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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.

Virtual Coffee: S2:E07 

On E7, moderated by
Tommaso Di Bartolo, Founding Partner at Awesm Ventures, panelists Sujala Balaji, food scientist, an early entrepreneur in alt-proteins, Shardul Dabir, innovation specialist at GFI India, and Kabir Chowdhury, animal nutritionist and nature believer, highlighted key aspects of sustainability, nutrition and innovation on next gen proteins as well as opportunities and challenges ahead for emerging players.

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Podcast transcription

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.
Tommaso Di Bartolo: Virtual Coffee is a curated panel of industry fellows that discuss how to future proof traditional markets, and actually traditional markets. Today, on S2, E7, we have the pleasure of sharing a conversation over next gen proteins with Sujala Balaji, Food Scientist and Entrepreneur, Shardul Dabir, Innovation Specialist at GFI India, and Kabir Chowdhury, Food Scientist and Animal Nutritionist.

[discussion starts] 

Tommaso Di Bartolo: Shardul, you are an Innovation Specialist Senior at GFI India. Let us and the audience understand a bit what the innovation landscape, meaning you know, entrepreneurs corporation, investors, academia looks like when it comes to alternative protein in India, very curious about that...

Shardul Dabir: Absolutely, I'll start by telling you a little bit about what GFI does... “The Good Food Institute - India”, is one of the international affiliates of the “Good Food Institute - Washington DC”, a central help to cultivate plant-based meat, eggs and dairy - cultivated beef, eggs and dairy fermented. Basically it takes in the dairy production ecosystem in the US. And now we are doing something similar for the past two and a half / three years in India as well. So I work as an Innovation Specialist for the India team, my job basically is creating the early-stage-innovation landscape that could be required to transform this sector and products, away from the animal source products to our newest source of protein the next-gen protein, and the focus on all of these sustainable sources of protein, right from the very start. 

Shardul [continues]: India is a country where consumption is lower when it compares to per capita consumption around the world, but when you look at the rate of growth of meat consumption, it's very very high and has a strong income correlation to it as well. So what we're trying to do here is to create an “inviting ecosystem” for entrepreneurs, investors and value-chain stakeholders, researchers. All of these players and kind of help them, innovate in the sector which is a plant based meat, eggs and dairy cultivated eggs and dairy and fermented piece meat, eggs and dairy sector right. My job entails working with all of these things to capitalise and accelerate their plans whether they are for, you know, doing innovative research in this area, whether it's starting companies in this area getting catalytic capital. 

Shardul [continues]: I would say that the Indian ecosystem currently is embryonic, so it's getting started compared to West India with very less amount of food processed, and the technology side of things are not very mature. You look at the tech forward area  of alternative proteins or, you know, smart proteins. The issue is usually of talent, so cytec talent is one of the biggest constraints in many ways. And also I would say when you look at investments and funding catalytic capital or patient capital which would be required to set up some of these companies is also another bottleneck. But given that I think we have a huge community built up now just starting, couple of years ago back in 2018, when I started with GFI and we had a few dozen stakeholders in this area and now we have more than 1,000 stakeholders who have actively been participating in a lot of activities right so GFI India works with corporations it works with accelerators incubators investment funds. It works with early stage entrepreneurs and mature entrepreneurs.

Shardul [continues]: So, we work with everybody in the value-chain for the food processing space, anybody who wants to innovate in the sector we work pretty much with all of them and we also engage a lot with universities. So that's what I've been trying to do, trying to build this over the entire ecosystem. I think if you look at 2020, we have more than a dozen product launches in the pipeline right now some of them are delayed because of the current situation. But India has a lot of offerings for the world. And just like the sector has really boomed in the West, just a couple of years ago there were a few dozen companies and now there are more than 500 plant based cultivated fermented foods, meat, eggs and dairy companies all over the world. Something similar is happening and the rate of changes is exponential. 

Tommaso Di Bartolo: Thank you so much for sharing the fundamentals to drive innovation to connect the entire ecosystem.

