Ep 03 – Andre Menezes – Next Gen Foods

Andre Menezes, Co-Founder & COO at Next Gen Foods

In this episode of “Let’s Talk Farm to Fork”, we’re joined by Andre Menezes from Next Gen Foods, who we will be talking to about how their plant-based protein products aim to be a healthier, more sustainable alternative to the meat industry and its harmful practices.

nextgenfoods.sg

Transcript

[00:00:00] Alex Mospanyuk: Hi there. My name is Alex Mospanyuk, and welcome to Let’s Talk Farm to Fork. The PostHarvest podcast that interviews people of interest across the food supply chain. Today on our show, I am joined by Andre Menezes, who is the co-founder and COO of Next Gen Foods. Next Gen Foods’ mission is to create healthier and sustainable plant-based alternatives to meat and in return helps reduce our carbon impact, that’s already created by the food industry.

So with no further delays, let’s get started.

Hello, Andre. How are you today?

[00:00:27] Andre Menezes: I’m doing great. How are you?

[00:00:29] Alex Mospanyuk: I’m doing really, really well. How great is technology? I think you’re in Singapore right now. Is that correct?

[00:00:34] Andre Menezes: Yes, that’s correct. Thank you so much for having me here. 

[00:00:37] Alex Mospanyuk: Of course. I mean, I did a lot of research on next gen foods and what you’re all about, and I was so excited when you agreed to do the podcast. So I’m really looking forward to it.

[00:00:46] Andre Menezes: My pleasure to be here and thank you for having me. 

[00:00:48] Alex Mospanyuk: All right. Well, tell us a little bit about who you are, Andre, what you do, and maybe a little fun fact about yourself that not many people know.

[00:00:56] Andre Menezes: All right. Well, I’m Andre Menezes I’m the co-founder of Next Gen Foods and Next Gen Foods is, um, plant-based foods company. Which it started here in Singapore last year only, but despite that we have already launched in Singapore and we’ve started an international expansion already in Hong Kong and Macau, which is quite unprecedented at that pace, I guess an interesting fun fact about myself.

Well, I guess not many people know that my first startup I was actually 12 years old, which is a bit unusual. Yeah. I think that’s a fun fact about myself. That’s a little bit of what drives me, yeah. 

[00:01:32] Alex Mospanyuk: So you’re incredibly driven. And what was the job that you had at 12 years old?

[00:01:36] Andre Menezes: Um, back to time, if you recall, it was in the nineties, and, web designing was something that was not common and many companies like all the large enterprises, they were signed to have their own websites, but these modern companies, they were not yet onto the internet. So I found out that this was an issue and opportunity, and I knew how to do a website design, so I got a client and that was a car dealer? Yeah, it was an interesting journey. I was 12 years old. 

[00:02:05] Alex Mospanyuk: Oh wow. So what I’m hearing here is that you like to identify problems and create solutions, which brought you to Next Gen Foods, and that’s where you are today. And so how did you get involved in the industry? What’s your background and maybe give us a short snippet of the journey that got you here?

[00:02:18] Andre Menezes: That’s another completely nonlinear path, but I’m an engineer by training talking about solving problems right? But from engineering I went not very obvious at all, into an investment fund. And then from that investment fund, I was kind of seconded to one of the portfolio companies, which is actually the largest poultry exporter in the world.

And that’s how I got involved into the meat industry. Within that journey, I was seconded again, this time to a joint venture, and this joint venture here in Singapore, this was back in January, 2016. That joint venture here was the largest food distribution company in Singapore, and I was primarily distributing and processing meat, but I got involved in this sector of FoodTech back in 2018, I realised that the meat industry was not going to be sustainable as a business, and environmental perspective as well, and I was looking for alternatives. 

That’s how I got connected to many food tech companies, from their onwards I really got really passionate about the sector really connected around the world, leading companies from Asia, from Europe, from the US. And it was a natural progression from there. 

[00:03:17] Alex Mospanyuk: Wow. Okay, great. And so continuing on from that, tell us a little bit about how your product works. I know it’s obviously in FoodTech, creating plant-based meats, but I guess what’s the purpose behind it. What’s the driving force, and how does that overall contribute to food sustainability?

[00:03:32] Andre Menezes: I don’t know how familiar you are with the way we’ve been producing meat for the last two to 3000 years, it’s highly inefficient in terms of resources. It’s a system that simply doesn’t make sense from a resource utilisation perspective. It’s a lot of water consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and land usage.

Which is fine if you have a very small population on the planet, but as we grow populations to 10 billion people around 2050. We simply don’t have enough resources for that and the protein consumption is also going up as the middle class and urbanisation are both growing. 

So, with that in mind it’s very obvious to us now that we need to find a better, more sustainable way to feed the population with high quality and delicious food and this is exactly what we do as a business. We believe that there must be a better way to produce what we all love, which basically is meat, but not necessarily having to slaughter animals and get all the carcasses to produce it, that sounds a bit old fashioned to me. 

[00:04:27] Alex Mospanyuk: All right. Got it. And so, in terms of your products, what unique products do you have that you think differentiate you from your competitors? And how did you and that team come up with the idea?

