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"Plant-based alternatives have to be as delicious and nutritious as the food we are brought up eating” - Anja Leissner [Interview]

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Founder and Head of R&D at Noquo Foods, Anja Leissner is on a mission to develop mouth-watering and healthy food products that are accessible to the masses and that people love to eat and share. The first hurdle she plans to clear is plant-based cheese, which according to a survey in Sweden last year, was a bigger obstacle than social context when it came to switching to a fully plant-based diet.

You have recently founded a company called Noquo Foods. Could you tell us a bit about this project? What is that you aim to do?

“We want to make great food that aims to achieve a real impact and change in the way we eat, and on the food industry’s environmental footprint. More and more people are shifting from animal to more plant-based food and, in order to establish a sustainable change, the plant-based alternatives have to be as delicious and nutritious as the food we are brought up eating. We want to develop and produce alternatives that are accessible to all people in order to help nudge the trajectory of future food consumption towards a more sustainable path.”

Anja Leissner.jpgWhat motivated you to start your own company?

“I did a consultant assignment where I looked at insect and plant proteins as possible protein sources in cheese. When the assignment was complete, I stood there with thousands of ideas that I was never able to evaluate in the lab. I was astonished that no one was devoting the resources to investigate further in this area! I was determined to take it further. I was talking to different companies about my idea until I came across an article about my current co-founder Sorosh Tavakoli. In the article, it was explained how Sorosh came out from the tech industry and, as a successful entrepreneur with the wisdom and means, was looking for someone who had technological competence to team up with. At that time, he had been already searching for a business partner for over two years and, as soon as we talked on the phone for the first time, we became instant entrepreneurial soul mates. We found out that we shared the same kind of goals and devotion and it was not long after that we decided to embark on this journey together and founded Noquo Foods in the beginning of 2019.”

Noquo Foods is a very young company. What are the challenges you struggle with on daily basis as a Founder? How do you overcome them?

“The biggest challenge has been to find the right talent, the people to build up the team of highly engaged professionals. We newly employed 4 persons, but I predict this challenge to continue to develop as we grow.”

“As co-founders, Sorosh and I, complement each other really well and our conjoined experience and winning attitude have served us well so far. I’m extremely ambitious and hard on myself with a tendency to set extreme goals and to take responsibility for everything around me, this is one of my biggest challenges as well as driving forces. But, I am trying to be more tolerant and forgiving for myself.”

“When it comes to building a highly successful team, I always listen, reflect, educate myself and seek advice from mentors in order to continuously improve my ability to lead. Breathing exercises, yoga and the company of good friends and family helps. Besides building a winning team, developing and producing really good products that will actually sell, as we find our consumers and space in the food industry, is ahead of us and I’m sure we will face several new challenges there.”

What is your Big Hairy Audacious Goal for the years to come?

“Build a world class R&D team. Develop mouth-watering and healthy food products that are accessible to the masses and that people love to eat and share. I want to build that kind of a company that I want to work for in the years to come. With our company we also want to help tackle the environmental pressures the globe is facing. We want to make food that is as good for the body and the soul as it is for the environment, food that will make the most timid of people shamelessly grab the last serving in front of their friends with a smile!”

What challenges do you see to plant-based products? Do you think that people are willing to go fully plant-based?

“Plant-based products that are available currently to the consumers are often not measuring up to their animal-based predecessors, or they are fully packed with additives that a regular woman or man doesn’t understand. For the people to continue to eat plant-based in the future, we have to develop both delicious and nutritious products that can stand on their own and be selected as a first choice and not as an alternative. If we succeed, more and more people will continue to shift their diet to a more plant-based, for personal wellbeing as well as for the good of the planet we call home.”

Why did you decide to focus on creating a plant-based alternative to cheese?

“Have you tried the alternatives out there? I’m guessing no since you asked! During a survey in Sweden last year, the cheese was a bigger obstacle than social context when it came to switching to a fully plant-based diet. There are some nice fermented plant-based cheeses out there, but they are often based on nuts, which is not a sustainable source giving both price and sourcing. The alternatives have to be accessible to the bigger masses in order to cause a real impact. It’s time for the next generation cheese that pays tribute to the traditional food processing techniques as well as the innovative technology.”

Do you think that COIVD-19 has affected the demand for plant-based foods?

“I think the impact on the demand for plant-based food has been positive since COVID-19 has shed a light on the meat industry and the negative impact it has worldwide. The new generations are much more aware and are driving a necessary change towards plant-based diet. We have to support them and their approach in order for it to become a statement of the future. It becomes more and more clear that a shift has to take place and we see it as our mission to make it happen. We cannot just stand quiet on the side lines watching and keeping our fingers crossed! We have to act!”


Our guest was Anja Leissner, Founder and Head of R&D at Noquo Foods.


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