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Startup Innovation Challenge
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Startup success for Better Nature - Christopher Kong [Interview]

Founded in 2018 by four foodies - Christopher Kong a biochemist turned entrepreneur, Indonesian-born food scientist Amadeus Driando Ahnan, product developer Fabio Rinaldo and Elin Roberts, a marketing strategist and advocate of plant-based living – Better Nature is the world’s first company focused on using innovative tempeh fermentation methods to fulfil their simple mission: creating foods that are better for people, the planet, and animals.

Founded in 2018 by four foodies - Christopher Kong a biochemist turned entrepreneur, Indonesian-born food scientist Amadeus Driando Ahnan, product developer Fabio Rinaldo and Elin Roberts, a marketing strategist and advocate of plant-based living – Better Nature is the world’s first company focused on using innovative tempeh fermentation methods to fulfil their simple mission: creating foods that are better for people, the planet, and animals.

By applying a modern scientific lens to the ancient food process of tempeh fermentation, Better Nature is providing a sustainable solution to the meat consumption crisis the food industry is facing. Having won the award for Most Innovative Plant- or Cereal-based Food or Beverage ingredient at the Fi Europe 2019 Startup Innovation Challenge, we caught up with Christopher Kong to find out what the challenge has meant for them.

You won last year’s Startup Innovation Challenge in the Most Innovative Plant- or Cereal- Based Food or Beverage Ingredient category. Could you tell us what winning the competition has brought you?

“It’s been huge! Winning the competition has encouraged us to continue working towards our vision of one day becoming an ingredients company at break-neck speed. Currently, we are focusing on tempeh as meat alternative, but we believe the high-protein substrate can also be applied in other product categories such as plant-based milk and snacks as the versatility of tempeh is truly remarkable. The belief from the judges that tempeh can improve the nutritional and sensory quality of meat alternatives and other products, has certainly helped to validate that we are on the right track. For us as a team, winning the challenge has proven to be pivotal in helping us raise our next round of investment funds.”

How has taking part in this challenge benefitted you in terms of exposure, advice from our jury members, as well as the networking, both on and after the judging day?

“Having that validation from a third-party organisation that we are a truly innovative company pushing the boundaries of food science, food technology and food ingredients, has made it easier for us to attract the right investors to help us accelerate the use of these technologies. We’ve successfully raised USD$550,000 since the competition to invest into R&D, product development, sales and marketing which will assist in launching our first range of products and allow us to continue with future innovations.”

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Can you tell us at what development stage your company is?

“Since the Startup Innovation Challenge at Fi Europe 2019, we have launched our first range of products online and have been expanding our retail footprint over the last couple of months. This has been a super exciting time for the business as our products are now available in over 70 retailers in the UK; including Planet Organic, which is quite a premium retailer based in London. Online, we’ve also launched with TheVeganKind Supermarket - the UK’s largest online vegan store. Furthermore, we are currently in discussions with Sainsbury’s and other mainstream UK retailers, and we will be launching our next range of products, the Better™ Bites, in May. The Better™ Bites are pre-marinated tempeh pieces that are ready to heat, soy-free, high in protein & fibre, and low in saturated fat. Following that, we are looking to release our Better™ Burger, Better™ Strips and Better™ Ribs before the end of the year.”

Would you say you have found your way to enter the market and what advantage do you feel your business model is proving to be?

“When it comes to our business model, I guess we are not too different from any FMCG brand for the time being. However, what has proven to be incredibly effective is having a lot of innovations in-house and sourcing the best talent to help us bring these truly innovative, clean-label meat alternatives to the market.”

“Our products and our brand stand very firmly in support of a whole-foods, plant-based diet and we firmly believe that there is no need for consumers to compromise on the taste, nutrition and health of their food products when they want to go plant-based. At the moment, it seems the market is saturated with ultra-processed meat-alternative products which are largely made using texturized vegetable proteins. Unfortunately, due to the inherent lack of texture of these proteins, such products require the use of a long list of binding and gelling agents in order to mimic the texture of meat. What we are leveraging is a solid-state fermentation process that allows us to naturally bind our plant-based protein in a matrix, which gives it that meaty-texture and improves both its nutritional and flavour profiles. By leveraging the process of tempeh fermentation, we can produce all-natural, delicious and nutritious meat alternatives that are completely free from any artificial or ultra-processed ingredients.”

“We feel that promoting our business proposition of clean label, all-natural meat alternatives, has resonated very well with investors and retailers alike as this is absolutely what consumers are looking for. As the consumer base becomes more educated about the benefits of adopting a plant-based diet and the popularity of plant-based meat alternatives grows, there will be more scrutiny of the nature of how these alternatives are produced. With our products, we will be able to capture a lot of the excitement around wholefood, plant-based, meat alternatives that are not only minimally processed but taste great too.”

What advice would you give any startup willing to take part in the challenge?

“You need to be solving a real problem. Don’t spend too much time elaborating on the problem you want to solve, just make sure that it is pertinent and huge. When it comes to pitching, your business proposition needs to be clear, and the financials, of course, need to work out. Your solution needs to be conveyed in a very clear and direct manner, and you need to demonstrate why your business and innovation is truly unique and innovative.”

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