Rapidly scaling up production was part of the plan from the beginning for Dutch plant-based protein company Ojah, which has recently announced a joint venture with the Irish ingredients giant Kerry Group. During the Foodvalley Summit Protein of the Future, 10 October 2018, Frank Giezen, CEO and co-founder Ojah will share his experience.
Ojah was founded in 2009 by three entrepreneurs – two of whom were food engineers – who wanted to commercialise their own technology based on High Moisture Extrusion (HME), a process that gives vegetable proteins a meat-like texture and bite. The company’s meat and fish alternatives are sold under the ingredient brand Beeter in The Netherlands, and Plenti in 21 international markets. In 2012, Ojah won the award for the most innovative Dutch SME, and by 2017 it was producing over 1000 tonnes of Plenti a year for its B2B customers.
“We already did the upscale before we started the company,” said co-founder and CEO Frank Giezen. “We had a lot of technological challenges but the most important ones were already addressed and solved. We are engineers so we spent two years on this research…When we were sure there were no technical challenges anymore, we decided to go ahead.”
He explained that in the beginning they would test their production line by running it for three days straight and taking turns working 12-hour shifts themselves to identify any problems. By the time the product launched, the only issue that remained was how to bring it to market, which they solved by working closely together with their launching customer The Vegetarian Butcher, which became a specialist meat substitutes supplier.
In early 2017, Ojah was acquired by Korys, the investment arm of the Belgian Colruyt family, well-known for their discount supermarkets chain in Belgium, France and Luxembourg. Then in April 2018, Kerry Group formally announced that it would become a majority shareholder in the company, entering in a joint venture with Korys and current management, and hailing the deal as “part of its ambition to become a market leader in the supply of innovative plant proteins”.
“The dream I always had was we wanted the products to be available for the whole world,” said Giezen.
He explained that the Kerry deal allows Ojah to tap into worldwide research capacity, engineering expertise and a global ingredients distribution network, and to start work on a plan to grow beyond Western Europe. The transaction only completed a couple of months ago, so the integration is ongoing, but Giezen underlines that Ojah is still an independent company with the same management structure, but with the best of three worlds.
“To be a frontrunner and disruptor in this fast-moving market I believe you have to be really flexible,” he said. “We don’t want to lose that because we are becoming part of a big multinational. All stakeholders however are backing us and show great confidence in what Ojah is doing, trying to make it easier for meat eaters to eat a little bit less meat without having to suffer less quality or less taste.”