Sebastian Koch, co-founder and CEO of Completeorganics, reveals what makes his company’s raw, fermented vegetables different, and just how delicious they really are.
Completeorganics launched in 2017. It was one of the three founders, Boris – a chef – who came up with the idea of fermenting vegetables.
One of the biggest questions that came to mind back then was how, in Germany – the biggest supplier of sauerkraut – there was only white cabbage sauerkraut available and furthermore, 99% of this sauerkraut was pasteurised, which means it’s heated to give it a longer shelf-life.
The pasteurization process destroys the vitamins and nutrients. Completeorganics does the opposite of this – we actually cultivate the live probiotic bacteria found in the food. This is why we’re so fascinated by Korean kimchi and places such as the US, where fermented and cultured foods are more readily available
We wanted to introduce this idea into German and European retail. It’s our mission to bring these delicious and healthy foods into any diet (including vegan and non-vegan), to make good nutrition more sustainable and accessible.
Naturally, canned (and pasteurized) vegetables will have a longer shelf-life, although they are more nutritionally deficient.
We’re allowing customers to get the best of both worlds. We treat the vegetables with very sensitive preservation methods (fermentation) and so all the vitamins and nutrients remain intact.
We can therefore offer healthy and delicious products with a shelf-life of up to a year or more, albeit less than when pasteurization is used.
Our products do need to be refrigerated and it’s important to keep in mind that it’s a living organism. If kept in the fridge, the fermentation process is kept to a minimum, although some bubbling may occur. This is completely normal and indicative of healthy food.
If stored out of the fridge, the live bacteria can go a little crazy. Bubbling will most probably occur and fermentation gases are also produced. While this is still normal, consumers have been conditioned by the food industry to believe otherwise over the last few decades.
There are now competitors popping up everywhere in Europe. Of course, this raises the pressure level a little but we also believe this is healthy in order to grow and develop
Our mission is to make living and fermented foods as readily available as possible, and we realise that we can’t do this on our own. It will take several suppliers of these products to take fermented produce out of a niche market.
We’ve done a lot of hard pioneering work, and it’s sometimes difficult to see other companies taking advantage of this, but we do know that in the end it will have the positive impact on the food industry that we so desperately want to see.
Competition fosters growth… so bring it on! We gladly accept the challenge of leading the European market and naturally want to defend this position.
Everybody should aim to be healthy and more sustainable, but our target audience is primarily people who care about what they eat and where their food comes from.
We also target those who are looking to prevent or cure illnesses, and those looking for low-calorie and low carb foods (we already supply our products to numerous professional athletes, who integrate them into their nutrition plans).
While it would appear that our products are most sought after by younger generations, we also see older generations delighted with the fact that they are once again in touch with produce and methods that they were familiar with in their youth.
We even envisage creating a line of fermented vegetables for children one day. There are nutritionists who recommend children start eating a more bitter, less sweet diet at an early age (one to two years), for example. However, we need to start by educating parents – then the children.
Kimchi is our number-one product and in fact, we refer to it internally as “the kimchi effect”. It is undoubtedly the word we use most within our company!
Originally, we tried to provide a ferment for each continent: Asian Kimchi, cabbage with cauliflower, turmeric, and cumin as an Indian-style ferment, Eastern European-style red beets, or Curtido Kraut from El Salvador. We started off with five, one of which was traditional Korean kimchi.
Kimchi was immediately the biggest hit, and remains so today. In fact, we recently added two more kimchi flavors, so we now have three kimchi products. These make up for more than 50% of our turnover.
It’s already making its way onto supermarket shelves all over the world. However, it’s still pretty much limited to organic retail.
Over the last few years, we’ve definitely seen growth, including an increase in competitors. I definitely expect to see fermented vegetables in supermarkets all over Europe – organic or not – within the next five years.
We want to go big! We’re already beyond the German borders in Austria, the Netherlands, Switzerland, and France. We’re looking at expanding into the UK and Scandinavia next.
I think we’re already the market leader in Europe – but we want to see these products everywhere. It would be a dream to have Completeorganics recognised by customers as the pioneer and market leader in fermented vegetables.
A little insider secret, too... much potential lies in fermented beverages. Watch this space!