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Earth brings plant-based ‘meat’ to the party

One year after launching a range of plant-based convenience meals from Coco & Lucas, Diem Fuggersberger is introducing a plant-based entertaining range that is vegetarian, vegan and appeals to the flexitarian market. 

The Earth party range, which launches exclusively at Woolworths on August 17, features a selection of meatless alternatives to popular finger food, including Chickenless Cheeseballs, Chickenless Crumbed Bites, Beefless Curry Puffs, Porkless Spring Rolls and Chickenless Money Bags.

The CEO and co founder of Berger Ingredients and creator of the Coco & Lucas brand spoke exclusively to Inside FMCG about the launch. 

“It is by far my most challenging and trickiest launch yet,” Fuggersberger said.

“At the end of the day we don’t want to launch a product that doesn’t taste delicious, so we needed to make sure that we mastered the texture of the meat. Secondly, we had to mask the protein to make sure that it’s neutral, and thirdly we had to make sure the flavour profiles of our spice ingredients, that we blend in house, are perfect for each meat.”

Fuggersberger, a butcher’s daughter, has been experimenting with meat protein alternatives over the last two years with her R&D team to achieve the perfect texture, colour, taste and smell for each individual dish.

One of the major challenges they faced was ensuring that each product was completely vegan, which was particularly tricky for casings such as crumb, spring roll sheets and puff pastry, which tend to feature dairy or eggs. 

“For the spring rolls and money bags, I had to work with at least seven suppliers to make sure that they were 100 per cent vegan. We have been extremely selective with our partnerships.”

As with the Coco & Lucas range, Fuggersberger was committed to delivering eco-friendly packaging for the Earth range, which further added to costs. 

“Everything I did for this range has been, with all my heart and soul, very well thought through,” Fuggersberger said.

The meal trays are made from wheatgrass and are not lined or coated with plastic, to ensure they are fully compostable, while the Buffalo Kraft paper sleeves give an “organic, earthy and rustic look”.

“The trickiest one was the sleeve. I think I’m the first person on a big scale to use Buffalo Kraft paper. But because of the amount of artwork and photography we had to print everything on digital so that the colour was vibrant, and that actually bought my costs up by 150 per cent.” 

Last year, Fuggersberger added a second 2000sqm facility to cater to the growing Coco & Lucas brand and invested a couple of million dollars in equipment from overseas. 

“Our point of difference is we are not a 4.0 process, it’s just semi automated because we still want to add that human touch. All the food is still cooked by a human, we have five chefs, but certain packaging is automated.

“I like to be meticulous in my work because I want to make the process really tricky so that it cannot be replicated.” 

The shift towards a more plant-based diet is growing. According to Roy Morgan data published in April 2019, approximately 12.1 per cent of the population consume a full or partly vegetarian diet. 

Allen Zelden, founder of Intrinity Global, a business which helps scale up plant-based companies, believes Australian consumers are looking for a stronger focus on quality, taste and creativity in plant-based food offerings.

“There is rocketing demand for greater diversity in quality plant-based foods. With increasing plant-based products coming onto the market to meet this new level of demand, plant-based party foods have traditionally been something of an afterthought,” Zelden told Inside FMCG

“Generally, the party, snack and entertainment food category has been very lacklustre in terms of movement and in definite need of disruption. Woolworths noticed this gap in the market, and together with the makers of Coco & Lucas’ Kitchen, have launched Earth; Australia’s first ever plant-based entertainment, snack and party food range aimed at vegans, vegetarians and flexitarians.”

Having good ethics and values is a critical part of Fuggersberger’s success. In the five years since launching Coco & Lucas, she hasn’t paid herself a salary as CEO yet, instead spending over $550,000 to nurture university graduates and hiring 10 people.

And her strong work ethic hasn’t gone unnoticed by overseas investors. 

“I think since I’ve done plant based I’ve got a lot of kindness,” she said. 

“I’ve already got an export contract for Malaysia and Singapore, I’m talking to people in the UK and I was invited to present at a conference in South Carolina … I am open to [investment opportunities], but it has to be the [right fit].”

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