I would like to go over and ask actually Sujala about trends, what kind of trends are you observing when it comes to alternative protein space. What are your thoughts on this? 

Sujala Balaji:  When we talk about trends, I think we have a few different areas to look at… In terms of products we're creating and ingredients. Technology and Innovation and whether incorporating new and novel and promising technologies and trends and like consumer habits and behaviours and changes. And, talking about products, for example, now we're looking at alternative proteins, beyond just creating another burger or another milk where we're looking at different categories like jerky for example, or seafood. That hasn't really been an area of focus even like two three years ago and that's really gaining centre stage attention with some big name startups entering in those spaces which used to be niche a few years ago. 

Sujala [continues]: Plant-based bacon has really taken off in the last two years or less than two years, I believe, and the ingredients we are using like coconut to create plant-based bacon and jackfruit. And, you know, now we're looking beyond the traditional soy protein or wheat gluten, we're looking at novel ingredients like obviously protein has exploded in the recent few years but for plan- based dairy products I think nuts have traditionally been taking over the last five years, I guess. But recently, we're noticing seeds, like sunflower seed for sea-based cheeses so that kind of novel in that space. There's definitely more work that needs to happen in terms of diversifying the ingredients that feed into creating alternative protein products. But I think we're seeing that shift happen gradually which is a good sign. 

Sujala [continues]: Talking about innovation and technologies, obviously cell based meat is advancing at a much faster pace than expected. I guess, three years back we weren’t sure if we're going to be able to mass produce using cell-base technology, mass produce meat  using cell-based technology in the next 5 years but I think now we can say with certainty  that I'm bringing to market in 5 years  and using cell culture technology is a reality. It has gone beyond the lab scale process or the pilot scale process, and 3d printing for meat production, that's a very new trend that's being researched and being advanced very rapidly. 

Sujala [continues]: In terms of consumer behavior, if anything, COVID has shown us how much people are willing to switch to plant based meat and dairy when they knew that animal protein companies were very susceptible to higher infection rates. And I guess it somehow made them feel safer. Buying plant-based meat products and plant-based dairy products, I think, oat milk, actually, the category, the sales and oatmeal category, surpass the sales of facemasks. Believe it or not, that's, that's been a very interesting consumer shift in behaviour that is going to teach us a lot in the next few months. And, give even more encouragement to companies that are coming into the space to like adapt more rapidly or bring products to market rapidly. Last but not least Funding. I'm sure the “Beyond Meat” last year has been a big boost for companies that have been thinking about raising capital, or for even venture capitalists so there was a significant amount of money being invested in alternative protein startups. So these are some of the major trends that we're seeing overall in the industry.

Tommaso Di Bartolo: Thank you so much for this thorough breakdown or would you say Sujala that we are kind of at the beginning of a trend, of a wave? What would you say the market stands for right now when it comes to alternative protein, what are your thoughts on this just to follow up that question? 

Sujala: Yes, absolutely. So we are definitely at the beginning of this wave and I think we have gotten past like the early adopter phase of this wave, and we're now in the growth stage. So, the next five to 10 years it's going to grow rapidly. Cell-based protein is going to demand a little more time to reach the growth curve, but we're definitely at the forefront of this movement right now, and definitely all heads are turning towards this.

Sujala [continues]: Large corporations and even traditional meat companies such as the biggest names like JBS, Cargill, Maple Leaf foods are starting to either invest in plant-based and cell based meat startups, or create their own plant-based products. Some have rebranded themselves as “Sustainable Protein Companies”, instead of meat companies so that's like the extent of this shift that we're going to see in the near future, but yes we are definitely at the tip of it right now and it's only going to go up, in a forward direction, which is obviously good for humans and the planet.

