KosmodeHealth operates healthy noodles brand W0W noodles, which manufactures upcycled noodles from spent barley.
The noodles are zero starch, zero calorie, zero GI, zero cholesterol and zero waste - hence the ‘0’ in the name – but despite its clear sustainability credentials Leong told FoodNavigator-Asia that the firm’s ethos is more of a pragmatic than sustainable one.
“I would love to say that W0W Noodles is all based on sustainability, but it’s really more about pragmatism,” she said.
“We saw a huge rise in demand for plant protein in the region on one hand, and this huge wastage of [spent barley] by-products as well, so the pragmatic approach for us was to ‘add one to one’, both recovering the wasted plant protein and cover the nutritional needs of the population.
“So perhaps a better way to put it is that we operate more on a pragmatism-meets-sustainability approach.”
Prior to starting KosmodeHealth, Leong spent many years in the pharmaceutical industry and she now sees a convergence take place between pharma and food, both from a regulatory point of view and in terms of importance to health.
“Pharma is all about treatment, whereas food always used to be thought of as just a matter of fulfilling physiological needs but today we know that food has a much more important role to play such as for health maintenance and disease prevention,” said Leong.
“There is a convergence happening here, where people are tending to take the view of ‘food as medicine’ – being in pharma for so many years, there is this very real issue of poor compliance as patients often do not want to take many pills, so making food healthier is a key way to prevent diseases, especially chronic diseases.
“In addition, pharma is very regulated compared with the food industry and drug development is a very long, tedious and risky process as we well know whereas the entry barriers in the food industry are a lot lower - but to compete here, you really need to have a very unique value proposition backed up by good marketing, especially in terms of food functionality and nutrition.
“But I think all of this is converging – the food industry will increasingly be more regulated [especially in terms of labelling] with this shift towards food products making more health claims, and the introduction [of novel foods like] cell-based meat into the system.”
Leong also takes a mentorship role in NUS Enterprise, the entrepreneurial arm of the National University of Singapore, and has a lot of experience mentoring experienced academics trying to commercialise their technologies or products – a role she finds can be even more challenging that heading up a company.
“Professors are very smart people of course [but it can be] quite challenging and difficult for them to understand that the world of business requires a different skillset [than what they are familiar with],” she said.
“It’s really about knowing when to let go and understanding that sometimes, [different expertise] is needed in different areas for a business to flourish – [convincing] them of this can be difficult.”
Listen to the podcast with Leong above to find out more.