Pavraj takes a bite of meat business with meatless startup

Pavraj Sihra, Head of Sales at Planta Food Factory during the Kenya Meat Expo at KICC Nairobi on June 13, 2024.

Photo credit: Wilfred Nyangaresi | Nation Media Group

At the Kenya Meat Expo and Conference held last week, the sweet aroma of roasted meat whetted the appetite of many.

But in the meat-filled environment lay an outlier, Pavraj Sihra. While many of the exhibitors showcased meat products and meat-cutting equipment, Pavraj had meat-alternative products, made from soybeans and peas.

He is the co-founder of Planta Food Factory.

“We do only vegan food. We came to the meat expo to show people the alternatives to meat. Our products have the same level or more protein compared to meat, less fat which means less cholesterol and they are good for the environment too. The amount of water used to raise livestock is eight times more than the water used in the preparation of the plant-based alternatives,” said Pavraj.

With a Sh10 million initial investment sourced from savings, friends and family, Pavraj and his co-founder got the ball rolling.

“We started from my parents’ garage at home [Nairobi's Loresho estate]. We began with half that space, but now we’ve taken up the full garage and we are looking to move out," he said, adding, "Our biggest investment was the raw materials and the machinery.”

“At the time, while we were getting started, it was a shot in the dark for us. We did not know if it was going to work or what to expect. What we knew is that Kenya is predominantly meat-eating but we had to find our way into the market.”

Establishing the business

They built the company, which clocks two years next month, in phases.

“We phased it out. At first, we had to test the waters. We could not put both feet in without knowing how to carefully tread,” he said.

They also do production in batches. 

“We normally do batches of 10 kilos at a time. In a month, we produce 250 kilos. We produce in stock so that when an order comes we just dispatch from there. We always have to keep a buffer to ensure that we have enough to deliver when an order comes in,” said Pavraj.

Drawing inspiration

Pavraj, who has worked with investment firms, said he decided to take a stab at entrepreneurship during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Everybody wants to make an impact and leave a change. During Covid, we arrived at a point where we decided that we wanted to make an impact. We wanted to make a sustainable difference. I have a background in investment but I was done working with investment firms and working for someone else. I ventured into entrepreneurship,” he said.

At first, he had doubts.

"I thought I was very young. I didn’t know if I had enough experience to go on my own. I had only worked for five years so I wasn’t sure. But I always believe that if you do not try you’ll never know,” said the 29-year-old.

Sourcing raw materials

The company sources raw materials pea- isolate, soy TVP rice and faba beans- from various European countries including Germany and the Netherlands.

"The challenge arises due to the high importation costs. To minimise costs we import a large quantity at a time, that way we do not have to keep on importing. The problem comes in when we run out of one flavour, which puts a strain on the production. Currently, we are working towards doing local extrusion so that we do not rely on importation.

The issue is that nobody locally has the raw materials. We would want to buy from the farmers and extrude the pea to get our pea isolate and the soy to get soy TVP [textured vegetable protein, also known as textured soy protein] so that we can use it in production. However, this is a very expensive endeavour," he pointed out.

Product categories

They produce three categories of plant-based products; chicken, beef and fish alternatives.

“We started with the green range which is our beef range and we have five different products in this category; original burgers, spicy burgers, original vegan balls, spicy vegan balls and vegan mince.

We have the yellow range which is our chicken range and includes the chicken nuggets, chicken breasts and chicken burgers. Finally, there is the blue range which is our alternative to fish and here we have fish fillets and fish fingers," said Pavraj.

He added, "For the beef range, our key ingredients include the pea protein and the soy protein which are gluten-free. The chicken and fish are for people who do not want to consume soy. So these have pea protein and rice instead of soy. They also contain gluten because there are bread crumbs.”

Pavraj Sihra, Head of Sales at Planta Food Factory during the Kenya Meat Expo at KICC Nairobi on June 13, 2024.

Photo credit: Wilfred Nyangaresi | Nation Media Group

The final products appear in the same way as your meat, he said.

“For instance, the burger patties appear like the meat burger patties which are round-shaped, the chicken nuggets are nugget-shaped, the fish fingers are actual fish fingers and the vegan balls are ball-shaped. It is the same as you have on your meat, it’s just the alternative version of it. The shape is the same, the size is also similar,” explained Pavraj at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre, Nairobi, the expo's venue.

Growth strategy

From two employees, the company founder has added three more.

As part of the company’s growth, Pavraj said, Planta Food is heavily reliant on customer feedback. “We take feedback from our customers seriously. For instance, during this expo, we received a lot of feedback from people saying that they wanted sausages. Now we're going to work on plant-based sausages for our customers,” he said.

While he admitted to not being a vegetarian, he said in the last two years of being in the business, he had become more conscious about meat and his eating habits.

"I have started eating more vegan food. I place myself in the flexitarian category,” he says.

Uptake in the market

Sales are promising as they tap into social media, teaching consumers about the benefits of meat alternatives, and different cooking styles of preparing them, and supermarkets are warming up to them.

“Not so many supermarkets wanted to stock our products immediately. We started off with restaurants. Then we move to supermarkets like Greenspoon and Chandarana. Now we are in discussions to supply Carrefour, Naivas, and Quickmart,” he said of the products which retail at between Sh500 and Sh800.

“People are becoming more accepting of alternatives to meat. We have grown 10 times more than we started,” he said.

On its competitive edge, he said it is that the products are locally made.

"We are not importing ready-made products. We are locally producing our products so it gives us an edge because we can tailor the product through the palate of the Kenyan market," noted the entrepreneur..

Future plans

Just like many enterprises, the biggest challenge they are facing is the tough economic environment that has hindered their expansion plans.

“Bank rates are very high at the moment so getting loans is not sustainable. Based on where we have projected to be in five years, we will only be hindered by the lack of financial capacity,” he said.

“In every phase of a business cycle, you require more funds and now that we are touching two years, we have established that we are likely to remain in business. Now we have the confidence to inject more money. We plan to raise Sh30 million. We are open to angel investors. We want to increase our logistics, machinery and manpower,” Pavraj said of their future plans.

He concluded, “We want to make it a mass-market product with good nutritional value at a cheaper cost. ”

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