Tommaso Di Bartolo:  Absolutely. Well I'm really intrigued about the flow because Shardul is trying to connect to the ecosystem and creating movement right and then we went over to the trends and on the trend landscape and you define it by breaking it by breaking it down into four main trends that we are still at the beginning so here opportunity opportunity opportunity now, I would like to hear from Kabil. Within these opportunities there are issues and challenges when it comes to new protein sources, regardless if it's algae meal, insect meals, microproteins, what are your thoughts? What are the challenges?

Kabir Chowdhury: I will bring a different perspective, right, like, both other panelists will talk about, especially plant-based meat or dairy products. In my case being an animal nutritionist... I worked with JFO, a Kenyan company which served the animal feed industry with non medicated feed additives. So in our case, we try to support the animal protein industry. So if you're looking at alternative proteins right. Last year, we produced globally about 1.1 billion metric tonnes of animal feed. The protein was about 200 to 300 million tonnes. We don't have enough quality proteins is the main major issue. That's where the alternative proteins come into play to grow this animal in a sustainable way, we can produce the raw materials for these animals in a sustainable way both individually and economically-sustainable. Then, the industry becomes more eco-friendly and seeing these discussions from the consumers. 

Kabir [continues]: Once we focus on mostly plant-based protein, are there issues with some anti-nutrients as well that we're missing in plant proteins there are some antinutrients like trypsin inhibitors, protease inhibitors, lectins allergens... how do we deal with that in future? What I see is that there is a chance for money to go into developing the industry to produce a new generation of proteins for the animal industry to feed the animals as Tommaso talked about algae meal, insect meal or single-cell proteins and a lot of money is going into it. Seriously. Last time I saw, more than 400 companies worldwide were producing insects... Insect meat is approved for animal feed. So this is a lot of money flowing into other issues and challenges there are to streamline these products for animal feed or their core products for human consumption, we could produce a high omega three oil for from these products from algae LG which is marine oil right for for childhood brain development we need this kind of products for human development as well. So, this industry is coming as a whole, not only for the animal feed industry but also for human health and nutrition. 

Kabir [continues]: In reality, we need a lot of ideas coming through, but a lot of post processing or fractionation of this product to value, and to look at the consumer right, if you look at the krill oil if you go to a pharmacy and try to buy a krill oil  they're harvested from the ocean. That's like $25-$30 - 30 capsules. These are really expensive products we need to mass produce these raw materials on the ground with main algae or whatever and then healthy human health, right? So for my point, just to introduce myself to another side of myself. I also run a nutritionist network on LinkedIn, which has more than 1800 members right now to discuss the new trends in the culture, and we still will be there. Two months ago I called: “Talking with Titans”. 

ommaso Di Bartolo: Thank you so much for this first round of questions so we have opportunities opportunities but everywhere, we'll have opportunities we have also challenges right one ball one big challenges obviously sustainability right and how can we actually not just produce it from, from a marketing perspective but then a perspective that actually it's really sustainable, right?  It's definitely a key challenge here! And now, kicking off things with our second round of questions with our panellists: Shardul, Sujala and Kabir, I would like to restart things again with Sujala. From your perspective, what are some of the most important opportunities and challenges that remain unmet today, when it comes to alternative protein?

Sujala Balaji: I want to talk about challenges first, and I guess challenges can become opportunities. The first one that comes to my mind is supply chain. I know that in the recent few years, “pea protein” has become like the star ingredient in plant-based products. When we're identifying ingredients to be used in creating these alternative protein products, we're not only looking at sustainability, but there are some issues with allergens and soy for example that's factored in. And that's why pea protein is a much more favourable protein, but there is also the, I guess, the scientist in me wants to talk about the PD cast score which is the protein digestibility or ow bioavailable the amino acids are or do we have like a balanced amino acid and a comparable protein profile compared to meat and to earlier point that Kabir touched on the anti-nutrients. How are we making sure that those are all factored in and eliminated when we're creating these products. So peas contain, you know 25 to 30% at the max percentage of protein. So when we're extracting isolates from these sources what happens to the rest of the ingredient, or the rest of the nutritional components like starch, for example, which is like a primary waste stream, that's not necessarily being utilised in a very cost efficient way. 