[00:04:37] Andre Menezes: Yeah. That’s a very interesting point because many people, when we say that we’re starting with plant-based chicken, they say, well, there are plenty of plant-based chickens out there, which . Is partially true. You have many plant-based tenders and nuggets around.

 Chicken is way more than that, chicken is such a versatile protein and you know, loved everywhere.

I guess it’s the only animal that’s really loved. It doesn’t matter which religion or country we’re at as long as you eat meat, chicken is there as one of the main ingredients of the country. And that’s not a nuggets, right, it’s not a tender and we, we identified that there was this gap in the market.

We know that chicken is the fastest growing animal protein. We know that’s the most diverse, so we know that’s the trendiest. And we realised there was a gap that no one had really been able to develop a product that could be really used as chicken and not only as nuggets right?

So that’s what we’ve done. We created a product that chefs can actually cook with different cuisines. 

[00:05:31] Alex Mospanyuk: No way! Okay. I need to try this. It sounds delicious. And so you haven’t started distributing in the US yet, right?

[00:05:37] Andre Menezes: Not yet. But obviously US is one of the top markets and it’s something we’re looking at. very closely. Definitely not gonna take too long for us to be there. 

[00:05:45] Alex Mospanyuk: Okay, well, I’ll stay tuned for that. And so what’s the biggest challenge that you’ve had so far or maybe that you’re having with your product right now. And do you have any strategies on how you’re planning to overcome it? 

[00:05:55] Andre Menezes: I wouldn’t say our product specifically, I would say that category in general, for anyone in the plant-based foods space. It’s basically to get a wider portion of the population being open to even try plant-based foods in general, they have been very long associated with compromise in taste, in texture and experience.

And, they were seen mostly either as something that only vegans or vegetarians want or something that is a cheap alternative if that’s the case, but this is not what the technology is bringing us right now and we need to be able to convince consumers, to give it a try.

Once they give it a try and they love it and they learn that there is a better way to produce meat without animals.

[00:06:32] Alex Mospanyuk: They’re pleasantly surprised on how good it tastes. And so what do you think is the biggest surprise that you think that you’ve found working in the FoodTech industry? 

[00:06:40] Andre Menezes: Ah, that’s a very interesting point. I guess first of all, it starts with my biggest surprise working with the meat industry for so long, was how inefficient it was and how hard it was for anyone to do any new business, how not sexy that industry is and how much pressure it takes from all sides. Everyone is very skeptical about it in the future. Everyone loves meat. Yes, but no one really loves the meat industry. When I started with the FoodTech space I was not used to the amount of interest that we would get from being investors with business partners. I was very surprised, I would say with how much people are actually interested and knowledgeable about the space and the need, and very supportive to the mission. So, this was probably the most pleasant surprise I had. 

[00:07:23] Alex Mospanyuk: And so what is something that people seem to misunderstand about your line of work? I know you’ve mentioned that you’re currently working towards changing people’s mentality about plant-based foods by creating delicious plant-based foods, but is there anything that you’re trying to do in terms of education or trying to get them to understand you better and what your core and mission is? 

[00:07:39] Andre Menezes: Absolutely. So, first of all, the biggest misunderstanding is exactly that plant-based foods mean compromise and then everything we do be from our product developments, make sure that we meet all the tastes bars that we have, to make sure consumers will love it all the way to how it position, how we communicate, how we go to market, which chefs that we work with.

It’s all about showing how we create that product release, and they’re great not only by our measure, by the measures of the greatest chefs that had access to it. Right? So, we have many Michelin star background chefs. We have two Michelin star restaurant to two star Michelin, uh, in Hong Kong, for example, which had just launched last month.

In Singapore, we had three Michelin star background chefs as well. We have a final table chef in Hong Kong as well from W hotel. And they’re all super excited about the product and the reason why we do that, is not because it’s the easiest way into the market.

It will be much easier just to blast it into the supermarket shelves and get more revenue out of it. But we really do that to prove our point that plant-based foods are not necessarily linked to compromise in any sense, and in our case we want consumers to understand that having the greatest chefs and restaurants preparing very exciting dishes for them. 

[00:08:53] Alex Mospanyuk: Yeah, wow. That’s amazing. And has the COVID pandemic had an effect on you guys? I mean, obviously it has, but what kind of effect and how are you currently climbing your way out of it. 

[00:09:02] Andre Menezes: That’s one of the most interesting points regarding the short history of our company, actually, we, we started the company in Singapore of all places. it’s literally an island, right? And we are here in Singapore and we started basically when it started putting everything together was right in the middle of the highest level of the crisis in COVID when the markets were melting down, when we couldn’t literally leave our houses. And we set ourselves with a very, very bold ambition to build a global business, to start up a global business. But as you can imagine, starting up a global business being literally stuck on an island. It’s a great island to be stuck in, but still. 

The biggest markets are not around here, our factory is not here. It was hard to bring in people, obviously, because back at the time, even the flights were being canceled, right? This was the highest level of the crisis.

