Season 2: Next Gen Proteins
The curated panel of industry fellows that discuss how to future-proof traditional markets
In Season 2, recognized world-class Researchers, Scientists, Faculty Members, Senior Executives, Experts, Chefs, Investors and Entrepreneurs from around the globe, engage in strategic exchange of views and share startling intel on viable transformative innovation in Agriculture, Food and Beverage, zooming in the next gen proteins space.
Listen to the podcast episode
Below is a transcript of the episode, edited to offer you a reading alternative with increasing convenience, of our guest speakers' conversation with Tommaso, this episode’s moderator. For more information on the people and ideas discussed in the episode, see the links at the bottom of this post. Additionally, for more on sustainable transformative innovation in FoodTech, please register for the upcoming live streaming episodes of Season 2 on Corpor8.
- Culture, mindset, the ability to test things: the essentials in the food industry
- Purpose-driven missions in the food industry are taking the world
- Jackfruit, the multifunctional plant-based protein
- Breaking through fast foods may be the answer to turn insects mainstream
Tommaso: Welcome and good morning, good afternoon and good evening... depending on where you are dialing in from. I would like to also welcome our audience to our episode 10 of Virtual Coffee, where in Season 2, we focus on next gen proteins.
From Chef to Tech
Tommaso: Brian, I'm very intrigued about your background. You started as a culinary chef, had the pleasure to work with Michelin star chefs in San Diego and in the Bay Area and then you said, "well let's move on into my next chapter" transferred basically into the tech world and tech companies are running food programs with high quality products and high end dining experience.
What challenges and rewards did you find in this bold move in your career? And what can you share with our audience in terms of important trends, innovation in food and nutrition in the high tech work space?
Brian: It was definitely an interesting and fun switch in my career. One of the main parts about the switches is the culture of food company tech companies and the food and beverage programs that they provide is very similar these days to a restaurant culture or fine dining restaurant culture. A lot of these tech companies, their employees are the people that are actually eating at the fine dining restaurants and the local restaurants, so they expect a high caliber food experience. Google kind of set the bar many years back for their food programs and a lot of tech companies have been trying to fight for the best food program since then. So it's definitely been a fun ride.
One of the greatest things about the tech world and the food industry in the tech industry is that's the spot for the greatest change. With what you buy and how your employees eat, you can really affect the food system globally in general. The tech companies have cafes and restaurants and food service all over the world and you can change the food industry. Especially with all proteins and next gen proteins, you can affect the wave of the food/food culture just from your food programming in your individual company. It's an impactful place to be rather than in a smaller restaurant, where you can only affect so much change. But you can really, really change perspective and then change the mindset of the industry when you have so much buying power and so many thousands of people in your cafes eating.
Tommaso: Would you say that working and being in charge of the so fundamental topic of nutrition in the tech industry that you can experiment more, embracing more experiments also on the food side? Or would you say that it's more linear, like in a general environment?
Brian: No, you can definitely push the boundaries of what food is. The mindset is a certain way for the general public of eating and dining. But there's a little bit more open mindedness to new things and new food production products, especially in California, the Bay Area. Over the past 15/20 years, the farm to fork movement has progressed into what it is today.
“People really want to know what is in the food that they're eating. They want to know where it comes from. We have more ways to express and more ways to really let people know exactly what they're eating. It's definitely a platform for us to bridge the gap between new experimental items and the way people are eating.”
Purpose-driven missions in the food industry
Tommaso: Daniela, Sibö, as far as we have learned over the last weeks and what we can see online that is tied to purpose driven missions, right? How do you plan to scale the production globally, while maintaining your genuine purpose?
Daniela: Well, what we have done in Costa Rica right now is a small scale level. However, what we pull with this program, and what I'm going to explain to you right now, is basically settling a program in which we train full families, as typically women in rural areas of the country. We train them to farm insects in the most standards and put in procuring as well, food safety. In this way we can scale our production and our impact.
“It's not only a matter of what we are going to get our raw materials, but also how can we give back to the communities and help improve the quality of life of our own people.”
We established a procedure where we can take this learnings and teach them to other people. This program happened during this pandemic in March, our country was looking for new ways and new opportunities to start having more jobs and just like increasing productivity on everything because of both of the pandemics. We came with this offering: "well, we have this program, we can actually teach people how to grow insects in a standardized and safe way and also well, providing jobs and economic income and everything." So, we created this alliance with a comparative that gives agricultural credit within University and now it is a reality.