Sujala [continues]: Again, when touching on a bigger circular economy model, we are looking at all aspects of the process, or product development process to make sure that it's more efficient, or as efficient as it could be. I think there is quite a bit of opportunity there, considering some of these challenges that the industry is currently facing. And like I said pea has been destroying ingredients but, you know, in North America at least there is primarily wheat soy and corn, that's cultivated extensively, and we don't want the same thing to happen with peas, or soy beans and monocropping is not necessarily great for the soil, either. So we have to look at what other ingredients can be cultivated, and can be used. And can we use them in their whole form or do we really need to produce isolates. So I think there's a lot of research that can be done. And, and explore how feasible that will be, and I don't even want to talk about cell-based meat because that's a totally different technology but I'm sure there's experts there that can talk about the challenges in those industries, but for the context of our conversation here I'm going to focus on the plant based protein challenges. 

Sujala [continues]: Furthermore, supply chain diversity utilising waste streams in a more efficient way, those will be my personal top two. And then regulation. Obviously that needs to be discussed at a policy level, but that's not to be discounted for as we're exploring new ingredients and new technologies, it is important to have that parallel conversation happen in shaping the regulatory scope in different countries across the world as well. Now, there is different players in the ecosystem, wanting to shape this trend and support this movement, but I think GFI is an amazing organisation that's promoting partnerships and providing startups, resources, and connections so I think there is definitely more opportunities for players to come and collaborate in their innovation, or create partnerships that is going to benefit each other and push forward in a much more effective way. 

So those will be those will be my key points. Again, these can also be looked at as opportunities, like I mentioned, there are more than these top five crops that are grown in North America or elsewhere in the world. Diversification, bioavailability, making sure the model is circular and we're not creating a new problem while addressing this problem, these would be the things that I would highlight.


Tommaso Di Bartolo: Thank you so much again for the breakdown and I would make your words mine, when we have challenges we see opportunities. Sujala, great points that you make and you touched in one point which is the regulations. What in your mind might be, let's say, a priority one regulation might need to be provoked and changed and molded in order to simplify, streamline and accelerate the go-to-market in the acceptance of the alternative protein. Any thoughts on this? 

Sujala Balaji: Absolutely! I discussed this on a podcast, yesterday,   

naming alternative meat and alternative dairy products, calling them: milk and meat.  Different players in the ecosystem are going to give different answers to this. The meat company is probably not going to support calling plant-meat as meat although they are also producing plant-based meat these days so we are going to see some shifts there. In Canada, we're not allowed to call a non-dairy beverage as milk. We're just supposed to call it a beverage instead of calling it milk. 

Sujala [continues]: So, along these things like that we have come as far as being able to place those products right next to the dairy aisle, for example, non-dairy milks, right next to the dairy milks from cows.  And being able to sell meat on the same shelf or the same cooler as traditional meat has been sold. So we are that close to hit that taste in the national profile, the product texture and everything. If regulations code of permit labeling.  

I'm personally advocating for or would like to see a change, I think that it would be a first step towards a positive change in a regulatory standing point.

Tommaso Di Bartolo: It makes total sense as on one side we would have the production side, the Alt-Protein, on the one hand, in the startup world, but on the other hand, the consumer world, the shelf world and the go-to-market… makes total sense. Thanks for sharing that. 

Tommaso Di Bartolo:  Kabir, in your point of view, is there a reduced focus to improve quality of existing proteins sources or making nutrients  more available from these sources. What are your thoughts? 

Kabir Chowdhury:  That’s a very interesting question! As I said earlier that we produce about 1.1 billion tons of animal-feed  then the need is about 1.3 tons of protein. So while investing in algae-meal, insect meal or single-cell-protein that are very important sources and there are issues with the control system as well. We are missing a big point, right. For example, all the protein sources that we are using, Sujala mentioned Peas Protein as a source of animal feed as well. Canola meal that we are using a lot more than 20 million tons in animal feed. The problem is that the stability is not so good for these proteins, right? 

