Above Food fuels plant-based foods business: 'There's a real reason why we can win here'
Above Food's roots started in 2016 under the name Purely Canada Foods as a supplier of what president and co-founder Martin Williams calls "boutique proteins" including lentil, fava, and chickpeas.
Its consumer-facing business Above Ingredients and Above Food was launched in 2020 after the company's four founders realized the value in owning its supply chain from "seed-to-fork," said Williams, who noted how the company is in full control of every input of its operations from plant genetics to the extrusion technology of its plant-based ingredients.
"Because we have that degree of custody, the decisions we can make as a business are just very different," Williams told FoodNavigator-USA.
One of the company's largest advantage and differentiators in the marketplace of plant protein production is its commitment to regenerative agriculture, which is becoming an increasingly important to consumers, claimed Williams.
He argued the company has been practicing regenerative agriculture since the '80s when CEO Lionel Kambeitz, a fourth-generation farmer, took over his family's farm land in Canada.
"We have a platform that will enable us to quantify the amount of carbon we’re sequestering in a product," said Williams, adding that the goal is to make its carbon sequestration a common product attribute.
"We’re not there yet, but we’ll get there," he said.
'We’re taking the lens of a multi-pulse approach'
Above Food's core focus is on a handful of plant-based ingredients – lentil, fava, chickpea, and oats – that Williams said work well in product formulations on their own and even better, in combination.
"There’s enough peas that are being fractionated that the world doesn’t need another pea based ingredient. We’re taking the lens of a multi-pulse approach where you combine a chick and fava and a lentil and a quinoa to delivery higher nutrient density and better mouthfeel," he said.
Williams added that the company is also working with other ingredients such as flax seeds and canary seeds.
Plant-based company ambitions
Building its plant-based B2C business, Above Food recently launched its D2C site featuring four brands that the company has acquired since 2020, including Farmer Direct Organic (organic pantry staples), Only Oats (gluten-free, oat-based ingredients and consumer products) and Culcherd (organic, plant-based dairy products made from cashews with added probiotics).
"We believe that we’ve got a really robust portfolio and there's a real reason why we can win here. There’s a real reason for consumers to come on to our marketplace vs. a singular brand or a singular product segment. You can come on to Above Food market and complete a good portion of your weekly groceries," said Williams.
Adding to its plant-based food offerings, Above Food debuted Eat Up!, its in-house brand featuring plant-based meat crumbles and pizza crusts which can be utilized in a number of different recipes and meal preparations (Williams noted how the company would be adding more recipes to its site for cooking inspiration). Eat Up! by Above Food will also release plant-based meatballs and mini sliders, additional plant-based dairy products, and plant-based snacks in the coming months.
"We can launch products rapidly and gain active feedback on those products. From a business standpoint, it’s speed to market, and it’s also speed to data and speed to insights," said Williams, who noted that the company is already seeing attach rates between its Culcherd and Eat Up! brands as consumers fill up their online baskets.
What comes next?
While the company is leaning hard into building its direct to consumer business, which has products available to ship to customers in Canada and 48 US contiguous states, Above Food will be launching its Eat Up! brand at natural food stores in Q3 2021 and entering more points of distribution with Culcherd, Farmer Direct Organic, and Only Oats brands.
"We’re going to scale the heck of out of them because they’re standing on a lot more solid ground in terms of the differentiation," said Williams.
"You’re also going to see us be highly acquisitive and continue to bring brands and amazing products on to the platform."