We're working right now with two families but we have 50 candidates to work by the end of this year. Basically, we're going to end up with 50 families providing the raw materials and those from from our side, providing all income and improvement in their quality of life. So, it is definitely possible. And this program, we can actually take it to another part of the world, another type or another country that it's interested in and that fulfills all the requirements in terms of the environment requirements, like temperature, humidity and the land requirements. We can actually take this to another country, we have had conversations in the past with Colombia and other other countries in Central America to actually develop this, for instance, also in Mexico as well.
We knew we wanted to do it, it was something that from our company. We wanted to have this farmer program installed it like a year ago but it wasn't possible. Now with this pandemic, actually, it was the right opportunity that we had.
Tommaso: How much effort are you thinking in order to replicate that in another country? What is the perspective from a startup in order to get it going in another country?
Daniela: First of all, you need to have the right people connected to the right people. What we look for in another country and other people that we're working with, it's that it's also people that are purpose driven, that they're that they want to make this impact and this change in the world. But also (people) that can really connect, for instance, with governments, with ministers of agriculture, that can actually help thrive in this type of programs that are social programs. That also needs the help and the support of the government and government institutions.
Jackfruit: a versatile plant-based protein
Tommaso: Dan, you guys are currently focusing on jackfruit as alternative protein. What could you highlight and inject food as a main ingredient for plant-based products?
Dan: It echoes a lot of what Daniela was saying and I'm really happy to see models like that. I'll take a quick step back and give a little bit of my background and to what led us to this in the first place. I've always grown up between two cultures in Europe and in the US, in a very food centric environment. I've always been very passionate about both food and sustainability. And most of my career, for the first sort of 10 years of my life, was focused on consulting and finance projects in developing markets, where I tend to look at a lot of agriculture and saw firsthand how those two intersect. That's what led us to build something that focused on a holistic solution to sustainability. Moving away from our traditional animal agriculture systems play a huge role in that, but you also have to look at how that impacts everything down the entire value chain.
“We look for ingredients that allow us to do similar things to get down to that farmer level, to find things that can really generate value, create income and be a total improvement into the system. Just switching to another mass produced monoculture crop is not going to provide the same benefits to the environment, it's not going to provide much impact at the community level.”
Jackfruit is one of a few ingredients that we're looking at, and the primary one we're focusing on right now that allow us to really get deep into that supply chain to also operate on the community level to help. Jackfruit itself is a crop that is quite easy to farm, it's very low maintenance, it's very high yielding, it doesn't require a lot of inputs, it's very resistant to drought, soil degradation, it's very naturally beneficial for biodiversity for intercropping.. It is a crop that tends to be relatively straightforward to plant and grow in even sub optimal conditions and many tropical areas.
But there's a lot of reasons from a farming standpoint on why jackfruit, from a sustainability standpoint, in terms of its use as a product, hasn't been commercialized in very interesting ways so far. It's quite a difficult ingredient to source, it's naturally very fragmented, it hasn't been really appreciated as an ingredient. What we've done is come up with a new way, our own method to process it in a way that gives us a lot more flexibility on the commercial side and allows us to focus on creating the best situation for the farming communities who are growing it, looking at interesting ways to expand that to make sure that we get maximum impact across, again, down to the people who are actually growing, making sure we're delivering value all through our supply-chain.
Tommaso: In terms of market acceptance, would you say you have already achieved product market fit? Is the market embracing it?
Dan: Definitely. We launched very quickly. We launched what we call our beta product, which is a test product, a very straightforward sort of jackfruit product. We knew we could yield interesting results but required a lot of knowledge and patience in the kitchen. We worked very closely with a select group of restaurants in Singapore to launch that product and prove that there was interest from the chef and restaurant side, prove that there was interest from the consumer side, and prove that even with a challenging product to work with, there was a fit, and that was quite successful. We've taken a lot of that feedback and built it into developing this new process and this new product format that we'll be launching quite soon in Singapore, and then eventually in other markets that continues to use jackfruit in its whole plant natural form.
“Another primary benefit of jackfruit is that it doesn't require heavy processing, it doesn't require denaturing or changing its structure in any way. We can embrace it, embrace respect, the integrity of ingredients, the provenance and still celebrate it as this whole plant very natural ingredient, but deliver it to chefs in a format that is very intuitive and easy to cook very similar to how they would work with a similar style of pork or meat.”
We tend to frame it around pork, especially for the Asian opportunity. That product also initially generated a lot of positive responses and we're looking forward to that. It also allows us to then bring it into market and a lot of other applications. We're looking at a lot of ready to cook products, trying to make this kind of interesting, more novel, more different, natural, healthier, whole plant meat alternatives, as accessible as possible to a wide range of consumers.
