Founded in 2010, Sophie’s Kitchen claims to be the first company to make plant-based seafood alternatives and the only meat alternative that is 100% gluten-free, 100% soy-free, all non-GMO project-verified and kosher.
Founder and chief innovation officer Eugene Wang is considering basing manufacturing and research and development capabilities in Singapore.
“Singapore is one of the few countries in Asia where English is the first language. A lot of our technologies are also based on work by scientists from Asia. Together with new technologies or ingredients developed in the US or Europe, we believe Singapore can be the perfect central location where all these ideas and research projects can be studied and integrated,” he says.
Wang also plans to “make the best use of the culinary expertise of both East and West” found in Singapore.
Marketing strategy for Asia
He also has plans to market Sophie’s Kitchen plant-based seafood products in Singapore and Asia, but because of the region’s high seafood consumption, the approach has to be different.
“Unlike in Europe or the US, to ask someone in Asia to totally give up meat and seafood is not easy,” he says.
Wang says it would be easier to invent more plant-based protein products that can complement the meat and seafood choices. He said the products should have a similar appearance and texture to the traditional food of the region, and that the price should not be too high.
An example he gives is surimi, or fish paste: “I’m confident about developing something plant-based that can replace its flavour, texture and application 100% and still be competitive in price.”
Sophie’s Kitchen recently edged out over 900 start-ups to win the SLINGSHOT@SWITCH start-up competition by Startup SG and SPRING Singapore, clinching the S$200,000 (US$146,900) grant and additional funding from investors in the judging panel.
The inaugural edition of the competition was held as part of the National Research Foundation’s Singapore Week of Innovation & Technology (SWITCH).
SPRING Singapore is an agency under the Ministry of Trade and Industry responsible for helping Singapore enterprises grow. According to SPRING, these global start-ups bring unique and innovative skillsets, talent and networks to bolster Singapore’s position as a leading start-up hub.
When we contacted Wang, he was in North Carolina to receive yet another prize, from Burt's Bee—a US$10,000 grant and inception into their Natural Launch Pad Cohort 2.
Wang says the SLINGSHOT@SWITCH prize money will be invested in Singapore.
“If we can get more support, we even hope to relocate and make Singapore our global head office,” he says.
While Wang feels that consumers in Singapore and East Asian countries are slow to catch on to the trend of alternative protein or plant-based meat or seafood alternatives, research institutes and professionals in Singapore and East Asia are leading a lot of the research projects, ideas and technologies.
“The Singapore government is probably the only Asian government which sees the huge potential and opportunities in alternative protein or plant-based meat and seafood,” he says.
While Wang did not reveal technology and formulation information, the two key ingredients in their products are yellow pea and konjac, a Japanese yam.
Sophie’s Kitchen products are currently available in supermarkets in the US, Canada and France, and retail constitutes 99% of revenue. The business in the US and Canada amounts to almost US$2m in revenue. It has just started selling in France earlier this year, through a distributor.
The idea for Sophie’s Kitchen came to Wang in an incident nine years ago. His two-year-old daughter, Sophie, accidentally ate some seafood. She had such a bad allergic reaction that they almost had to send her to hospital.
“That got me interested in our seafood supply,” says Wang. “Sure enough, I found a lot of problems with the way we get our seafood and consume it. That's why I decided to use our family’s vegetarian food manufacturing technology to offer the world a solution, a 100% plant-based one.”