Kabir [continues]: So, I did a calculation a few days ago, I am working on an article, and what I found is if you can improve the digestibility by 2% points, for example, we can reduce that waste output by 500 tons globally. So just think about it from an environmental perspective… By improving the digestibility by 2% points we could save 500.000 metric tons of that would be going to the environment. If you can do that by 5% which is not difficult there are ways to do it, we could save about 1.3mi tons of nitrogen going to the waste. This has an economic sense as well as environmental sense, right? So, for better sustainability. We need to besides investing and developing new protein sources we also need to invest into technologies. That can improve the quality of these kinds of existing protein sources to have better sustainability, that way we are producing our food.  

Tommaso Di Bartolo: When you say you were calculating this, are you working on a specific global project? What territory did you consider? 

Kabir Chowdhury: This is a global scale. So, the whole global production of the protein sources that we're using producing to animal feed are mostly are plant-based meal, soy meal, algae meal, canola meal as well as proteins from corn which is major ingredient when you are producing animal feed, so the oiled seed meals, corn, and also animal protein which is  a minimal amount that we are using to animal feed today. And fish is 6mi tons globally. Mostly we are using animal feed to feed animals today, but improving digestibility and there are some stuff that can reduce the intake of traditional proteins by animals or by humans and to improve the qualities of this protein by making it better digestible making the amino acids more leveled, we can have a better use of this novelty and counterly shift our focus from novel protein sources to existing protein sources, I am saying that we need to have full focus on how to utilise better the existing protein sources available, right.

Tommaso Di Bartolo: Makes total sense! It is basically a hybrid model where we do not neglect what we have but also we can leverage and improve the extraction for the alternative protein for the future.

Tommaso Di Bartolo: Shardul, very interesting your point in the first answer that you had, around the ecosystem and what you are doing at GFI. Share with the world, is there what might be unique in India, around alternative protein, where people can say - “Wow, this is pretty unique!” Does that make sense where I am going with that?  

Shardul Dabir: Absolutely. Tommaso let me tell you that India is a biodiverse country. We have so many agro climatic zones. We are one of the largest producers for pulses, a lot of agriproduce right next to the USA, Canada and China. So in many ways, if you look at sustainable sources of protein and if you look at the market, there are hundreds of companies that have products being created from multiple sources. India can solve single source opportunities for a lot of these companies by exporting protein isolates, protein concentrates, local manufacturing of these is a big wide space and a certainly bigger opportunity for India. Because the local market is developing right now, like I said, it is accelerating. At the same time, the global market for plant-based, dairy products for some of the alternative products have already been established. And now for example, “Just Meat'' is the largest producer of mung which is a great opportunity. Similarly there are so many other crops that are not yet explored. 

Shardul [continues]: The sheer amount of biodiversity amazes me. I have been studying food for about a decade now, I have been a food technologist for the past ten years. When you also consider other crops, corn, wheat and soy, these crops have been optimised for decades. A lot of the research is going to identify specific breeds, optimizing the nutritional profiles, commercial applications and new product development. Something similar has to be done for a lot of indegenous crops as well. So GFI-India, has a major are focused in the indigenous crops initiative and they are looking nuclear crops a lot of the searchers, a lot of the institutes in India that have a lot of experience working with some of these crops and again, monocropping is a big issue and I think, India is going to face the consequence because of the soil quality. So I think the alternative protein sector and the diversity of sourcing different crops, millets, chickpeas, whoregrams with a large protein content and at times people also think about the bioprocessing of these crops and how can you better utilize it. For example, we are working on a database of millets. We started with 3 millets, 5 millets and etc and we are working with the scientist and it is a project funded by the Indigenous Crops Initiative. What we are trying to do is to put out an open access database there. So are a non-profit, whatever we do, on-line reports, industry reports, market reports, everything is open access in cooperation with scientists, entrepreneurs can look at that database and it would contain a lot of specifics: geno types, processing parameters. We can accelerate innovation and sort of cut down the need for time when it comes to R&D. That’s one big opportunity. 

