Marc Coloma is the CEO and co-Founder of Heura Foods, a Barcelona-based plant-based meat company which fuses activism and science to produce what it calls the “successors of meat”.
Founded in 2017, Heura has been on a rapid upwards trajectory. In five short years the brand has already earned multiple awards and achievements, including a spot on the 2021 FoodTech 500 and a B-Corp certification. Last year, the company managed to triple its revenue to €17.7 million, and expanded to 22 countries.
Before launching Heura to such heights, Marc worked with the Catalan branch of animal rights organisation Animal Equality. There is no doubt this has influenced his work today. He says outright that Heura’s mission is to remove animals from the global food system.
Food Matters Live caught up with Marc to find out how his previous life as an activist impacts his work today, how he ensures Heura is a company people enjoy working for, what steps he is taking to ensure the longevity of the plant-based movement and what he wishes he had known before embarking on this journey.
Before launching Heura you were an environmental activist. What’s the change been like for you, from working for Animal Equality to starting your own business?
I’m an activist at heart and always will be. My transition to the corporate side of activism has been extremely enriching. I started as a street activist with the purpose of exposing the truth behind the traditional animal meat industry’s practices and it is this drive that has helped me find a way to have a greater impact. Using businesses as a vessel for activism is feasible with the right set of corporate values and that is exactly what we are doing at Heura. This is a mission-turned-company rooted in activism, designed to accelerate the protein transition, and empower people to change the food system into one that is more sustainable and ethical.
Activism is a real foundational element for your team. How do investors and potential partners respond to this, given the general perception of activists as ‘disruptors’?
We have built a community of Good Rebels that understands the power of fostering sustainable consumption habits. By empowering people to vote with their forks, we have been able to surround ourselves with investors and partners that understand the need to challenge the norm to make a great impact. Many of them were attracted through our CrowdCube investment round with a unique profile – young women with a real desire to be the change. Our mission has always been to improve the current food system and by doing this, we have landed a Series A investment round led by Impact Fooding, as well as football players Chris Smalling, Sergi Roberto, and Cesc Fábregas back in 2021. We will continue to have a growth mindset and attract in the meantime the best partners in mission that will help us accelerate the protein transition.
Who’s the typical Heura customer?
With our aim to renew traditions and offer a holistic approach to plant-based meat consumption, we welcome flexitarians as regular consumers. We want to empower people to vote for a more sustainable food system and eat their favourite recipes without it having a toll on the environment. As change makers, we attract and retain consumers that do not fall into stereotypes. Thus, they are part of a community of Good Rebels who are out to accelerate positive change and understand the power of plant-based eating.
You have strong ethical values. How do these values translate to the working environment at Heura?
Heura has proven that doing things differently pays off. It is a company that has challenged the status quo since day one and that fosters and attracts non-conformists who want to drive positive change. Every team member sees the company’s mission as a personal cause and works towards the main goal: accelerating the protein transition.
“Using businesses as a vessel for activism is feasible with the right set of corporate values and that is exactly what we are doing at Heura.”
How do you inspire and retain your employees and make Heura a happy work place?
We have a strong company culture that empowers Good Rebel employees to help accelerate positive change and fight for a more sustainable food system. The leadership style in the company allows every team member to care about our mission and see it as a “personal” problem to be solved professionally. The autonomy every employee has allows us to bring good vibes to every endeavour and celebrate our successes as a team. We like to excel at everything we do and that applies to every aspect of our daily tasks and future plans. The community of employees we have built are result-driven non-conformists that are inspired by our mission to keep improving and always bring the best innovative solutions.
Why do you think people are responding so well to your offering, and what are you doing differently to other companies – particularly those who are much older and larger?
As a company rooted in activism, we are more than a business. We are dedicated to building a community of Good Rebels who are out to accelerate positive change. We understand that consumers are now more than ever looking to adopt brands that embrace eco-friendly practices throughout their whole value chain. Thus, we have always been transparent with our mission as a company, which is key when communicating sustainable actions taken that lead to improvement. As we continue to grow, we continue to recognise food technology and social activism as a Swiss Army knife to build the future we want to live in – one that is sustainable for the planet, people, and animals.
The plant-based movement is thriving like never before, and a lot of this is because people are able to see themselves living this lifestyle ‘easily’ rather than it being difficult. What are you focussing on right now to ensure the success of vegan food is not momentary but has longevity?
We are creating food solutions that empower consumers to renew traditions. We want consumers to have the recipes they have always had, but with plant-based meat successors. The plant-based sector is expected to reach a staggering €80.43 billion globally by 2024, according to a recent report from BIS research. Heura’s growth shows how the sector is evolving. It closed 2021 with €17.7 million in turnover, up from €8 million in 2020. With its most successful year in its nearly five-year history, Heura has expanded its reach to more than 20 countries, up from 13 just last year. Consumers now, more than ever, are shifting towards more sustainable eating habits that are boosting plant-based meat sales and pushing for innovation every step of the way. Hence, these figures show that the future is plant-based.
“As we continue to grow, we continue to recognise food technology and social activism as a swiss army knife to build the future we want to live in – one that is sustainable for the planet, people, and animals.”
How can existing businesses make a shift to become more ethically and socially responsible?
The general advice should be to highlight the importance of day-to-day actions. When we face the problems in the current food system as too great of a task, we should remember that the power lives in the people and the decisions we take with every meal. Having partners in our mission is a great way to enable this protein transition. Allying with other brands that understand the importance of a plant-based diet is a great way to start accelerating this movement.
What’s your advice for start-ups who want to launch a successful brand with an environmental message like Heura?
As partners in this mission, we would encourage them to be transparent with their offering and empower consumers to be part of the change. Challenging the status quo is not an easy task, but it’s one that is highly necessary to have a greater impact. Mistakes enable growth and as any start-up continues to evolve, persistence and drive are key to continue making things happen.
What advice do you wish you’d been given when you started Heura? What do you wish you’d known at the start?
I truly believe that when you have a good reason to do things, you always find the way to do them. This applies to every aspect of your life. Even though I have solidified this idea as I have progressed in my life, I think it is useful for any young entrepreneur that is out there to accelerate change to have it as top of mind. Sometimes we doubt and underestimate the power people have as a community. All the learnings I have acquired until now have led me to where I am today, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. In times of doubt, I remember the great community of informed Good Rebels we have built and recognise the great journey we have had.