Edible insects as a sustainable and nutritious source of protein
Tommaso: Daniela, in a world where the food system is no longer sustainable, in which ways insects can potentially solve problems related to the conventional food supply chain, such as global water, land and energy deficits?
Daniela: Insects fit into what we think is a circular economy as well. Because with insect production, you can waste sources to use them as a feed for the insects. But if you don't want to use that as their feed, insect mass production is also helping the environment in terms of less land usage, less water usage, less CO2 emissions as well. And of course, their protein efficiency rate is better than the livestock industry. This means that they need less feed to make the same amount of protein than regular sources of livestock.
Insects fit perfectly into how we can make this world better in terms of environment but also better in terms of nutrients, nutrient density, malnutrition issues, etc. As we have mentioned before, insects are really nutritious and you can see it's a source of protein, vitamin B 12, other minerals and vitamins as well as fiber. It's not only having this mass production that you're just like one company interested in having your own production. With Sibö operations, what we want to do is also to increase social impact, not only in terms of environment and nutrition, but also in social impact with our national farmer program that we're implementing in Costa Rica. As soon as you have any Sibö products or anything from us, you can know that your impact is also their impact in the social program that we have going on.
Tommaso: Daniela, you were saying on your next gen farmer program or or your inspiring farmer program. Do you mind sharing some more highlights on that?
Daniela: Like I said at the beginning, it's also our way to make insects more normal and establish mini livestock or mini agriculture. We wanted it to do it from the beginning. This pandemic was the perfect opportunity to implement it. We're working with two women in the rural areas of Costa Rica and what they have said is that we have been taken a lot of things from the earth, we have been taken land, resources, water, etc. Now it's the time to give back to the earth in some way.
“If we can actually make something good, that it's going to be good for our families, good for the environment, good for our people and good for the communities, it's a win-win.”
The aim of this program is to get it on a national level and we're now looking at getting some funding. We have some international banks interested and international funds interested to fund this program and increase the impact that we can make in finance, until we can get 500 farmers in all of Costa Rica and Central America as well.
Insects and fast food
Tommaso: Brian, what are your thoughts on insects? Are you ready to prepare a couple of meals with that and in feeding and making it available to some tech genius here?
Brian: The insect market has been a topic of conversation in the food industry, hitting more mainstream conversations for the past five years. Obviously, it is in a much older topic and much older process that people have been doing for such a long time. The main issue is that globally we get changed by social norms. How to break the chain of the social norm of eating insects and using insects in protein is something that hasn't been broken yet. I'm still waiting for somebody to figure out the marketing strategy behind it, and get the education out to the US market to break that chain and have some understanding of the benefits and why is not this stigma that people associate with insects.
“If you think about it, the things that we eat now that are in the acceptable range. There's ooni, and there's all these strange things that I'm sure at one point there was a stigma on them as well. We've broken through a lot of those. I think the next step is breaking through the chain of marketing to understand that.”
Maybe it's in the US... you've seen, actually globally, for all proteins, when we first started tackling the Impossible Meats and Beyond Meat. They took fast food chains to accept it and that is because fast food chains are just such a staple in our food industry, in our culture in our lives. That's when the Beyond Meat broke through. It started with small and some fine dining restaurants and some tech companies. I know that I was one of the first chefs and a tech company to start playing with the Impossible Foods products but it didn't break through until fast food accepted it. And now it's everywhere. It's Burger King, it's all these different places. So It might take a Burger King to break through the insect market as well, even though we don't want to say that fast food chains are our how we're going to break through, but it is honestly. It's the everyday folk, it's the people that are eating fast food all the time. That's how the marketing is gonna break through, in my opinion.
A jackfruit breakthrough in Asia
Tommaso: Dan, I remember you mentioned last time you guys are focused on the Asian food, on the Asian side. What are you planning? How do you guys differentiate specifically around the the Asian food? What's your strategy there?
Dan: Sure, well, exactly what everyone's saying. It's interesting, because before starting Corona, I started my sort of first transition towards more sustainable alternative proteins. I have spent a lot of time in the insect space and looked at that as well. There's still a lot of potential. I think people will warm up to the idea of eating insects, but I think they'll warm up to the idea of eating plants a lot sooner. That's one of the reasons that we've gone through and taken that education piece. Our values are based around good food. It should be something that is easy to understand what it is, is easy to understand what the benefits of it are. We get so many mixed messages in terms of what is good for us, what we should be eating or should not be eating, it changes constantly, it's quite overwhelming. Even if you're very knowledgeable and up to date and informed.
“I think one of the universal truths that we've always grown up with, and we see over and over, is that eating more plants, fruits and vegetables in as close to their natural form as possible, is generally a good thing. Eating less calories, less fat, less salt, is also generally a good thing.”