Shardul [continues]: Tommaso, I would say that the opportunity of consumption, by 2015 we will be 10bi people and 1/6 of them will be Indian and they are going to demand a lot of protein. So since “Beyond Meats” our phones have been going off the hooks in India. So many people are interested in West India to help start companies and accelerate incubators who have full hots in Singapore, NYC and in developing economies, they are all very keen to help these companies get started. Again, this is the result of a sheer opportunity of great food that goes back to thousands of years. So, with just a very good understanding of flavours and sensory profiles of food. So, India has like 37 states and every state has a very different food consumption profile. So I mean, locally, we can also make a lot of these products for the world for Southeast Asian countries for expos in Canada and us a lot of these expos are currently minimally processed foods, a lot of them are not value added foods, but when you're in a country like India you also have to look at the bottom of the pyramid and local consumption and farmers and farmer incomes and value addition to them as well. So I think that could become a great opportunity like B2B exports in the short term, where entrepreneurs are probably creating ingredients or processed foods which are catering to target audiences, I think the export import regime and some of the regulatory aspects would be slightly tricky to figure out, but as long as we are able to solve for that. We will be in a very good position to provide the world with a lot of unique offerings. And I think, again, like not just millets and pulses, and hemp is also a very interesting crop to look at and there are just hundreds of other crops which I wouldn't get into that are also going to be very useful to look at. 

Shardul [continues]: I think scaling up on manufacturing, especially we talked very little about the cultivity side of things but if you consider cell-agriculture, India has one of the largest producers of drugs. The pharma industry is one of the K studies all over the world. It has the best studies when it comes to low cost manufacturers. When you look at what kind of infrastructure already exists and can go into the cultivated meats, egg and dairy market, sectors like bioreactors, maybe at times… All of those things, India, presents a huge opportunity for scaling up manufacturing and working on the inputs for digging down their cost. I think it is a huge opportunity for K areas of research, it is a reality now, like few years ago it wasn’t for cultivated meats and market. Last week “Awesome Meat” announced 18 times reduction, and the medium cost, which is like a big deal and that's where the first cultivated hamburger really came out and I think that that's a unique opportunity and I would say palette. That was also one of the challenges that I mentioned. You know cyclic palette but I mean, I am currently running a smart protein Innovation Challenge that we are training thousands of students, and all of them are from tons of universities.

Shardul [continues]: We have more than 150 plus food technology universities or colleges in India. That's a huge number when you combine agriculture, chemical engineering, allied sciences that more than 400 universities more than 10,000 graduates graduating every year, but if you point these guys to the right direction just like we've done in IT or computer tech, I think that's a huge opportunity for supplying talent to the world and I already see a lot of my cohort I was at Rutgers University in the US.

As part of a search programme, a lot of my colleagues who were there from India are already working at a lot of smart cooking companies. So that's going to be another big opportunity in the sector. It's a huge, and very diverse question and I can go on and on about it, about how different things could go into it but in the interest of time, I'd like to just stop there. 

Tommaso db: Very intriguing indeed. Thank you so much! And your last point, talent, is always a big bottleneck in whatever country you are looking at. So just this point is a standalone but I've actually, I have a follow up question, and I'm already seeing here some of questions coming in for you based on what you're discussing, Shardul. Are you seeing India in the position as a country, when it comes to next gen- protein that supplies these resources regardless if resource talent or resource really is the scientific part of the next-gen protein or  creating your own brands and really scaling globally. What are your thoughts on this or is it too early to say what but what's your take there? 

