No culture or context: Too many plant-based firms ‘overengineering ingredients’ amid aggressive expansion – Dynamic Foodco CEO
That was the view of the CEO and founder of Singapore-registered plant-based foodtech firm Dynamic Foodco and ex Quorn exec, Dr Andy Kusumo.
He believes too many firms are pushing for consumers to give up meat without ‘thinking out of the box’.
“The trend among consumers is that they are aware of sustainability issues, but they do not want to give up meat. Plant-based firms are jumping too quickly to achieve the end-goal of sustainability without understanding what it takes, like grasping culture and context.
“What we see in the market now are firms forcing solutions onto investors and consumers with the overengineering of ingredients and without thinking out of the box. Asia is diverse and complex, what with the usage of different spices in each country,” he said.
He argues that plant-based food is not a trend or fashion, but should be viewed as a solution.
“Consumers demand taste, affordability, convenience and versatility. What they love in meat must be there. Firms come up with sustainable alternatives, but it forces consumers to make a hard choice.
“Hence, I created Dynameat under Dynamic Foodco so people won’t have to make that hard choice. To me, real sustainability is about creating synergy and impact. Our production philosophy is that the tech starts from the consumer. I’ve always believed in tech, and I want to use it to solve human issues,” said Dr Andy, 42 years old.
A dynamic food company
Established in early 2021, Dynamic Foodco leverages his experience as the first scientist and research and development (R&D) head in Asia for plant-based pioneer Quorn.
The Indonesian native, who holds a PhD in chemical engineering from Carnegie Mellon University in the US, has been active in the Singapore plant-based protein space since 2016. Before Quorn, he worked in pharmaceutical giants Merck and Amgen.
“As I was from pharma and biotech, I know how to create textures, handle materials and understand material behaviours. I intend to work with partners and OEM manufacturing and put this business at the forefront as a sustainability changemaker. Asia usually consumes beef, chicken, fish and seafood. I want Dynameat to be number five on that list,” he said.
Dynameat, a plant-based chicken alternative made of wheat and soy, is set to launch in Singapore for the Singapore market around September 2022. Its R&D, which involves understanding consumer preferences and rigorous development of prototypes, took 14 months.
The firm’s proprietary tech named Taste and Texture (TnT) claims to manipulate ordinary ingredients with protein and grain content into sustainable food solutions for the masses.
“In the plant-based scene, I feel there’s a disconnect between science and humans. I’m here to use advanced tech that’s not ingredient-specific to produce tasty, nutritious, versatile and convenient food. Wheat and soy are not new; it is a matter of how you put it together,” he said.
Dynameat will be sold in two formats – as a base “raw” protein for food service, firms and manufacturers, and semi-prepared, ready-to-cook protein with flavours like the perennial favourite satay. He declined to share other flavours the firm has up its sleeves.
Besides having a production plant and an R&D lab run by 15 persons in Singapore, Dynamic Foodco is backed by an advisory board comprising food industry veterans.
“Our priority is to offer chicken lovers a plant-based alternative that won’t break the bank or burden the environment. Our prices are between organic kampung (village) chicken and conventionally-farmed ones,” he added.
Trend and research
According to research, revenues from alternative proteins could reach USD$290 billion by 2035. However, its adoption in Asia has been hampered by taste, pricing and supply chain issues.
For instance, Malaysia halted the export of 3.6 million whole chickens monthly to stabilise production and prices on 1 June. The move created a furore in Singapore, which has a staggering chicken per capita consumption of 36 kilogrammes in 2020, based on data retrieved from the Singapore Food Agency (SFA).
Additionally, the consumption of meat and seafood in Asia is expected to increase 78 per cent by 2050; hence, the issues need to be addressed now with the next generation of plant-based meat alternatives that cater to taste buds first, said Dr Andy.
“Asia is very complex and diverse. It is an exciting space for us. I want Dynameat to bring credibility and trust to the plant-based industry. We want to be a company of inspiration, understanding how people eat and who people eat with,” he said.
To conclude, Dynamic Foodco has kickstarted a fundraiser for SGD$5m (USD$3.6m) to enhance the core team, build its IP facility and improve the technology used to bolster scalability.
Dr Andy also hopes to enter the Malaysian and Indonesian markets by 2023 and India and China within five years.
“Dynameat is made for Asians. To me, it is about focus. But tech-wise, we can go to any market. I’m targeting to be number one in Singapore within two years and number one in Asia in five.
“There’s a big market, but you need to tap it the right way. Plant-based consumption is already big in Asia. As a start-up, we need to be different in running our projects. Tap markets that are ready for us,” he said.