We try to simplify our messaging and our value proposition down around that and give things that are very recognizable but making it as accessible as possible, of course.
But like what Brian was saying, taste is king, but getting that messaging to a concise point where it's easy to understand, it resonates with people, it's easy to get it validated by those third party, whether that's a QSR menu placement or whether that's throughout their marketing efforts. We focus on doing something very innovative and different internally, but consolidating that messaging and value proposition to consumers in a way where it's going to resonate, you're going to look at it and say: "oh, I get what he says, I know what I'm eating here." And that appeals to me.
Tommaso: What are things that have been maybe working and less working? Do you mind sharing a bit of tactics with us?
Dan: We're figuring it out now, to be honest. We're gearing up towards a big launch, we've been testing a lot of things. And I can tell you, it's not easy at all. Just in this trying to sum up what are the benefits of something like jackfruit, both from the raw material side to the end product side, there's a lot to pass on. So it's understanding what is driving consumers, what do they want and ultimately what we see. This is big in Asia, where you had a lot of mock meats and alternative proteins traditionally available for a long time. The idea of using soy, wheat, gluten protein is nothing new in Asia to make. Every walk into any market or supermarket in the region and you'll have a whole array of cheap soy or gluten based products, in every possible and size and format. So it was always rooted in providing something that was different and was responding to a direct consumer demand. People wanted something that was healthier, that was more transparent, that was still offering something novel.
People have traditional proteins, chickpeas and mushrooms, that they know how to source and cook, chefs know to source and cook. So we need to find these things that are interesting from a sourcing and commercial standpoint, but also can be translated into these sort of unique placements. Like jackfruit, that we can position more as a meat alternative, as a really meat analog product, but still have these very natural elements. So first, it's identifying those ingredients, understanding how to work with them. We really build a lot of our r&d and our product development around direct consumer demands.
Tommaso: How much did you raise?
Dan: We've been raising the round for a little while, but we finally managed to close it. A few months ago, I think, at the end of June, beginning of July, we closed at 1.7 million. So we actually ended up a little bit oversubscribed.
From the audience
Tommaso: Here we have Karen from San Diego asking Daniela the following: despite the hesitancy with insect proteins in many markets, how does your company plan the introduction of novel and more sustainable products in scaling it globally? What is critical in your growth strategy?
Daniela: The best strategy that we have is towards the real material production and also understanding very well all of the regulations that are currently happening in terms of Europe, Us and the world. What we're looking into is settling the raw materials in a way that, of course, can work better for us in terms of regulation, but that it can also work better for the markets that we're supplying. That's how we are planning to get into the market and to comply with everything that is currently happening.
Tommaso: Any priority in terms of the roadmap of the market that you're focusing on, like step one, step two, step three?
Daniela: First of all, we're focusing on supplying Mexico. We have our top clients right now and since the culture is more insect loving and more accepting, it's easier and more understandable for them.
Tommaso: I know in Mexico there is this, is not the cricket, what's the other insect called?
Daniela: It's called chapulines.
Tommaso: Jerry from the UK, asking Dan: could we be seeing jackfruit based meat animal products in Europe shelves in the near future? What are your thoughts there?
Dan: Absolutely. There's a number of companies starting to embrace jackfruit. Some of the main challenges around jackfruit that we're trying to solve are how to actually get it to the point where you can commercialize it more interestingly. I'm sure there are jackfruit products available in the US, there are products available in Europe, they're just generally not very easy to work with and are very interesting. We're very excited to see lots of new innovation.
Jackfruit should be something that should be promoted as a crop that more people plant and grow, that becomes more usable. We hope that some of the technology we're developing will empower other companies to incorporate jackfruit as a more widely used ingredient into a lot of applications. I think for sure, you'll see a lot more jackfruit in general across the world in the next couple of years.
Tommaso: Are you guys planning on going more towards the b2b Route and offering the ingredient or producing yourself a new product like CPG style?
Dan: Initially, we're very focused on building our brand and positioning and CPG. But a lot of the investment we're making in order to do that is geared around unlocking quite a lot of scale. So if the opportunity presents itself to support other people who are doing interesting things, we certainly hope that's something we can build in the long term.
Tommaso: Brian, we have Tim from Davis, California. With worldwide demand for protein set to reach new eyes, what protein alternatives are robust and innovative enough to satisfy consumer appetite?
