Welcome back, everyone! I’m Spiffy, the interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth with an eye on entrepreneurs making a difference on climate change. Today I’m excited to share my interview with Tony Marten, Co-Founder of Plantible Foods.
Spiffy: Welcome, Tony! Can you tell me what climate-related problem you are trying to solve?
Tony: Absolutely! We are trying to solve the challenge of food security. You see, animal agriculture is one of the biggest culprits of climate change — not to mention a potential future food insecurity.
Spiffy: Really? But animals are so cute! And I understand that many earthlings like to eat meat. So what do you intend to do?
Tony: Well, at Plantible Foods, we are building a vertically integrated agricultural system that harnesses the power of sustainable aquatic plants to produce the next generation of novel and natural food ingredients. That means we will create plant-based foods that are better than their animal counterparts in both taste and nutrition.
Spiffy: Wow Tony, I need a minute to compute . . . So your business will only use water to grow plants? And then these plants will be made into ingredients that can be a substitute for meat?
Tony: That’s right, Spiffy!
Spiffy: And you’ve figured out a way to produce this in a way that can be more gentle on the environment? What motivated you to do this?
Tony: Well, working in commodity trading made me realize that the current food production system isn’t scalable, nor is it sustainable. I began to see the detrimental impact of meat production on our environment, and I learned that the current plant-based supply chains aren’t "climate change proof" due to their annual crop cycles. Plantible seeks to create a more sustainable system, enabling us to produce food ingredients that can help create the next generation of food products.
Spiffy: That’s a bold vision, Tony. I understand you are also passionate about creating an equitable environment for food production. Can you tell me about that?
Tony: Spiffy, one of the biggest challenges in food production is that the supply chains of traditional agricultural commodities are controlled by a handful of countries. With the global population rising, and the demand for food increasing, the geopolitical power of these countries will expand as well. We designed our production process so it can be easily scaled to almost any region in the world. This makes it possible to democratize the future food supply chains and increase access to nutrition.
Spiffy: That’s amazing. And what about recent milestones?
Tony: We recently ran one of our aquafarms for a full year without having to recycle or replenish the water in that system. This means that we have been able to prove that our production methods actually require 20 times less water than peas and 10 times less water than soy. With fresh water facing a looming global shortage, achieving a higher ROI (return on investment) per drop of water should become a more important metric, not only in agriculture but in society as a whole.
Teamwork makes the dreamwork. (Image courtesy of Tony Martens)
Spiffy: With these kinds of successes, I can’t imagine you’ve experienced failure, have you?
Tony: Actually, Spiffy, we have. One of the biggest failures we ran into was relatively early on in our company's history. We were working with a partner to develop our downstream process and soon figured out that the partnership wasn’t meeting our expectations. We had to redo everything ourselves! This slowed us down significantly and posed more risks to the viability of our business model. In the end, we were able to develop a superior process, which just shows that you should never give up on what you believe.
Spiffy: No you shouldn’t, and I’m glad you didn’t! Have you had any other surprising lessons?
Tony: One of the most unexpected, yet comforting things, I have learned recently is that many of the major visionaries, at some point, were on the verge of failure.
Spiffy: That’s a bit depressing! What kept them from complete failure?
Tony: Perseverance and commitment! That’s what helped them build out those companies to the sizes they are today. Fortune favors the bold, Spiffy!
Spiffy: It certainly does Tony! Thank you for telling me about your bold plans. Now, when can I sample one of your Plantible products?
Prior to Plantible, Tony Martens was part of the management team that drafted and executed a five-year strategy that transformed a small and traditional agricultural commodity trading and processing firm into Europe’s largest commodity trading company. (Nominated by Unshackled Ventures)