When it comes to plant-based meats, Fazenda Futuro may not be a household name in the U.S. like Impossible or Beyond Meats, but in its native Brazil, it now holds a large chunk of the plant-based market share, producing 130 to 150 tons of that imitation meat every month. “For us, it’s like our obligation, because Brazil has the second-largest meat consumption in the world,” says Marcos Leta, the founder of Fazenda Futuro, which translates to “Future Farm,” and which is the winner of the Latin America regional category in Fast Company’s 2020 World Changing Ideas Awards.
Attitudes are changing in Brazil, as in much of the rest of the world, with people becoming more concerned about their health. That’s the number-one reason that Brazilians are shifting to plant-based meat, Leta says, followed by concerns about sustainability, especially given the widespread deforestation in the Amazon rain forest, much of which is due to cattle ranching.
For Leta, “the health factor was in my DNA,” he says. He sold his last business, Do Bem Juice, a line of premium, healthy juices, to AmBev, a Brazilian subsidiary of Anheuser-Busch InBev, in 2016. Since then, he’s been working in the plant-based space, evolving the science of the product itself, as well as the manufacturing processes that are required to realistically develop a premium plant-based protein on the same technological level as an Impossible or Beyond Meat.
Leta says the iterative process, the perfection of the products, has been central to the success of the company. In that regard, it operates like a software company. “If we reach a better texture, or a better color, or a better flavor, we change the version,” he says. The imitation meat burger, which is the company’s top product, is now in its second iteration, or the “2.0.” The 3.0 is due in August. Of course, in a country with the second-highest meat consumption per capita, one fake meat is not enough; the other three products are ground meat, meatballs, and sausages, which launched in March.
The 2.0 burger, a premium version of what was a more fast-food-like 1.0 hamburger, imitates a meat patty using a blend of soy, pea, and chickpea proteins; natural flavorings; palm or coconut oil for the fat; and beets to replicate the iron-rich, bloody flavor of real beef. It racks up 8 g of saturated fat and 379 mg of sodium, for the payoff of 15 g of protein. (A Shake Shack burger, for comparison, is higher on all counts: 14 g of saturated fat, and 1,260 mg of sodium, for 29 g of protein.)
Another area where Leta says his company competes is on the price point. “The price is more sensitive,” he says of attitudes and financial wherewithal in his home country, adding that Beyond’s prices are too high for Brazil. That’s also true, he says, in the other countries where Fazenda Futuro operates: Mexico, Uruguay, and Colombia. They can reach that cheaper target cost (two burger patties, for instance, retail for R$18, or US$3.46) because Brazil is the largest producer of non-GMO soy in the world.
The company also partners with various food services, including Bob’s, a burger chain with more than 1,050 stores in Brazil, and Spoleto, an Italian fast-casual chain with more than 250 stores, where diners can opt to swap in Fazenda’s meatballs for a 2020 version of the age-old classic of spaghetti and meatballs.
Fazenda Futuro moved into Europe this year, into extremely specific meat-eating markets—Holland, London, and Western Germany—and believes it will outcompete Beyond Meat there price-wise. When they move into the U.S., as is the goal by the end of the year, they’ll have yet more competition from Beyond and Impossible. But Leta is confident that customers will respond, thanks to his two signature factors: the competitive price and the continuous product evolution. By then, the burger will have morphed into its 3.0 self.