Brian: I think that a lot of them are really hitting that mark right now. When we talk about jackfruit, the tech industry is kind of already adapted to jackfruit products in our cafes. For the last five years, it's been kind of on a slow roll as one of those products. That's very versatile, has a similar texture and flavor profile, depending on how you use it, to meat. So, a lot of these dishes and cuisine from around the world, land themselves really well to items like jackfruit, where it has a nice texture and you can change the sauce on it or change the preparation. It's very acceptable to people, it's nothing weird. When you get the marketing right, it's definitely a home run. Even things like tempeh have been kind of making a comeback. It's all about the producer of it and the quality, because people can get turned off really quick. Especially when you're trying to switch people's mindsets and break from these norms that we were talking about, you kind of only get one chance sometimes to change somebody's mind about something.
“If you don't put enough love and care into your product, and you're using that product to change someone's mind, you have one shot. If it's a bad experience for them, they're going to hold that bad experience way above any good experiences they're gonna have in the future.”
What inspires you?
Tommaso: And we are already wrapping up things for our 10th episode of Virtual Coffee. But actually, before we do so, I have an inspirational questions for you. I'm really curious to hear Dan, Brian's and Daniela thoughts on where they found their inspiration. I would like to start with Daniela. What inspires you?
Daniela: Well, I find my inspiration from a lot of places. But right now what I'm doing is basically reading. The book that I'm reading now is "A brief history of time" by Stephen Hawking. It's totally different, but it takes me to places where I didn't even know existed. And that is how my creativity just goes wild.
Tommaso: Brian, how about you? Where do you get your creativity, maybe your passion and also your love for to experiment with your cooking?
Brian: Being a chef for my entire life, inspiration has always been a constant search for inspiration. I think a lot of food industry fellows and chefs will resonate with that. We find inspiration in art, music and in culture. But as I've grown in my career and in life in general, one of my biggest inspirations is people. I think specifically from different perspectives of my own, because if we all think the same way, there's no room to progress and move forward and create new things. So for me, finding people with different perspectives, listening to podcasts that maybe the person and myself wouldn't see eye to eye in a conversation about a certain topic, but really listening to people is the biggest inspiration for me right now, especially during this time.
One of the new things that's come up from this COVID situation is you find almost all restaurants, famous chefs and restaurant tours, they're really speaking to the public right now. Which is a unique thing that hadn't happened really before. I encourage everybody to really listen to the restaurant industry right now. Obviously, it's struggling, and it's gonna be a tough time in the next couple of years. Then also, I figured I'd plug in one of my favorite coffee podcasts from Cat & Cloud, at Santa Cruz. Jared and Chris really have a great perspective on not just coffee, but agriculture, sustainability, and the future of the food service world in general. So definitely a good one, check out.
Tommaso: Dan, last but not least...
Dan: For us, in terms of what innovation means to us as a company, it's always about going level deeper, trying to understand the root of a problem and really look at different, more impactful ways to solve it. One company that continues to inspire me, and where I take a lot of inspiration from is Netflix. I would just really encourage it, if you haven't done a deep dive into how they continuously took on a new industry, reinvented themselves, totally disrupted things and built that deeply into the culture. It's really fascinating. There's a great podcast called Masters of Scale, which features interviews with Reed Hastings, Netflix founder, and many others. So it's a great starting point.
If you're looking at food, especially if you if it's not maybe a core focus, I think it's so important to really understand what really drives people, what really drives the passion behind it. It's an industry that you need to really love and get it in order to see where trends are going. Reading really good food writing is important if you want to get into food and understand a variety of perspectives and appreciation around ingredients and food and culture. Jeffrey Steingarten is an author I've always liked. He has something called the "Calamari Index", which goes back to the point Brian raised earlier about adoption of new foods and things which talks about how calamari or squid went from no one would touch to one of the most popular menu items in the US in a matter of less than decades. Trends and what we eat and how we interact with food can change quite quickly. So I think it's really important to understand that and not get too bogged down in our current biases.
Tommaso: And I would like, speaking of inspiration, and that's what I always end up wrapping up broadcasts, end up with a quote. A quote that I learned to phrase and create myself over the last 20 years of being on the entrepreneurial side and trying to make things happen on the tech side of the world and then switching tables which was like this:
“Never forget where you come from, it keeps you humble. But where you come from, cannot limit you where you want to go.”
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this Podcast as well as in its transcript are those of the participant guest speakers and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Corpor8 or its partners and sponsors. In the same way, the participant speakers do not endorse any products, services, brands, practices, professionals or views other than what they specifically and directly expressed by verbalizing at the time the episode was recorded. In addition, transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio file (podcast) before ever quoting in print.
Co-Founder at Karana
Co-Founder & COO at Sibö || Entrepreneur || Insects, nutrition and sustainability || TEDx Speaker
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