The past 12 months have been highly successful for Planet Based Foods, a US producer of hemp-based alternatives to meat and dairy.
The brand made its retail debut just eight months ago, but has already formed partnerships with leading distributors and launched into several retail locations in the US West and Midwest. So far in 2023, Planet Based has expanded its product range with taquitos containing hemp-based meat, and has made its first foray into alt dairy with the launch of hemp milk ice cream.
Now, the company has formed a UK subsidiary with the aim of entering the European market. We spoke to CEO and co-founder Braelyn Davis to find out more about Planet Based’s progress and plans for the future.
How and why was Planet Based Foods born?
Planet Based Foods was founded around having lived a lifestyle focused on natural and sustainable foods. My initial passion for healthy living started early. My household was always the healthy dinner spot. My father and co-founder of Planet Based Foods, Robert Davis, was a food scientist who produced many industry firsts in soy and alternative proteins.
In my early twenties, I went on to become a nutritionist and had a heightened sense of what I was putting in my body. It was at that time that Robert and I began discussing different sustainable approaches to feeding people nutrient-dense foods and working with American farmers to provide those foods. We clearly saw a need to prioritize plant ingredients that would be resilient in the face of climate change and help mitigate issues like soil depletion and water shortages. And, Robert’s ability to create amazing foods out of new, innovative ingredients is second to none. So when hemp emerged as a viable option to create meat and dairy alternatives, we didn’t skip a beat. I had saved a little money and wrote the first R&D check to have Robert go out to a pilot facility and create the first hemp products. Upon tasting the first burger patty I was blown away at how versatile the ingredient really was.
From that point on, hemp became a passion and fascination for me. I went on to work with many hemp companies and helped release a large variety of hemp products into the market. Meanwhile, Robert continued to refine and develop more hemp-based IP from meat analogs to ice cream and other vegan alternatives.
I had been working, speaking, and advocating on behalf of hemp, cannabis, and CBD for the better part of a decade. During this time, two interesting things began to stick out to me. One was the evolving consumer perception of hemp. I was working and speaking with many people who were using CBD for medical conditions like epileptic seizures, and I could see that the stigma around the plant was changing fast. From being something bad to something good that heals the body, even something parents are comfortable with when sprinkling hemp hearts on their children’s dinner salads.
The second thing I witnessed in my adult life was the impact of climate change. It was clear we need new food systems now more than ever. How we grow food is not sustainable or efficient. Introducing hemp as a rotation crop helps sequester carbon and regenerate soil, while requiring less water to grow than conventional crops. The urgency of climate change, combined with growing consumer receptivity to hemp, led us to the conclusion it was time to go all-in on Planet Based Foods.
In 2019, we launched our hemp-based burger on menus at Stout Burgers & Beers locations in Southern California, where we were able to secure customer feedback and refine the texture and taste of the product. We then built some infrastructure around the brand, then launched our frozen consumer packaged products into retail in 2022. We believe deeply in what Planet Based Foods represents, being symbiotic with our planet’s natural cycles and contributing to a food system from seed to sale here in America that can support our farmers, benefit our people and truly regenerate our planet. This purpose is at the core of every product we make.
Tell us about your current product portfolio – which are the biggest sellers and why?
Planet Based Foods launched with frozen plant-based meats – burgers, sausages, and crumbles – that are the first to use hemp as the number-one ingredient. Our primary focus is to create delicious, nutrient-dense, and sustainable foods that are easy to prepare.
To make it even easier for consumers to include sustainable hemp in their diets, we expanded our product line to include handheld items that focus on healthy convenience.
Our hemp-based vegan taquitos have been a top seller because they are nutrient-dense and easy to prepare. We will release additional convenience foods that feature hemp as the hero ingredient later this year, including burritos.