Shardul Dabir: Both ends are true. I would like to answer this question, short term and then in the long term. I think the long, a long term side of things and it really depends on what kind of innovation ecosystem exists in a country, how much acceleration of change is going to happen and I think GFI is trying to bridge that gap and accelerate a lot of this, so things that could have happened probably five years down the line already happening the second deal, first of all, so that's great news but I think the short term for Plan B side of things. So, there's a lot of white space for exports of ingredients and raw materials because the demand is already there right across Asia Pacific region across Europe across America, so that's fortunately, which entrepreneurs can tap into right now. But if it's about creating local CPG brands, I think that's again a huge opportunity, like we said. 

Shardul [continues]: So, I mean it's this, the hero categories rest above us as bacon that is a trouble and there are many products that we can create  Kima, you know, butter chicken etc. There's just so much customization possible. And, many companies can cater to local audiences across the states if you create a niche for your brand and you sell us again the population size is 1.4 billion so the upwardly mobile cohort of early adopters is huge compared to any other country. So when some of these companies enter in Singapore, the population cohort is going to be very small compared to you know Metro cities in India, so I think just targeting that is going to take three to four years, you know, somewhere around two to four years until we see a lot of success with revenue generating startups come up, but in the short term expose and you know ingredient supply outside, and then in the long term obviously local market is going to be huge. 

Tommaso Di Bartolo: Very good point! Robert Davis from California. I think you answered it already, how does the GFI-India programme stimulate intrapreneurship in food tech in India? You mentioned that already, right, but the collaboration, do you want to add one or two sentences to this?

Shardul Dabir: Yeah, just wrapping it up... We have created something called GFI Ideas for the smart protein innovation community, and anybody who's interested in India as a market could be a part of it. We have created  dozens of market reports open access papers, white space opportunity papers, databases, so information asymmetry is the biggest problem of creating or exploiting innovation right now in India, and we could see that there are hundreds of entrepreneurs who are interested in the sector but they don't have the necessary resources to get connected with investors with vendors who are selling ingredients for manufacturers, so we have put everybody on a common platform. 

Shardul [continues]: So that's what we're doing, we're engaging with universities, we are putting in courses or MOOCs in these universities to train the next generation of researchers and early stage professionals to feed us talent into this industry because that's a big bottleneck we are creating smart protein challenges,  like I said, like formal hackathon journey and thousands of students are going to get trained into this area and then create innovators proposals, so stuff like that we do a lot and I would encourage you know, the original person who asked this question to just get in touch with me and I'd be happy to share some of these resources with them. 

Tommaso Di Bartolo: Thank you so much, Shardul and very very intriguing indeed. 

Ok. We could talk forever. This topic is so intriguing...

I would like to pick one for Kabir and this comes from Paul from California, Sacramento, asking how do algae and insects and microbial proteins compare to plant-based in terms of scalability we're discussing that already. Please take it from here, Kabir.

Kabir Chowdhury: So interesting questions about that. There are a lot of issues and challenges with algae-meal and insect-meal microbial protein. But if you look at it, I mean we are already using them,  we are already using yeast in our food products. It's a microbial protein and we didn't realise it right. And there were like 12, Nobel Prizes, given to researchers working on yeast. So, we have the technology. It's just we need to have the will to develop these products and take them to the next level. Algae is there, but we are producing algae for a specific purpose to produce base oil high pH and EPA that is what the focus is, so meanwhile what we are getting is basically not really targeting to develop a good quality protein. The main thing we are getting is a co-product.

Kabir [continues]: Same goes the insect-meal. Insect that is different is 12 because it's mostly going to animal protein but also if we don't realise in Canada and then we're using, adding insect-flour to wheat flour is an enriched wheat flour enriched with insect flour. So it's only very expensive they're like $50 a kilo 55 $60 a kilo so we think that so it's enriching the wheat flour which is high in starch or high in carbohydrate, anything that will damage the insect flour means increasing the equity level in the product. So, we are enriching them for example, there is a DHA milk, dairy milk feeding the cows with flaxseed and increasing the level of DHA, EPA in the cows. With algae, we can feed the cows. Besides, increasing the DHAP in the milk, It also improves the immunity of the cows. Same goes with the yeast. So, raising healthy animals, the animal welfare issue we can take care of as well. With these alternative ingredients. So, compared to alternative plant proteins that we are discussing today, mainly. I think both have a place in the market in the cosmetic field. 

