An interview with Update Foods: updating the traditional dairy food space

France-based startup Update foods may have come from lockdown beginnings but they are on a real mission to develop plant-based alternatives tapping the health benefits of both faba protein and algae. Update Foods proposes an updated version of traditional dairy products to ease in the next generation’s switch to plant-based.

The dairy alternative market has experienced continous growth over the years, with experts expecting to see the market reach over US$21.52 billion by 2024, growing at a CAGR of 10.18% for the duration spanning 2020-2024.

We recently had the pleasure to speak to the innovative startup´s CEO Clemence Landeau to talk about her companies vegan milk solution; an offering which is both nutritional and accessible and aims to transform the conventional dairy industry.

1. What was the inspiration behind UPDATE foods?

Update Foods is a french startup developing plant-based alternatives to dairy, which has been founded in 2020 by three entrepreneurs determined to support the next generation’s move towards more sustainable and healthy lifestyles.

Each one of them has worked in the food industry (or in close relationship with it) for a noticeable part of their professional life, and developed their own analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of our food system. They noticed that the current plant-based dairy market, even if more exciting today than ever, is not particularly engaging for flexitarians and millenials. There is today no vegan dairy brand that provides them the very taste of dairy products, while staying accessible and nutritious (at least, not in Europe). For Clémence, CEO of Update Foods, another problem occurs today : engaging consumers in sustainable food habits changes is near-impossible without desire. However, current oats-, rice- and other almonds-based milk brands are, she thinks, not bold and vibrant (except for Oatly) enough to generate this feeling, and to attract customers beyond vegetarians and vegans.

They thus decided to focus on what became their mission : updating all the dairy products everyone loves by formulating them in a plant-based version, as tasty and nutritious as the animal-based ones. And digital-native friendly as well.
Update Foods’ first product will be M!lk Update®, a plant-based milk powered by algae and faba protein, tasting and looking like cow’s milk.

Beyond Meat and Just (US), Les Nouveaux Fermiers (France) significantly mainstreamed vegan meats and eggs-alternatives. In line with them, Update Foods’ ambition is indeed to  outshine one of the last frontiers which might have prevented us, until today, to fully embrace a plant-based diet : our addiction to dairy products, and especially, to their taste.

2. You decided to launch the brand during lockdown, what were the challenges that came with this and how did you overcome them?

You are right, Update Foods was born under the lockdown in France, which also means how determined and passionate we are!

Update Foods aims at developing digital native-friendly, bold and surprising plant-based alternatives to dairy which would be able to provide the customers a game-changing gustatory experience while being as sustainable, healthy and accessible as possible. The Paris-based startup adopted an endless-updating-policy (test, fail, learn, improve, start again !) , meaning that it will always try to improve its products, communication strategy, customer care practices (…). In line with this principle, its team wanted to organise some tastings with the civil society to get feedback which would have helped our team to improve it and make it even more relevant in regards to current customers’ expectations and needs. You can imagine that the lockdown made it quite complicated to execute such a procedure – first because the production capacity is lowered than usual, & seconds because we cannot gather unrelated people at the same place to execute the tastings-, but it has just been postponed.

The second challenge that the lockdown brought us was related to our first funding round. As an early stage startup wishing to scale-up quite quickly, we aim to raise funds during Q1 2021, which means preparing this period by meeting potential investors and investment funds, networking, etc. Digital outlets are there, fortunately, to support us in the process. At first sight, we feared it would be quite complicated to convey our passion and determination for Update Foods through Google Meet as easily as “in real life”. However, we managed to enter ProVeg Incubator Winter 2020 program and to gather significant signals of enthusiasm, especially following some international conferences and events we had the chance to be speakers on : Vegan Women Summit, Alt. Dairy Conference, one of Thought for Food’s tropical week focusing on alternative protein…

Last but not the least, I would say that the lockdown put our team’s alchimie to the test, as we had to work separately, not all available at the same time, not gathering and thus not getting this extra-kick of extra-work human interactions that spice up a work-life and helps bonding. We managed it pretty well, I think, as our motivation remained unscathed and the project kept moving forward.

3. The plant-based space is undeniably growing, especially during the pandemic so with so many competitors entering the market, how does UPDATE foods compete? What makes your brand unique?

Thank you for this thoughtful question.
You are right, of course. There’s just to take a look at Olivia Fox Cabane‘s plant-based milk map to realize that the plant-based dairy market is a white ocean, full of stakeholders, including really strong ones like Alpro, Oatly or Califia.

We do not want to be “just” one more brand on the shelves : there is no need. And as seen, there are already a lot of amazing brands which are making nice waves with oats, millet or even pecan.
That is why we came up with a brand new, innovative milk (M!lk Update®) that differentiates itself from the others on different dimensions : it is algae- and faba protein based, two ingredients that have never been seen together on this specific market before. Furthermore, it looks and tastes like cow’s milk -a characteristic that just very few brands can brag on – while being nutritious, protein-rich, source of fiber, and without sugar.

M!lk Update ®  design is also very vibrant, surprising and bold in comparison to the rest of the aisle it is going to be put on; a dimension we put a lot of effort into in order to be close to and to speak to the next generation.

4. How do you think the plant-based milk space will influence traditional dairy in the next 5 to 10 years?

The plant-based milk brands already began to shake up “traditional dairy”. Apart from the collapse of various historic stakeholders of this market in the US, we can notice that they all curved their strategy, looking with interest at the plant-based innovations, and trying on their own to formulate new vegan products. No need to go far away : Bel (The Laughing Cow, Babybel, Leerdammer..)is in France a very good example of this strategic (and historical !) reorientation towards plant-based. Just like Danone’s acquisition of White Wave Foods, a few years ago. And I am convinced it’s just the beginning. Because it’s what they will need to do if they wish to survive.

And I think that in the next 5 to 10 years, plant-based dairy products won’t be considered as “alternatives” anymore : they will be the new staples. The new Normal. It’s already happening.

5. What positive effects does UPDATE foods offer for consumers and the environment in regards to health and sustainability?

Update Foods aims to maximize its positive impact on the customers as well as on the planet. That is why we have chosen with the very ingredients I mentioned : faba protein and algae. They are both sustainable and healthy.

In this same philosophy, we decided not to add sugar into our first plant-based Milk, M!lk Update® Original. The latter is rich in protein (3g), source of fiber, and allergen-free, which is quite convenient in comparison to the competition.
Our care for the environment led us to work with a sustainable and recyclable packaging solution, as well as to find a french production site.

We will in a few months disclose some more information regarding our CSR Policy, so stay tuned!

6. You will launch your alt milk primarily to the French market and first through a D2C model. Where would you like UPDATE foods to be in the next few years? 

You are right. We’ll first launch our product online, before going into iconic coffee houses and retail, in France. The idea would be then to export to other european countries like Germany, Belgium, the UK, or Switzerland. Our eyes are also looking towards Asia, I must say. This region would be particularly interesting for Update Foods : lactose intolerance reaches impressive levels, the asian next generation is open to innovative and more sustainable brands, the population is used to the consumption of algae in food…

We already have in mind a whole range of sisters and brothers for M!lk Update® Original. And I hope they will be received as warmly and with as much excitement as our first product.

We are currently preparing our first funding round, which will include many investors meetings, pitches to be done, and a Demo Day hold by ProVeg incubator in Berlin. We plan to raise a sufficient amount of money to scale-up quite quickly the brand, hire new talented people to join us, develop our range of products, and sell beyond France.

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