“Five years ago, when dining at a company restaurant or a school cafeteria, the warm food options presented were usually one type of meat versus another. Occasionally, a vegetarian option – usually pizza – would be offered. Rarely was anything local. In grocery stores, it was a similar story.”
“That was five years ago. And in non-pandemic times when we’re in school and office restaurants, we’re now presented with warm meals that include the same ratio of plant-based options versus meat. In grocery stores, there are shelves upon shelves of plant-based products and locally sourced meats interspersed throughout the aisles.”
Speaking are Benoît Plission and Emmanuel Brehier, two agricultural engineers from Lyon in France, who founded HARi&CO, an innovative start-up that aims to offer a 100% plant-based alternative that benefits health through its entirely bean and pulse (legumes) recipe.
When they first started in 2016, they were faced with the consumer climate that saw locally sourced, 100% plant-based options as a Utopian alternative.
“We first started selling our product to universities and offices because we had the original idea to start our company while we worked at the university restaurant and the only food options were fish, chicken, or beef. But at first, the chefs and cooks at these universities and offices distrusted the taste of our product. It was unfamiliar to the dining plate. We had to explain and convince that our food – made entirely of beans and pulses and soy-free – was a wholesome, tasteful meal.” describes Benoît Plission.
A holistic vision on sustainable agriculture and conscious consumption
Yet Benoît and Emmanuel’s vision didn’t stop at their plant-based products, they wanted a product that was entirely sourced from France. Since inception, they’ve worked with local French farmers and cooperatives to source organic chickpeas, green lentils, flageolets, and kidney beans, all of which make up their variety of 15 products from veggie balls to burgers to nuggets. Additionally, they’ve continuously engaged cooperatives to work with farmers by incentivising through quantities and prices in order to convert them from traditional farming practices to organic, thus ensuring the quality and sustainability of the HARi&CO product.
Today, their products are available for retail consumption next to the big brand vegetarian options on grocery shelves, in addition to distributing to school and office restaurants and they can be found in 1,000 points of sales across France. Despite the pandemic year, they’ve sold 3.6 million meals in food service alone.
HARi&CO’s perseverance for a food revolution
From day one, it was clear to both Benoît and Emmanuel that the intention of their product was to create real food for our plates.
They continue: “Our first priority was to not try and imitate a meat taste, but to create food that is entirely wholesome, non-processed, and that people can easily understand what’s in the ingredient list. Luckily everyone we spoke with ended up not only understanding what we wanted to achieve but also got on board with it because they too wanted nutritional, locally sourced food. So we persevered, and this idea turned into two big missions: to promote more sustainable agriculture and to reduce carbon footprint.”
In addition to the nutritional benefits, legumes enrich the soil and are water-efficient, making agriculture more sustainable. And while HARi&CO continues to buy all over France, the company is actively working with local farm networks of a hundred farmers to source near its factories to reduce transportation emissions.
When looking ahead to the next five years, Benoît says this: “We grow every day with our company. Not just in number of co-workers we hire or in the distribution channels we sell to, but also in how we see the food system. What started out as an idea of ‘hey, what they serve in the school restaurant doesn’t match to what we’re learning about food’ has grown into a revolution of how we look at everything on our plate across the value chain. We want to be a leader in the category for France, and hopefully in other markets in the years to come.”
Triodos Food Transition Europe Fund has invested EUR 3 million to support HARI&CO’s overall growth and commitment to the food and agricultural transition.
Explore our strategy paper ‘Investing in resilient and inclusive food systems’ to find out how Triodos Food Transition Europe Fund made a difference in 2020 .