Kabir [continues]: And I think, India is the best place for plant-based alternative proteins, like the highest number of vegetarian in the world is in India, where else, you can find that market. Like, people are craving for burgers or sausages stuff and he had this supply that they never had that by religion, but now they can have it right. So this is the biggest market. I think everyone should invest into Indian companies right now. Basically, 70% of Indians are actually self-reported non vegetarians and total for capita consumption is very less and total vegetarian for what is the largest in the world. I think the core change to GFI globally and also in India is focusing on flexitarians or obviously non vegetarians, and those numbers only going to increase going forward, so we don't have to cater to the vegetarian market because that's going to be counter impactful in many ways, because they're already consuming sustainable sources of protein. So as long as you focus on price, taste and convenience and create sensory repliqueble products on meat, eggs and dairy for that flexitarian cohort, that's what we're trying to solve for. 

Tommaso Di Bartolo: Sujala, what are the most important considerations that an entrepreneur needs to have in mind when building a startup on alternative protein? If you want to mention one or two biggest things in mind, please. 

Sujala Balaji: I guess I don't know where to begin. But it is, I could talk about it for days, but from my experience, as I was suggesting earlier I would try to formulate it with ingredients that are novel, not necessarily create another Beyond Meat burger or just don't go create another oat milk. Look at what other sources of ingredients, and innovation opportunities exist, and create a product that uses those innovative ingredients, and a technology that is going to make the products tasting better, improve nutritional profile and promote cleaner labels. Sustainability goes without saying. So what if, if all of this can be factored in while building a startup at the early stages I think that sets you up for success. And in terms of creating the product. No matter whether you know and the product is sustainable or not, taste is still what sells. So whatever you're creating it has to taste better. So, again, taste is key. sourcing supply chain, manufacturing, those are all key. 

Sujala [continues]: And then funding. How are you going to fund your startup, and if you are not planning on fundraising but want to create, that's not going to happen. Because cell-based technologies are expensive. So you want to consider what type of startup that you want to build and how are you going to be financially viable whether pre launch, post launch scale up so all those needs to be considered as well. I think these are some of the key points I can highlight just talking at a very high level. I'm happy to share my journey and lessons in detail if whoever asked the question wants to reach out to me find me on LinkedIn, hit me up. I'm always willing to support fellow entrepreneurs, so I'll be happy to have a deeper, deeper chat. 

Tommaso Di Bartolo: Again, what an intriguing round of panellists and an intriguing topic with a lot of challenges obviously in a lot of things to consider. But obviously, one of them is, do something that is different, you know, a second one that she was mentioning is the taste must be very relevant and then, a cascade of other challenges and things to be considering. Thank you so much and it was such an honour to share the screen. I learned a lot and I am very humbled. So thank you for your time, Shardul, Sujala and Kabir - thank you for your commitment in sharing it and allowing us to pick your brain and sharing it with the world and I would like to end it as I usually do with a quote. It's actually a quote that I learned to craft for the 20 past years of my endeavours as an entrepreneur becoming investors in academia, which goes like this:

“Never forget where it comes from. It keeps you humble. But where you come from cannot limit you from where you want to go…”

With that, Thank you so much and see you, maybe next week. And, again, have a nice day. Bye bye.

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.

Sujala Balaji


Sujala Balaji linkedin-color

Future-of-Food Obsessed | Scientist | Entrepreneur working on alternative proteins
Shardul Dabir


Shardul Dabir linkedin-color

Innovation Specialist at GFI India | Alternative & Smart Protein | Plant-Based, Cultivated, Fermented Meat, Eggs & Dairy
Kabir Chowdhury


Kabir Chowdhury linkedin-color

Animal Nutritionist, Nature Believer and The Catalyst for Change
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