UK plant-based ‘bleeding burger’ startup Moving Mountains has landed on Aussie shores, rolling out in Woolies stores country-wide.
Founded in 2016 by Simeon Van Der Molen, Moving Mountains has bootstrapped its way onto menus at the likes of Hard Rock Cafe, Planet Hollywood and Applebee’s in Europe, as well as several pub chains in the UK.
But, Down Under, Van der Molen is taking his realistic burger and hotdog products straight to the supermarkets, in a bid to cash in on the barbecue culture.
The founder launched Moving Mountains after being diagnosed with dangerously high cholesterol about five years ago. He was told he had to either change his diet, or face a lifetime of medication.
But, when he tested the vegetarian options available on the market at the time, he was far from impressed.
“I’ve always been of the opinion that food should be enjoyed,” Van der Molen tells StartupSmart.
“While it’s good to have a wholesome natural diet of fruit and vegetables, you do want a treat every now and then.”
And, the founder was no stranger to entrepreneurship, already running a business manufacturing eco-friendly detergent.
“I was already in that frame of mind for helping the planet,” he explains.
He put all of the company’s resources and his own funds into launching Moving Mountains, hiring food consultants and technologists to create a plant-based “juicy burger” worthy of a treat.
Made largely from pea protein and oyster mushrooms, the burger is intended to replicate meat, with beetroot juice creating a ‘bloody’ effect in the centre of the patty.
The Moving Mountains hotdog is mainly made from sunflower seeds, intended to provide an alternative rich in vitamins and protein.
Now, the business is seeing an annual turnover of £10 million ($18.8 million), Van der Molen says — a figure he says values the business at approximately $180 million.
“That’s double our prediction,” he says.
“We’re exceeding our targets.”
Bring out the BBQ
For its Australian launch, Moving Mountains has had to take its strategy in a slightly different direction.
In Europe, the startup targeted the food services sector first, getting its name on the menus of big brand restaurants and into the British pub scene.
“You build a name for yourself in food service, then you go and launch in the supermarkets … after you’ve built a strong root for your company.”
In Australia, however, the culture is less beer-and-burger and more barbie-down-the-beach.
“We had to have a very different strategy,” he explains.
“We had to give the product to the people to actually cook themselves.”
Not just for tree huggers
Of course, this isn’t the first plant-based protein to find its way into Aussie stomachs.
In June, New Zealand startup Sunfed Meats rolled out its flagship chicken-free chicken product in Coles stores. And, just weeks ago, v2food launched with backing from Hungry Jack’s boss Jack Cowin, before rolling out in his chain of restaurants less than a week later.
Elsewhere, Queensland startup Qponics is harvesting a particular breed of algae to produce a high-value omega-3 oil, as well as a byproduct that can be used in the alternative meats industry. And, in Sydney, Vow Meats is cultivating lab-grown kangaroo meat.
When Van der Molen started working on the Moving Mountains products, there were rumours that Impossible Burger was creating “the most ingenious burger ever”, he recalls.
“Back then, it was all very mythical … no-one had ever seen it or tasted it.”
At that time, and even when Moving Mountains launched, talking about meat alternatives drew funny looks and confusion.
“People thought you were an activist — a tree hugger,” the founder recalls.
“There was a reluctance in the marketplace. Nobody wanted to know. It’s completely different now,” he adds.
“Now, it’s just exploded all around the world.”
That’s not to say Van der Molen doesn’t welcome competition. In fact, if he’s going to have competitors, he would prefer top-quality ones.
If you add up all the sales of plant-based proteins all over the world, “we’re not even scratching the surface”, he says.
“We’ve got a long way to go. There need to be a lot more companies like Moving Mountains launching everywhere in the world.”
If companies launch sub-standard products, that taints the whole industry, he says. Then you run the risk of people who may have made the switch to plant-based food turning their back on it altogether.
“It’s incredibly damaging for the market,” he explains.
But the more high-quality products there are out there, the higher the bar is raised for everyone.
“Obviously, I would like Moving Mountains to be the best and the most successful. But it’s not about that anymore for me. I’ve already been successful. My vision is to give back to the planet.”
This is a business venture for Van der Molen, but it’s also a passion project. He’s out to change the way we eat on a global scale.
For him, birthing, raising and fattening up a cow, considering the attention, and amount of food and water each animal needs, is “the most unsustainable, archaic method of making food that has ever been known”, he says.
“It is ridiculous that we are feeding that cow so much food in order to fatten it up over a two-year-and-nine-month life cycle that we only get 1,000kg of beef,” he explains.
“There is more than enough food on the planet, we just give it to animals.”
And, through better communication tools, social media and better access to information than ever, as well as viable alternatives on the market, the tide is changing. Especially among the younger generations.
“The more they see that this archaic agricultural food system is defunct and it’s just not working anymore, the more people are going to switch to alternatives,” Van der Molen says.
“It’s the millennials who are driving this.”