Bernat Añaños, co-founder of Heura: “Barcelona and Catalonia are the perfect place from which to lead the protein transition”
Founded in Barcelona, Heura is one of Spain’s leading plant-based product companies. With an ambitious international expansion plan, the company seeks to revolutionize the market and position its products (made primarily from soybeans and peas) as the successors to meat.
Bernat Añaños, co-founder of Heura, explains that the company was created in 2017 with a clear message: "We are here to have a positive impact on the Earth". The agri-food industry, one of Catalonia's assets, has helped them grow rapidly and become a key player in fostering a healthier and more sustainable diet.
How did the idea of creating Heura Foods come about? What do you think are the reasons behind your success?
Heura Foods is a mission turned into a business. Both Marc Coloma, my co-founder, and I wanted to make a positive impact on animals, the planet, and human health. We saw that meat of animal origin had a very negative impact, due to its carbon footprint becoming increasingly greater, not to mention the impact on health and on animals as well.
Heura came about as a tool for change. We saw that there were ways to get this meat straight from vegetables. And that this diet did not mean giving up what we like: we love meat, but we don’t like the consequences of meat.
Its success is because we put health at the center. People are amazed at the nutritional value of our products. They get the best of meat (protein, vitamins, vitamin B12) and the best of vegetables (fiber, low in fats and saturated fats). We put a lot of effort into the sensory experience - we only put products on the market that when people try them, they think it’s meat.
What has your growth in turnover and presence in international markets been like? What are your forecasts for the coming years?
Our workforce today is 127 people, and we want to grow to more than 220 this year. In 2021 we had a turnover of 17.7 million euros, while in 2020 it was 8 million. And this year we expect to multiply our turnover by two.
Our products are present in 22 countries. We are leaders in Spain, ahead of all multinationals and large plant protein companies, and we want this leadership to reach France and Italy, while also giving a big push in the UK and Holland, as well as Mexico, where we are in Walmart.
Catalonia’s food industry goes back a long way. How has this helped you in your business activity?
Being surrounded by industry makes you learn very quickly. It makes you have access to resources and to people with a lot of experience in this sector. It’s pretty sure that in another part of the world it would have been far more complicated for us.
Furthermore, our Mediterranean location has given us many things. It’s an area with one of the highest rates of longevity and that’s due to our lifestyle: the food, the climate and because we’re more active than in other parts of the world. We put health at the center, we use olive oil as fat, and we use few ingredients in our kitchen.
What strengths do you think Catalonia has to develop a project based on vegetable protein?
It has the industry and the experience in the meat industry. The machines used to create plant or animal protein are often similar. What varies is the initial ingredient.
Catalonia also has the distribution capacity: it distributes worldwide and in very selective countries, for example in Japan. If you know how to enter Japan, it means that you have very high-quality standards.
And we are serious eaters here! We are very selective, and we really like to eat. I always say that if you can get the people here to love you, you can make anyone in the world love you too. Food is a fundamental part of our culture, life and our favorite moments.
I think we can change the food sector from Catalonia. In the beginning, they said, "You guys should have been born in Silicon Valley." And we replied: "Actually, we had to have been born here because the protein transition must be led from where people like to eat the most." People come from all over the world to Catalonia for our food!
Barcelona and Catalonia must lead this protein transition. Our diet is highly based on sustainability and vegetables, on health and on taste. It's the perfect place to do it.
Are you in touch with the Catalan Meat Cluster, which has adopted the protein alternative?
Yes, we are in contact with many companies in the Meat Cluster. We are working towards creating a protein transition where everyone is involved. What’s great about what’s happening in Catalonia is that a good part of the traditional meat industry is also making the transition and driving change. That's the best news of all.
Increasingly, the resources of these companies will go towards alternative protein, which has a more positive impact. It must become a protein cluster. And we need to accelerate this change from industry, technology and innovation.
Promoting alternative protein is one of the 27 projects that Catalonia has presented to the Next Generation Funds. What would this support mean for the sector?
I think it's great news. We cannot let only countries like Singapore and Canada – which are the ones investing the most money from institutions – take the lead in this transition. We must do it from here. From those countries already leading the food system.
I believe that funds should be aimed at innovation and to help consumers get more access to these products.
Who is your consumer?
35% of Spain’s population is reducing their meat consumption, and between 5 and 6% of the population are either vegetarian or vegan. But our consumer has a very varied profile, they’re now not just vegetarians or vegans, they’re people just actively reducing their meat intake. And this is the best news of all: that people who eat meat also like our products.
In the end, everyone wants to have a positive impact on the planet, but the idea is not to create alternatives but to create a successor to meat. As a society, we must work together so that in 15 years we can say that we are leading the protein transition. This will be positive as a country and in our surroundings.
What role do innovation and R&D play in your company?
Heura is innovation. We have a large team of food technologists, gastronomists and biotechnologists who have come from food companies from different parts of Europe and are working out of Heura to revolutionize the meat market.
We don't want to create alternatives to meat, we want to create successors. We do it with quality ingredients and very complete nutritional values.
In Heura, we are here to give people the freedom to choose a diet that connects more to their values and, above all, connects to the challenges of this century. We are going at an incredible pace and in ten years, if we get what we want, Catalonia will be the capital of this transformation.