‘Sustainable groundnut’: WhatIF Foods targets ASEAN Bambara supply chain amid 2021 plant-based milk launch

By Pearly Neo

- Last updated on GMT

‘Sustainable groundnut’: WhatIF Foods targets ASEAN Bambara supply chain amid 2021 plant-based milk launch

Related tags Sustainability

Singapore-based WhatIF Foods is gearing up for the official launch of its Bambara groundnut plant-based milks next year as it works to increase production closer to home in the South East Asian region.

The Bambara groundnut is native to West Africa but is also planted by some small communities in Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia though mostly at small scale for domestic consumption. WhatIF Foods plans to grow this at a larger scale and believes that this can greatly benefit the local environment due to the nut’s natural land-reviving properties.

“Bambara groundnuts, or BamNuts as we call them, really like poor soil and water conditions, and are able to get maximum moisture out of the soil via their huge root system which can grow up to two metres deep,”​ WhatIF Foods Founder and CEO Christoph Langwallner told FoodNavigator-Asia​.

“As a legume, it is also able to fix nitrogen around its roots to improve the soil conditions and microbiome – this means that it can regenerate the land it is planted in and bring back acreage that had previously been lost.

Research has shown that after it is planted in degraded soil that could not support any grain previously for about two years, it then allows for the planting of crops like millet or corn, then after one or two harvests the BamNut can be brought back to rejuvenate again.

“So we’re definitely looking at places like Indonesia and Malaysia, places with a lot of land that has been degraded, especially due to palm oil planting. A lot of these plans have been stalled due to COVID-19, but we’ve partnered with the Crops For the Future (CFF) research centre in Malaysia and initiated plans to grow more BamNut in Indonesia in the hopes of this as a future supply chain for the region,”​ added Langwallner.

“Malaysia and Indonesia will be the first targets for now, but Thailand is also on the cards, especially southern Thailand as the climactic conditions are similar.”

At present, WhatIF Foods’ BamNut supply mainly still comes out of Africa, where the firm has established an outreach programme locally.

“In Africa, BamNut is grown particularly by women who view this as a life insurance policy of sorts, i.e. it’s a means to earn an income and also to feed their families in the event of any disasters,”​ said Langwallner.

“Although we do want to expand this outreach to farming communities in ASEAN in the future, we want to continue to develop this in Africa too. The sustainable implications are high for both regions with several layers of impact – BamNut doesn’t compete with other crops so it’s an added source of income for farmers, and it heals the soil so this can be used again.”

BamNut plant-based milk

WhatIF Foods is hoping to launch its BamNut plant-based milks into the market in Q2 2021, starting with three flavours: Original BamNut milk with nothing added, a low-GI sweetened version, and a chocolate-flavoured version.

“BamNut is very strong in terms of the organoleptic sensory experiences that consumers seek – in terms of colour, it’s actually even whiter than dairy milk as compared to the brownish hue of almond or oat,”​ said Langwallner.

“We’ve also found that based on the processing, we are able to tailor its taste to be more dairy, more nutty, or more greeny, but the one guaranteed thing is its texture which is extremely creamy and similar to that of fresh – not pasteurised – dairy milk. This is something soy cannot compete with, and is due to BamNut’s starch, proteins and fats composition, and we’ve found that we can even make it froth like dairy.

“The other key thing about this plant-based milk is that it is very micronutrient-dense with a protein content that can match that of dairy. It contains complete protein that has all nine essential amino acids, which not many plants can compete with.

“Its applications match basically most things that plant-based milks can do – baking, puddings, shakes, with coffee – the list goes on.”

Sustainability is a key selling point for many plant-based milk manufacturers – and BamNut’s sustainability attributes have been found to surpass most plant-based milks in the market.

“We’ve seen this in multiple areas like GHG emissions as BamNut requires little to no fertiliser, in land use where it can not only grow on degraded land but also revive the land, and especially in terms of water use as itcan survive in areas with 300mm of rainfall and basically uses less than 10% the water that almonds need,”​ he said.

WhatIF Foods’ BamNut milk will launch in Singapore first in its early months, but the firm already has other markets ‘in construction and discussion’​ to replicate the business model for this after the initial launch. Price points are expected to be comparable with dairy and soy milks.

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