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Plant-Based Products as the New Food Growth Engine

Dieter Holtz - Upfield
CEO North Latam and President Mexico


Sofía Hanna By Sofía Hanna | Journalist and Industry Analyst - Fri, 06/09/2023 - 09:13

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Q: What sets Upfield apart in the plant-based food industry and what unique strengths do you bring to the market?

A: Upfield differentiates itself from other companies first because of its highly capable people, which we will touch upon later. Also because it is the only one of meaningful size in reach and depth that began as a plant-based business. Seeing that consumers are more and more conscious about sustainability and well-being and that plant-based is the next big wave of growth, most companies are forcing to get on the plant-based movement. Scrambling through a product portfolio to see which products could fit into the description, while most other SKUs are clearly animal sourced, is not what being plant-based is all about. When your full conviction as a company is not there, your purpose as a company suffers and you will lack full focus from the organization. At Upfield we can say that we live and work 24/7 around making the planet a better place to live, one meal at a time. Sure, you have admirable plant-based food start-ups. Our differentiation with them is our scale. Upfield is the world’s largest plant-based food company and we are just at the beginning of the segment´s growth trend. 

Q: What is the relevance of working with and producing plant-based products? 

A: Awareness of consumer health and social responsibility has led to a meaningful platform for our business. We are convinced that Upfield is doing the right thing for the world, its animals, and the consumer. A business is successful when people believe in what they do. It is always a conjunction of people’s efforts, not just the decision of one person or group. We have achieved this at Upfield: Every person working with us is convinced that we are doing a big favor for the planet and for consumer health. This is a good business that keeps growing, and we are having fun while it happens. 

Q: How does the company encourage its employees to align with the company’s mission?

A: As I said earlier, our utmost strength in the North LatAm and Mexican operations is the caliber of our people that got the mission from day one. Our objectives are ambitious. What would be very good results in other companies is only average at best for our teams. We highlight what we do. Upfield was formed by acquiring the plant-based brands of a big multinational company that decided to focus on other categories, leaving plant-based low in its priority list. Our investor, KKR, one of the biggest investment companies in the world with about US$500 billion under management, saw that the value of plant-based products was lost in a sea of categories. Together, we relaunched those brands under Upfield and turned them into what they are today. Upfield was born with the goal of capitalizing on the trend of plant-based foods, accelerating their adoption at a consumer level to improve sustainability and human health. Everyone working at Upfield knows of this responsibility and takes full accountability to move fast and in a coordinated manner.

Q: How does Upfield approach R&D to continually innovate and improve its plant-based food offerings? 

A: Plant-based food can be seen as disruptive, but it is not so much; it is just returning to our roots and how we fed ourselves in the early stages of humanity. We did not eat protein from animals until much later in the development of human beings. Plant-based food has always existed but was not researched properly. Everything we do aims to maximize the benefits of plant-based ingredients, making them more accessible to people while also informing them. One proof of our commitment to bring more plant-based foods to the table is our R&D center in Wageningen, Netherlands. It is the world-leading and largest center in its field.

Q: Upfield has been in the Mexican market for almost five years. How have Mexican consumers responded to Upfield’s plant-based food products?

A: Our brands have been in the Mexican market for more than 70 years, and for 5 years now we have given them the focus they deserve. With the exception of yellow fats, where products stemming from vegetable oils are leading, in Mexico and in Latin America we are behind in the adoption of other plant-based categories, in part because of the current cost of products vs cheaper yet less beneficial alternatives in the market. That is one area we are eagerly working on as we acquire more scale and knowledge. However, adoption is increasing nicely. We are witnessing that consumers are willing to switch one or two meals of the week to plant-based. That is a nice start. We also acknowledge that more and more of our lactose intolerant population (Latinos are amongst the highest in the world) is turning to our products for relief, eating what they love and not sacrificing taste. Plant-based foods will find many opportunities in Latin America as we are able to translate cost efficiencies to the consumer and people become more health-conscious. 

Q: How does Upfield tailor its products and marketing strategies to fit Mexico’s unique cultural and market conditions?

A: We first focus on understanding the consumer, their needs and limitations. Products demanded in other countries of the world don´t necessarily adapt to our local tastes. We are also seeing opportunities to increase awareness. Mexico has high levels of obesity and lactose intolerance, so plant-based products could be preferred from a health perspective. The market also has economic limitations as consumers cannot afford the prices seen in Germany or the US, so heavy lifting throughout our production and supply chain is needed. We need to adapt and be conscious of the challenges the Mexican consumer faces, develop the right products at the right price and talk to the consumers in a way that they listen and understand. The product is already on the shelves.

Q: What is Upfield’s strategy for expanding its reach and increasing the adoption of plant-based food products worldwide and what are its priorities in Mexico for 2023?

A: Upfield in Mexico wants to increase value at the consumer level. We are the absolute leaders in two plant-based nutrition segments: yellow fats and cheese. At our best-in-class research facilities, and through smart alliances and co-investments with start-up companies, we are developing new products, but we will only launch them if they are affordable and taste and perform as good as, or better than, traditional animal alternatives. 

We will continue positioning ourselves while adding value to all stakeholders. Producing our foodstuffs requires 60% less water and emits between 50% and 70% less CO2. Our commitment to Mexico is to continue growing our presence and expand the reach of these products. 


Upfield, born as a private equity investment from KKR, when Unilever sold its plant-based unit, is a plant-based food company that aims to create a better future for people's health and the planet's sustainability.

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