It all started with resentment. Perhaps it has a little to do with their bodies, which the two young Zornedinger entrepreneurs, Philipp Riedl, 20, and Luca Gruber, 21, started shaping while they were still at school in the gym. There they finally met each other. However, dissatisfaction with protein powder, which they regularly consumed in the form of shakes, was much greater.
Now the two sit in the Grubers’ living room, among powder boxes and packet packaging emblazoned with their start-up ‘Vetain’ logo, and recount the founding legend. “Back then I always used a whey-based powder, those are the most common shakes,” Riedl recalls. “But I didn’t tolerate it so well, I often broke out in a rash.” Known issue. Animal-based protein supplements contain many allergens.
So around 2018 he started looking for a vegan alternative. “The selection was still small at the time,” says Riedl. And the quality is bad. The student at the time tried five different powders, all of which were “hard gritty, very sweet, disgusting.”
Then Riedl had the crazy idea—or rather, the protein shake idea—and called Luca Gruber: “Why don’t we do it ourselves?” Originally just looking for a vegan alternative for themselves, the two fitness enthusiasts got to work. They called the wholesalers to ask for plant-based protein samples — which, to both of their surprise, they did. From the beginning, the goal was to guarantee first-class quality: “We didn’t want to go to Alibaba or anything, we wanted to buy organic products from Germany,” says Gruber.
During the lockdown, Riedl and Gruber found the motivation to keep going
So it happened that the two sat in Riedl’s hobby room and drank one shake after another to compare the quality of rice powder from company A with that of pumpkin powder from company B and thus create an optimal blend.
This warm-up was initially followed by a break, the Abitur exams were just around the corner. However, the 2020 lockdown fueled things again and the company’s massive founding phase began. With the help of a fruit powder company, they created a prototype of their powder, which they found tasted much better than the vegan products they had originally tried. This gave rise to the idea of making their mix accessible to other people, after all they couldn’t be the only ones with this problem.
The company name “Vetain”, a mix of “vegan” and “retain” or “sustainability”, was quickly found and with it the values adopted by the entrepreneurs: vegan, sustainable, organic, best quality, wherever possible derived from Germany.
Start-up funding was provided through a crowdfunding site
This immediately brought with it a series of challenges, starting with the cans. Riedl and Gruber wanted ones without plastic or aluminum, but they had to look hard to find them. They found what they were looking for in a supplier in Cologne who made cans purely from cardboard and paper – but which are ten times more expensive than regular ones. Together with minimum order quantities from food wholesalers and the increased price for German organic products, it was not long before the question of financing arose.
“We founded UG with our own money,” says Gruber. But there was not enough capital for tins and powder. So the two decided to rely on a crowdfunding campaign in a very modern way. They presented their product and company vision online and those who were convinced donated or pre-ordered something. “Within three weeks we raised 16,000 euros,” says Riedl. This was enough for the first delivery of the goods.
The science is rather skeptical about protein powder
But which was immediately threatened again. The war in Ukraine delayed all deliveries, and the flood of the century in 2021 softened the cans, which pushed back the schedule. In October last year, the time had come, the first boxes were shipped and everything was sold until March 2022.
But is it really necessary? After all, there are now many suppliers selling vegan powder, some in paper boxes. Furthermore, science agrees that in the vast majority of cases protein powder is not necessary to meet protein requirements in weight training.
For example, the “Working Group on Sports Nutrition of the German Nutrition Society” recommends in a position paper from 2020 “that changing protein intake should be achieved primarily by optimizing nutrition.” Also, “there is no scientific evidence from controlled studies that physiological training adaptations can be achieved only through supplementation with a specific amino acid composition.” In plain English: protein powder is not really necessary.
Riedl and Gruber take it easy. You can also meet your protein needs with a customized diet. Strictly speaking, shakes are not absolutely necessary. “It’s practical, though, and that shouldn’t be overlooked,” says Riedl. And Gruber adds: “Vegans in particular would otherwise have to eat much more to meet their needs.” Not everyone is ready for this.
When it comes to competition, the two also see themselves on the safe side. “Not only did we put each product together with the help of a lab, but we also tested it ourselves,” says Riedl. They would know exactly what is in their powders, where the ingredients come from, and how they taste. In addition, they rely on transparency and show their buyers where they source their products. After all, they are also concerned about CO2 neutrality, which is why they have planted mangroves in Madagascar with the help of “Eden Projects”. So as much as customers want to consume, according to the two founders, they want to deliver a good product in return.
The vegan powder is well accepted by customers
And customers want to consume. The feedback is good, but sometimes the taste takes some getting used to. “The other powders are just too sweet,” says Riedl. “I recently tried one that was like drinking a jar of Nutella.” However, many are happy to turn their backs on sugary powders. In the meantime, 40 packages of three Vetain powder cans are being shipped daily and the trend is upward.
This is also due to marketing. As thoroughly as the amino acid profile, Gruber and Riedl refined Vetain’s online profile. They spread their advertising through Instagram, “it always has to be at a very high level. People are very spoiled when it comes to that,” says Gruber. The satisfaction that everything is well received is even greater for both of them.
That’s why Riedl and Gruber really want to continue. They have not yet been paid a salary by “Vetain”, all profits flow back to the company. In this way, they not only want to expand their product range, but also want to get more involved in environmental protection, also locally in Germany. “We still lack the capital for this,” says Riedl. “But we are confident that we can grow to deliver more projects.” It may take a while for that to happen, but you can be content for now.