But we were also very lucky that Singapore, um, manage it very well. And we could get things going despite the fact that it couldn’t travel, all the rest was moving well, but the simple fact that we couldn’t travel was a major challenge for us, which in a way, I mean, imagine how can you develop a factory overseas scale up production, develop overseas markets, without ever leaving Singapore.

That was something completely unprecedented, and as I said, we’re already launching now in Hong Kong, and guess what? We haven’t been there. So the factories in the Netherlands, and guess what, we haven’t been there if they started the company either. 

So that’s the biggest challenge. 

[00:10:27] Alex Mospanyuk: Yeah right, and so when it comes to food loss, food waste and sustainability, what’s your current role, how is it related to your role and what are you most curious about? What’s something that you’re researching at the moment?

[00:10:36] Andre Menezes: I guess the overall process of converting anything non-animal, non-animal farming into delicious protein is what really drives us. In a way that’s much more sustainable, more nutritious, healthier, but also commercially viable, delicious and tasty. So this is the core of what we do all the time.

And we keep looking at everything around this space to make sure we are addressing the consumer needs and always keeping ahead in our mission to prove to consumers that plant-based foods can be delicious and are not necessarily compromising a great experience. 

[00:11:11] Alex Mospanyuk: Amazing. And so are there any other innovations in the industry that you’re currently keeping a watchful eye on or looking forward to?

[00:11:17] Andre Menezes: We see with very positive eyes any sort of innovation in this space. So be the cell base space, be the different technologies around extrusion or different processes that can help with isolation for precision for mutation. We watch all of those technologies very closely, and we, as a company, we are not technology specific. We are very much output oriented and we are looking for ways to address consumer and market needs. And we keep an eye out for what’s the best technology available to do that instead of just coming up and saying, I have a great technology here, we have developed this magic sauce and we wanna sell it, we come from a different perspective is that we understand what consumers need, and then we activate the best of our knowledge and technology and we put out the resources to address that need instead, and therefore are not technology specific.

 So we’re always watching out for what’s next and very excited and all the developments happening around that. 

[00:12:12] Alex Mospanyuk: Amazing, and so what’s one thing that you wish you would’ve known when you began your career?

[00:12:15] Andre Menezes: Wow. There’s a thousand. I wish I knew from the get go, how much talent is actually, you know, talent create work is actually more valuable than capital and how much capital has been since this first and second industrial revolution being valued much higher than talent. 

So it took me a while to understand that, but I wish I knew that from the get go and I wish everyone knew it as well. 

[00:12:47] Alex Mospanyuk: All right, so as we come to a close, I just wanted to ask for our listeners, what is the number one takeaway that you really want them to absorb from this episode? 

[00:12:55] Andre Menezes: I would go back to the same point all over again, which is basically just to be open to try if, if you have already tried plant-based foods before, and you understand what the logic, but you are a meat lover, like I have always been. And you believe that you’re never going to give up your burger to have an impossible burger or never going to give up your chickens to have a Tingo burger. 

Be open to it. No one, I guess not us, at least we’re not asking anyone to stop doing anything. We’re just working very hard to create something better for the planet and better for us all. And I guess being open to try, and even if the first experience with other products were not great, being open to keep trying and keep exploring, and being really open to new paradigms, you know, animal farming was very good for many reasons to really bring the population to where we are today in terms of accessible nutritious food. But I guess it’s time for us to evolve to a better technology and the more we are as consumers open to that, open to trying , really just being open to it, right? I guess that’s the most important takeaway I would ask people to have. 

[00:14:00] Alex Mospanyuk: A genuine openness, and I do have one more question for you. 10 years from now, where do you see the industry? What’s your vision?

[00:14:06] Andre Menezes: We’re not black and white, or zero one, right? The world is, is a mixture of different moments, different occasions, different technologies, different cultures. And, I’m not the kind of person who says in 10 years from now, or 20 or 30 or whatever, there will be no more meat coming from animals.

 If that happens, it’s gonna be great. But I prefer to be maybe a bit more cautious or realistic in that sense and say that, you know what? I just wish that this becomes as mainstream as any other sort of animal protein and that animal protein starts to become more niche.

More niche, meaning if it’s a special occasion, if it is, uh, you know, that celebration, that moment, that it really want to have the best steak ever. And you’re never going to give up that for anything, and that’s how important it is to you as a consumer. I guess if the meat consumption reduces itself to that, not to every burger we have not to every fried chicken we eat, not to every bite we have you know and 10 years from now, this is where I expect this industry to be.

[00:15:06] Alex Mospanyuk: I love that. All right, Andre. Well, thank you so, so much for your time today. 

[00:15:11] Andre Menezes: Thank you. very much. And really a pleasure to have a chat with you. 

[00:15:14] Alex Mospanyuk: Well, that’s all for today’s episode of Let’s Talk Farm to Fork. Thanks for listening, and thank you, Andre Menezes, for joining me today. 

Make sure you subscribe to the podcast so that you never miss an episode, and don’t forget to leave a review and share with your friends. 

Until next time you’ve been listening to Let’s Talk Farm to Fork, a PostHarvest podcast. 

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