-based protein alternative. Image source: The Protein Brewery

The incoming CEO involves The Protein Brewery from plant-based milk alternative brand Alpro.

Founded in 1980, the Belgian brand owned by Vandemoortele sold to Dean Foods in 2009 for $455m, which marketed the Silk soymilk brand in america. In 2013, Dean Foods subsidiary WhiteWave, which managed Alpro, was spun-off being an independent company. Dean Foods remaining stock in WhiteWave was sold in 2013.

The next year, Garfitt joined Alpro as Commercial Director of its UK business. And 2 yrs from then on, French dairy major Danone acquired WhiteWave Foods for $10.4bn.

Over her eight-year tenure at Alpro, Garfitt was promoted to the role of CEO, where she led the brand as an inferior businesses within the bigger corporate until Danones 2021 reorganisation strategy saw Alpro fully built-into its business structure.

Danone wanted me to remain, but I must say i was ready for a fresh adventure I didnt actually want to stay static in the Danone organisation and take action apart from plant-based and that role wasnt open to me.

I was always likely to search for a new adventure. Likely it had been going to maintain plant-based. And here I’m at The Protein Brewery.

The move from established player to newcomer

There have been obvious benefits in Alpro being purchased by Danone, Garfitt recalled. The acquisition was included with usage of capital, which helped increase its amount of factories and allowed for continued branded investment and innovation.

Danone is really a master in fermentation technology, in yoghurt specifically due to the strength of these dairy business, and we really benefited from [that], explained Garfitt. We could actually draw on a few of that experience.

However, as plant-based isn’t Danones number 1 priority, the ex Alpro chief said she knew to be able to keep on the plant-based mission she’d need to look elsewhere.

Although plant-based can be an important section of the Danone organisation, its not their number 1 priority, she told FoodNavigator. Their dairy business will be a lot bigger and I needed to be sure thatif I stayed on [I would be] driving the plant-based business forward, also it didnt feel just like that was likely to necessarily happen just as. In order that was one the factors [in moving on].

Another factor, she explained, was the chance presented by The Protein Brewery in transforming from the start-up right into a scale-up. I knew full well that with the knowledge Ive had I possibly could structure the business enterprise, set strategy, and use investors.

In the external environment, I possibly could bring those skills to The Protein Brewery to scale it up quicker, effectively and successfully. That has been area of the attraction for me personally.

The knowledge of scaling-up, from pre-trade to commercialisation, is really a new one for the ex Alpro chief. Having worked in private equity, and in smaller businesses, Garfitt sees her latest move as some an adventure. I havent done that before in my own working career.

Key differences between multinational and start-up

Doing work for a multinational such as for example Danone may very well be a radically different experience in comparison to owning a start-up established significantly less than 3 years ago.

To begin with, Garfitt explained, The Protein Brewery has 35 employees on the books, and also a couple of external advisors. Compared, at Alpro the CEO was owning a 1,500-strong team.

protein brewery kitchen

The start-up really wants to disrupt animal-sourced protein. Image source: The Protein Brewery

Headcount aside, among the key differences Garfitt has noticed since onboarding at The Protein Brewery is based on the need of a resourceful attitude. You need to be a self-starterYou know there isnt the [same] infrastructure set up, there arent exactly the same [number] of individuals set up.

Interestingly, it can make you concentrate on things that create a material difference, as you dont have the resource and you also dont have enough time to spotlight another things you almost certainly have the blissful luxury to accomplish in a much bigger corporate organisation.

Another big differentiator may be the inherent agility start-ups are popular for. At an inferior level, decision making could be faster, we were told: We are able to enter a huddle on an integral decision pretty fast

We are able to decide on something quite significant within 45 minutes, and thats quite refreshing. In addition, it enables us to go a lot more quicklyIts not so layered and its own not so hierarchical.

Next steps for The Protein Brewery

Garfitt will lead The Protein Brewery into its next stage of growth.

The start-up recently moved into its new headquarters in Breda, holland, with a 1,500m2 demo plant with a production capacity of a large number of tons each year along the way. The plant is made to scale up the Fermotein brewing process, with first commercial-scale alternative proteins likely to roll off the production line later this season.

For collaborations with food manufacturers and ultimately, commercialisation, Garfitt plans to create her extensive knowledge and knowledge of the plant-based sector. That is significant for a biotech business like the Protein Brewery, she explained.

Fermotein can be an ingredient, however the start-up really wants to bring life to the merchandise and not simply talk about is really as a raw material. Its an eating and drinking experience, we were told.

The CEOs experience in the plant-based environment also includes a vast network of connections, she suggested, that is essential to the start-ups accelerated growth strategy. Consistent with that strategy, scaling up is front-of-mind. Well take [Fermotein] in to the next stage and prove we are able to operationalise and commercialise, she stressed.

I’d like us to function as leaders. Thats our vision: to function as leaders in providing fermented fungal food ingredients.

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