We are very excited to have debuted select flavors of our organic, vegan ice cream line at EXPO West. We’ve developed eight creamy flavors that truly showcase the viability and versatility of hemp as a sustainable, plant-based ingredient. This is very exciting to us because it marks our first expansion into the non-dairy category, which allows us to reach even more customers who want to make sustainable choices while enjoying their favorite foods. Our goal is to secure retail distribution for our hemp-based ice cream later this year.
Are there any new innovations or developments in the pipeline that you can tell us about?
In the non-dairy category, we are excited to be developing frozen dessert novelty items like ice cream sandwiches and bars. We are also currently developing delicious, sustainable milk alternatives.
In the plant-based convenience category, we’re excited to be collaborating with another innovative plant-based brand around our upcoming frozen burrito line.
In which markets and retailers are your products currently available, and are there plans to expand into further markets?
Planet Based Foods products are currently in over 700 Kroger locations, Bristol Farms, New Seasons, and New Leaf Community Markets, as well as around 20 other natural grocer banners. Our products are currently available across 10 states. We are focused on the West Coast now, and plan to expand nationally this year. We have a number of other amazing retailers we will be partnering with this year, so stay tuned for those announcements.
You focus on hemp as your hero ingredient. What advantages does it hold over other ingredients in the industry?
Hemp is truly the king of plant-based ingredients when you look at its nutritional profile and benefits to our planet. Hemp is one of the few plant-based sources of complete protein. In fact, it’s comparable gram for gram to chicken. It’s rich in fiber, full-spectrum omega 3-6-9 fatty acids, and vitamins and minerals, including B vitamins, potassium, magnesium, and iron.
On top of these nutritional benefits stack the amazing benefits to our planet and our local farmers. It’s incredible that a single plant can help mitigate several of the most pressing environmental challenges of our time: climate change, soil depletion, and water shortages. Hemp sequesters more carbon than trees per square foot, making it an essential plant ally in the fight against climate change. The crop can be grown in a matter of months, rather than years, so it sequesters more carbon at a faster rate. Hemp’s deep tap root extends so deep into the soil it actually pulls nutrients back up into the topsoil to regenerate the land. It also requires significantly less water to accomplish all of these amazing things, making it a drought-resistant crop that can outpace climate change and feed our people for generations to come.
Can you tell us a little about consumer perceptions of hemp as an ingredient and how these perceptions are evolving?
I love this question because I have been so active in speaking with consumers about this for the last decade. It has changed immensely. Nine years ago if I brought up hemp, people immediately thought of cannabis. Over the last five years, the perception shifted dramatically from that to it being a super medicine due to the popularity of CBD. In the last three years, I’ve noticed consumers embracing it further as a food source. It’s been an amazing cultural awakening and we are still in the middle of that transition. The next phase as I see it will also involve clearly distinguishing hemp as a food source from CBD, since these two parts of the hemp plant are completely distinct. The work Planet Based Foods is doing to normalize and validate hemp as a food will be a catalyst for the general consumer to see it as an everyday, approachable ingredient that is better for our bodies and for the planet, while performing as a delicious plant-based option.
What has been your fundraising story so far, and what financing comes next?
We raised our first round of capital over a year ago which served as our launch pad. We are now gearing up for a capital raise to support our growth nationally and in the UK where we are setting up operations this year. We hope to bring in this next tranche of financing so we can make our products more accessible to people craving delicious change that’s good for our planet as well as our bodies.
Where do you see the company in five years?
In five years, we see Planet Based Foods playing a leadership role in the industry to establish sustainable food systems that incorporate hemp in the US and beyond. That means setting new trends and developing new approaches to feeding our planet efficiently, while delighting a growing customer base with hemp-based products. We aim to offer consumers many more product applications that feature hemp as part of our mission to offset our carbon footprint by utilizing regenerative ingredients.
If we succeed in helping to create a food system that widely embraces hemp as a rotation crop, we see the longer-term potential to shift food insecurity, as well as our carbon footprint. We hope to be a model for other companies so we can support this planet together.