Jambon Beurre for the Climate Generation: La Vie Debuts Plant-Based French Ham
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Green Queen speaks to French startup La Vie’s co-founder and CEO Nicolas Schweitzer about the startup’s new plant-based ham, its latest crowdfunding campaign, and its new virtual restaurant.
Bacon is what made La Vie famous in the plant-based sector. That, and the company’s often viral marketing campaigns. But in the land of the Gauls, the true test of plant-based pork is ham.
For the average French person, the ‘jambon beurre’ – a ham, butter and baguette sandwich available at every bakery in the country – is the epitome of a humble French lunch. So famous and typical is the sandwich, in fact, that there’s even a national jambon beurre index, which analyses the average price of the lunch staple.
La Vie’s new plant-based ham means vegans and those looking to reduce their meat consumption can now enjoy the nation’s favourite sandwich – over 1.2 billion jambon beurre sandwiches are reportedly sold every year.
A plant-based ham to rival conventional pork
While many other plant-based companies in Europe and the US have tackled a range of deli meats, really good European-style vegan ham has eluded the sector. La Vie hopes to conquer the ham market with its latest product, which comes in two flavours (regular and smoked) and counts only seven ingredients – the product is 90% pea protein. It’s complemented by soy protein, natural flavourings, radish juice concentrate, salt, acidity regulator (potassium acetate) and vegan lactic acid. A smoke flavouring is added to the smoked version.
Unlike the vast majority of pork hams, La Vie’s version – developed over four years – is free of nitrites, which the World Health Organization has linked to cancer. On the nutrient front, the product delivers too, with one serving offering 19.5g of protein and only 0.7 grams of saturated fat – compared to 21g of protein and 1g of saturated fat for the country’s market-leading conventional ham.
Green Queen editor-in-chief Sonalie Figueiras, who is half-French and grew up eating jambon beurre sandwiches regularly, got to taste La Vie’s Smoked Ham back in May during the Hack Summit. She was wowed, noting at the time the ham was one of the best plant-based meat products she had ever tasted.
Figuerias caught up with La Vie co-founder and CEO Nicolas Schweitzer on a call to talk about the startup’s many announcements.
The ham has been on retail shelves for just under a week, and Schweitzer shared that he has anxiously been tracking comments and feedback across social media and review sites – so far, the response has been unanimously positive. Shoppers say both texture and taste are uncanny, with many rejoicing about the ability to enjoy meat-free versions of traditional French dishes like a croque monsieur.
Currently, the ham is available at multiple French supermarket chains including Intermarche, Leclerc, Super U, Auchamps, and Cora – although notably, it is not yet on sale at Carrefour.
The rapid rise of La Vie
La Vie says its flagship vegan bacon sells nearly as much as France’s top-selling bacon brand, in terms of volume. While Schweitzer acknowledges that France is not Europe’s largest bacon market, the young company enjoys robust sales and strong consumer support. Its Smoked Lardons product is the top-selling plant-based meat SKU in the country, he says, as per IRI data.
Across Europe, it’s available in over 4,500 stores. The brand, which launched in the UK last September, has sold 2.5 million products in the last 18 months and is aiming to hit €14m in annual sales by the end of 2023. It now plans to accelerate its UK penetration in the coming years – currently, British brand THIS Isn’t Bacon leads that market.
The brand is making waves across the foodservice sector too, landing on the menus of over 3,000 restaurants. Last year, it launched a partnership with Burger King that saw its bacon being included in a vegetarian burger. Speaking of which, during the same event where it unveiled the ham, La Vie announced the launch of a new delivery-only virtual restaurant, Kiss My Burger. It will be available on the Taster app from October 4 in Paris, delivering vegan bacon burgers, fries and grilled cheese sandwiches. It’s planning for a UK launch in Q1 2024, as part of a wider European rollout.
Crowdfunding campaign and new funding round
La Vie also announced a €1M crowdfunding round on CrowdCube from September 7-28, which people can sign up to from just £20. Within 48 hours, Schweitzer said pre-registrations had already blown past 300% of the original EUR 1 million crowdfunding goal. He added that the team is currently evaluating whether to increase the round, or put a cap on the ticket size, or both. When asked why the company decided to go the crowdfunding route, Schweitzer said that after years of community support, the team wanted to offer its most dedicated fans an opportunity to be part of the company’s journey and success. From the preliminary data he has looked at, a majority of the backers are new to the platform, which he guessed meant lots of the company’s supporters.
Schweitzer told Figueiras that the company has raised an investor-led round with commitments confirmed over the summer, and the crowdfunding is part of that larger round. He confirmed that crowd funders get the same terms as VC investors. He did not disclose the total amount of the round, as it is not official, but he did share that the funding will enable the company to achieve profitability by 2026.
The Natalie Portman-backed startup raised a record-breaking €25M in Series A funding last January – it was the largest single alternative protein raise for a French food tech business at the time.
A unique and inventive approach to marketing
The Parisian brand’s marketing strategy has been a major hit. The new product and crowdfunding campaign announcements have been met with applause from marketing experts on LinkedIn. Last year, it was accused of unfair competition by the pork lobby, which argued (perhaps counterproductively) that La Vie’s plant-based bacon lardons were too similar to their conventional counterparts.
“You simply reproduce the shape, colour, texture… and the taste of traditional bacon lardons,” read an excerpt from the cease-and-desist letter. La Vie responded with its own tongue-in-cheek campaign that accused the pork lobby of being too similar to its plant-based alternatives and asked it to change its recipe.
This is particularly notable in the current climate, given France’s proposed ban of meat-related terms on vegan alternatives, including ‘ham’, ‘bacon’ and ‘lardons’, which would affect La Vie’s products if approved.