Kati Ohens is using Plantcraft to offer nutritious and delicious plant-based deli meat alternatives
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Kati Ohens: Thank you for asking – I am blessed to be running the company from New Zealand, one of the few countries that managed to eliminate the virus and living an almost normal life. Unfortunately, the rest of the team is more affected, we have Hungarian colleagues who lost loved ones, and life is only getting a little less restricted for our US team.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Plantcraft.
Kati Ohens: I have spent over 20 years in digital advertising, working for big ad agencies, looking after large dairy and cereal brands as an executive digital producer. Prior to founding Plantcraft, I was running my own agency, operating as a producer and advisor at the intersection of branding, software development and startup incubation.
At the time I met Csaba, my future co-founding partner of Plantcraft, he had just acquired the rights to a unique food processing technology and was planning to manufacture pasta in a facility he owned. He hired me to develop the strategy for commercializing and monetizing the technology. While learning about the technology, I discovered that it could be used to make groundbreaking plant-based meat alternatives, and I knew that could have a tremendous impact on the environmental causes we both cared so deeply about. Together we formed Plantcraft.
How does Plantcraft innovate?
Kati Ohens: We are using an array of existing and new food science technologies with a single focus of bringing to life a range of nutritious and delicious plant-based deli meat alternatives, from deli slices through hot dogs, sausages, pepperoni and pâtés.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Kati Ohens: It has been a challenge in different, sometimes unexpected ways. At the beginning of the onset of the pandemic, we had issues with our ingredient sourcing, especially with the more special ingredients such as the green banana flour. Later on, the biggest challenge was finding ways around the inability to do in-store sampling, tasting, and just generally working through as the food retail industry, along with others, went through a major transformation. We have recently been coping with manufacturing facility lockdowns and not enough workers for our manufacturing tests and first production lines. The saddest of all was to support some of our colleagues through grief as they lost their loved ones to the pandemic.
The silver lining is that the pandemic is shining a bright light on the dangers of humanity’s obsession with meat-eating and factory farming. Many new demographics had become open to this new way of eating, opening up bigger markets for Plantcraft and our fellow plant-based food innovators.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Kati Ohens: Luckily, we had strong support from our amazing investors and didn’t have to make any hard decisions. The most challenging part for us was to be patient. Understanding that the rest of the world has to go through the same, we are helped a bit.
What specific tools, software and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Kati Ohens: We are building an emotionally resilient, decentralized, horizontal team with strong support and flexibility in how we work together. Our team is incredibly hard-working, resourceful and it is amazing to see how they are picking each other up when needed. This has been one of the most rewarding skills we have mastered during this time. Other than this, we are running a tight ship with agile project management tools, financial tools and communication software – I am bringing many of these principles over from my software business background.
It was especially helpful as the digitization of the food industry seems to have been faster than anywhere else – new buying platforms have grown incredibly fast, innovative sampling services were created, shopping and food delivery got fully automated, and dark kitchens have swiftly reshaped how foodservice works.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Kati Ohens: There is still so much unexplored opportunity and growth potential in plant-based space that it’s hard to look at our fellow plant-based food innovators as competition. We are all driven by the same principles and goals, to make an impact, help fix our food system, improve human health, create a more sustainable system to feed the growing population, stop the animal genocide and help avoid spiralling out of our planetary boundaries. Some of these companies work to make plant-based foods more accessible, some work to support plant-based food companies. Our point of difference is our unique foodtech and formulation that allows us to create the cleanest products, free from allergens, soy, wheat, harmful additives and preservatives. We are also focusing a lot on making our products nutrient-dense, using such beneficial ingredients as green bananas, legumes, seeds and healthy fats, while our preservatives are garlic and rosemary oil.
Your final thoughts?
Kati Ohens: We are super excited as our products hit the shelves in the United States. We debut with our scrumptious pâtés; these are savoury, meaty spreads and staples in European households. They are traditionally consumed at every snack occasion, great in open-face sandwiches, on top of crackers, or even savoury pastry fillings.