George Vou has been an entrepreneur for the past 10 years, having founded a number of web and mobile-based tech companies, with the last one exiting in 2018. His first startup gamified household chores for families and his second company provided marketing tools for small businesses. Prior to this, he worked in the FMCG (Fast-moving consumer goods) sector, responsible for international marketing across 62 countries for an energy drink company until 2012, gaining valuable experience in selling physical products. Once he finished with his second startup in 2018, he sought to start a company in a field he was passionate about. Mighty Kitchen allowed him to explore issues and fields he was most interested in, being at the intersection of environmental and animal welfare, as well as sustainability and human health.
The first priority for George was to find a suitable co-founder, something he saw as vital for building a successful startup. After spending over half a year searching for the right person, even traveling to Germany and the UK, to his surprise he found his new co-founder in the very same city he lived in Cyprus. Louiza Sophocleous, a biomedical engineer with a degree in applied maths and physics and a PhD in electrical engineering, shared the same interest in plant-based food as George. After initiating their partnership, they spent a few months putting an initial team together, consulting with relevant advisers, mainly from people experienced in the plant-based field, and experimenting with their idea in labs and kitchens.
Mighty Kitchen’s main focus, unlike most of their plant-based competitors, is to focus on creating different types of plant-based meat. George explained that the majority of plant-based products relied on smaller minced pieces coming together to recreate plant-based versions of meat, such as beef, which although is a complex process, is simpler than whole muscle meats, such as chicken, which are quite rare in the market. This drove them to initially start working on a plant-based whole muscle chicken product. With chicken being the most widely consumed meat around the world, it would be the easiest product to market in most cultures, unlike other meats, such as beef or pork.
In the early stages of their first product’s development the priority was to ensure better texture and flavour compared to existing products which use soya as their main ingredient. Due to the extraction process required to produce soya-based foods, such products often lack richness in taste, requiring added flavouring. The technology Mighty Kitchen developed, along with the relevant intellectual property, mitigates the taste challenges faced by soya-based foods and provides for better texture. George claimed that similar technologies to theirs are only used by 3% of the market, which although leads to them having less insights and experience in mass production, gives them the opportunity to try new things which other companies are not able to do.
To fill in the experience gaps, they have a number of advisers helping and guiding them on a regular basis from the field of plant-based meats, including Joel Gfeller, who helped set up one of the US’ largest plant-based processing facilities, and Jaime Athos, President and CEO of Tofurky, one of the oldest plant-based companies in the US, who is now one of Mighty Kitchen’s investors. Finding a manufacturing partner was also made possible by another one of Mighty Kitchen’s advisers, having introduced them to a Dutch company, with clients including Tesco and Subway, who not only were willing to help with production, increasing its production capabilities to 10-12 tonnes a day, but also with their technology development.
So far, Mighty Kitchen has developed five different products, carrying out their bench trials in Cyprus and then conducting bigger scale up trials, typically of 500kg, alongside their manufacturing partner in the Netherlands. Despite product development disruptions in the early stages due to the pandemic, Mighty Kitchen has put certain processes in place with their manufacturing partner which has sped up development pace, regardless of the pandemic and the distance between the two partners.
Currently, Mighty Kitchen has a team of five people, three on the technical and two on the business side, in addition to other people who help with social media and data processing. The growth of the team highly depends on what is needed, and the strategy being pursued.
According to George, they are currently at a healthy stage, with product development on a good path providing them with the capability to focus on various products. Regarding market strategy, they have a twin focus on emerging and established markets. In the latter, such as the UK and Germany, George described them not fully saturated but incredibly competitive, with companies focused on building their brands for retail. Although he says the focus on retail is understandable, this has significantly crowded the sector and at the same time left the F&B market underserved. Having spotted this opportunity, in early 2021 they initiated negotiations with a large gyro meat company based in the UK who aim to enter the plant-based market with Mighty Kitchen as their technology provider. Such an arrangement is also being discussed with a similar company in Germany, which will allow Mighty Kitchen to benefit from such companies’ existing distribution networks.
In emerging markets, they have so far secured distributors in Greece, Cyprus and the UAE. They see Cyprus as more of a test market, unlike Greece and the UAE, with its plant-based market not as developed as theirs, however, all three having obvious growth potential. Similarly to established markets, they will focus on the underserved F&B sector of such markets. The overall strategy for entering such markets is to automate and scale the sales process of their products online, while at the same time providing their distributors with as much material as possible to explain what their products are and their benefits, since they’re fairly new to these markets.
In addition, they have established a technology partnership with a company in Spain and Portugal, focusing on catering and ready meals, and have approximately 20 restaurants in Cyprus signed up for their pre-launch. Mighty Kitchen is currently running various tests with these restaurants to better understand their processes and how to best serve such establishments. In the first three months, following the end of their initial test trials in September 2021, they have started penetrating the market with sales. George sees the first six months of sales in 2022 as being a key indicator of the performance, as well as a major factor once they initiate their next round of funding in late 2022.