There is a monument to the birth of industrial food production standing in Kemptthal, Switzerland. Here, almost a century ago, Maggi, the company known today by homemakers and cooks around the world for its bouillon cubes, liquid seasoning, and ready-made soups, started production. Maggi was ultimately acquired by Nestlé in the 1950s, and in 2002, soup production was moved to Germany, leaving the factory still.
The area where Maggi once produced soups has come back to life as “The Valley” – an industrial zone of 100,000 square meters with historical buildings that are now being used by research groups, start-ups, stores, and restaurants. Just 20 minutes by car from Zurich, the area is fertile ground for pioneering work and innovation.
Planted Foods is one of the new residents. In June 2020, the start-up began production in one of the former Maggi production halls with a product that is just as innovative as the bouillon cubes were 100 years ago. Planted Foods produces its “planted.chicken” – strips of chicken made from pea protein.
“We researched all possible proteins available, from algae to sunflower seeds to yellow peas,” ex-plains Christoph Jenny, co-founder of Planted Foods. “Yellow peas suited our first product, planted.chicken, perfectly because the nutritional value and the fibrousness of it are surprisingly similar.” Jenny is one of four co-founders of the ETH Zurich spin-off that came out of the Laboratory of Food Process Engineering at the Institute of Food Nutrition and Health, headed by Professor Dr. Erich Windhab. The four young men met in the research facilities of the university. There Eric Stirnemann is completing his doctorate in the field of Food Process Engineering. Lukas Böni also completed his doctorate there.
Using an extruder from Bühler, Stirnemann experimented with the perfect formula for plant-based meat substitute products. Böni did his doctoral research on hagfish and had the expertise in handling soft textures. The business expertise came from Pascal Bieri, who studied Business, and Christoph Jenny, who received a degree in Finance from the University of Zurich. It was the perfect starting point for an exemplary success story.