Alternative meat options have been gaining momentum in the CEE region as consumers and policymakers become increasingly aware of traditional meat production’s environmental, ethical, and health impacts. Driven by the trend and need for innovation, first FoodTech startups have started to appear on the CEE – V4 states map. The Recursive explores some of the most promising regional startups defining the future of meat and the challenges they face in bringing their products to market.
Arising from the development of food technology, companies produce alternative meat primarily in two main ways. Today’s meat substitutes are either cell-based, made by cultivating actual animal cells in a lab, or plant-based, substituting meat with plant protein such as pea or soy. Such alternative meat solutions use innovative technologies to create products that mimic the taste and texture of animal-based meats.
Future of meat market trends
The global meat substitute market was valued at $9.9 billion in 2021, expecting expansion at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 42.1% from 2022 to 2030. Moreover, it is anticipated society is heading to a rather meatless future, with more than half of the meat consumption no longer being produced by traditional livestock farming by 2040.
Following the trend, study finds nearly 60% of Western European consumers seek meat alternatives, with an increasing number of vegan product launches across the region. However, while the plant and cell-based meat industries recorded significant global development, the leading markets remain the US, China, Israel, and Western Europe, particularly Netherlands, UK, Germany, Spain, and France, leaving the CEE region behind.
Plant-based meat options have been around for over a decade, beginning in 2012 with the launch of California-based Beyond Meat’s chicken strips. Afterward, Impossible Burger and Beyond Burger released the first plant-based burgers in 2016.
In contrast, cell-based meat, also called cultured or cultivated meat, is a relatively new concept, with the first companies appearing around 2015, facing higher regulatory challenges due to its production. Although the lab-grown alternative isn’t available yet, California’s Just Eat was the first company in the world to sell its cultured chicken to restaurants in Singapore in 2020. In late 2022, the US FDA gave the green light to cell-based meat consumption and started the race of companies in the market. Similar actions are expected to reach Europe within the next few years.
Today, The Recursive will explore 6 Czech, Polish, and Hungarian food tech startups that power the future of meat with alternative protein sources.
Cultured meat FoodTech startups
Based: Brno, Czech Republic
Founder: Roman Lauš
What the solution brings: Earlier this year, the Brno-tech-hub-based FoodTech startup Mewery introduced the first cultivated meat prototype, a mix of pork and microalgae cells, in the CEE region. According to the startup, their pork prototype significantly differs from others that rely on plant-based inputs like soy or pea. Additionally, they claim to present the world’s first 100% cell-based pork, consisting of 75% pork cells and 25% microalgae cells. The startup aims to bring the product to the market within two years.
Recent news: Founded in 2020, Mewery announced its accomplished proof of concept in 2022. The startup received a pre-seed investment of €120K from Big Idea Ventures in 2022. Later that year, it was backed by Czech VCs Credo Ventures and Purple Ventures with an undisclosed amount.
Bene Meat Technologies
Based: Prague, Czech Republic
Founder: Roman Kříž
What the solution brings: Cell-based protein by Bene Meat Technologies was one of the first to appear in Central and Eastern Europe in 2021. The technology is still developing, focusing firstly on cultivating beef meat. One of its major milestones was the development of immortal cells that self-reproduce. Toward the company’s goal of producing cell-based meat, Bene Meat discovered a potential to develop cell-based protein for pets and announced the expansion in this direction in 2023.
Recent news: The startup was founded in 2020 and received an investment of over ~ €5.5M in 2022 from global medical manufacturer BTL Medical Technologies from the Czech Republic.
Plant-based meat FoodTech startups
Based: Poznan, Poland
Founders: Andy David Staniek, Martyna Polak
What the solution brings: Polish FoodTech startup Planeat was founded in 2020 to level up the taste of plant-based meat alternatives. Planeat produces meat substitutes based on pea and soybean protein, offering primary vegetable ground suitable for preparing cutlets, meatballs, and such.
Recent news: In 2021, Planeat received a grant from the Carrefour Foundation of €100K with the product available at selected supermarkets. Followingly, the startup closed an angel round of ~ €230K in 2022 to open a larger production plant and grow the team.
Based: New York, US (office in Budapest, Hungary)
Founders: Csaba Hetényi
What the solution brings: With roots in Hungary and New Zealand, Plantcraft produces plant-based deli meats. Offering a wide range of clean-label deli products, Plantcraft’s meat is free from common allergens such as soy, wheat, eggs, nuts, and dairy, containing, for example, green bananas or legumes. The startup offers products such as bologna slices, paté, and pepperoni.
Recent news: Founded in 2018, Plantcraft has already raised $2.2M. The startup secured over $1.6M in seed investment in 2020 from X-Ventures Venture Fund Management Company. After a year of development, the company launched its products in the US.
ManaBurger by Mana (Heaven Labs)
Based: Prague, Czech Republic
Founders: Jakub Krejčík
What the solution brings: Plant-based products Mana powered by a startup Heaven Labs offer consumers convenient, science-based, nutritionally complete foods. Founded in 2014 in the founder’s kitchen, the startup represents one of the country’s plant-based food tech market pioneers. Mana’s signature products range from powders to drinks and burgers made from plant proteins such as peas, algae, hemp, and brown rice. According to the startup, the ManaBurger is the world’s first nutritionally complete burger.
Recent news: The ManaBurger has been on the market for over three years, maintaining its financing through bootstrapping. Their products are currently available throughout the EU, UK, and US.
Based: Pulawy, Poland
Founders: Basia McWhorter, Brian McWhorter
What the solution brings: Mentioned in our alternative protein article last year, a polish plant-based food tech company Cultured Foods provides meat alternatives, sugar-free products, and recipes. The meat offering consists of burger and meaty mixes containing ingredients like soy protein, chickpea flour, and chia seeds.
Recent news: Established in 2019, the startup currently distributes its products to 15 European countries.