Image: Catherine Lamb

Say a bakery chain wants to add a vegan blueberry muffin to its menu. First, they’d have to find substitutes for butter and eggs — depending on their preferences, maybe even ones that are certified organic or locally made — and ensure that these producers could consistently keep them supplied.

Maybe they should take a look at Fieldcraft. The Austin-based startup, which just launched last month, is an online B2B marketplace for plant-based ingredients. Growers and manufacturers can list their products — everything from specialty grains to kale chips — on the site, and buyers can search the database by production method, certifications (organic, non-GMO, etc.), location, supplier production capacity, and more.

If buyers can’t find what they need, they can submit requests to Fieldcraft for new products or even contract out farmers to sow a certain crop, such as an heirloom grain. On the farmer’s side, this is also a win since it gives them a guaranteed marketplace and, by putting in demands for new/different crops, promotes biodiversity.

Though it’s just over a month old, Fieldcraft already has over 7,000 companies in its marketplace. Yesterday the company rolled out a new solutions tool to help people who might not be sure exactly what they’re looking for — which, according to Fieldcraft CEO and co-founder Michael Chapman, is about one-third of their users. “We want to give buyers the chance to find new products that they didn’t even know were out there,” he told me.

For example, the aforementioned bakery might not know what type of egg substitute would be the best fit for their new vegan blueberry muffins. In this case, they could search Fieldcraft for a list of plant-based egg alternatives, which include minute details about the properties of each ingredient (emulsifying, thickening, etc.), and then determine which one to purchase.

On the other hand, for those who know exactly what they’re looking for, Fieldcraft can get pretty granular. So instead of just searching for broad “egg alternatives,” users could track down a “clean-label, non-GMO upcycled aquafaba.”

With so many new players — both young startups and veteran food corporations — entering into the plant-based protein space, I think there’s certainly a market for Fieldcraft’s, well, market. It offers a couple obvious benefits: it cuts out the middleman and gives suppliers instant access to new audiences.

But Fieldcraft’s greatest asset is its opportunity for discovery. When I visited the JUST offices last year I was wow-ed by their high tech plant research center, where the company tests plants sourced from around the world to suss out their properties: if they foam, thicken, etc. A resource like Fieldcraft, with its wide-ranging database, could help smaller startups who don’t have the warchest or lab space of a JUST to discover new ingredients that could lead to better plant-based products.

There are certainly other wholesale ingredient supply companies out there, including major players like Sysco or U.S. Foods, which carry plant-based ingredients. However, Fieldcraft is targeting buyers who want a more direct relationship with their supplier or need hard-to-find ingredients with exacting specifications. As of now, they sell to CPG brands, meal kit makers, bakeries, brewers, and even food manufacturers.

From my conversation with Chapman, it seems like the size of growers and suppliers using Fieldcraft varies pretty widely. I’ll be curious to see if they ever run into the problem of a grower running out of an ingredient (or just having a bad harvest) which a supplier relies upon for its product. That being said, his cofounder (and wife) Kristy Chapman, CPO of Fieldcraft, has a background in data science, so maybe they’ll be able to set up a backend that can nimbly adjust based on suppliers’ yield.

Fieldcraft is free for buyers to use and costs $195/year for suppliers. The company currently has four employees (including the Chapmans) and has yet to seek any external funding.

Obviously, Fieldcraft isn’t for everyone. Big players like Tyson or even Beyond Meat clearly have their own ingredient supply chains nailed down. But for newer startups, or even medium-sized players looking to develop new animal-free products, Fieldcraft could be a valuable resource.

There also seems to be a new trend of pick-and-play plant-based ingredient companies, like Motif Ingredients, a new company that makes ingredients for vegan products from genetically engineered yeast. With the plant-based market as red-hot as it is — sales grew by 20 percent in 2018 alone — I imagine we’ll see a lot more food companies and manufacturers looking to develop their own animal-free products over the coming years. Fieldcraft seems to be entering the market at just the right time.

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