Interview with Chris Kong from Better Nature

Better Nature is a company that uses tempeh to make delicious alternative proteins suited for anyone who wants to get plant-based, nutrition-filled protein. We had the pleasure of talking to one of the founders, Chris Kong, about Better Nature’s journey from conception, to development, where it is now and what’s in the works for the future!

Better Nature is one of the promising startups participating in the New Food Conference happening on April 28 – 29. This virtual event will feature over 50 speakers, industry leaders from all over the world, experts with diverse backgrounds and great opportunities for networking. We are proud marketing partners of this event, so if you still haven’t done so, register now!

How did the idea of Better Nature come about?

The idea of Better Nature came about when I met Amadeus, Fabio and Elin. At that time we were all very passionate about plant-based eating, we were all involved in that space, and Amadeus who grew up in Indonesia and did his PhD on tempeh fermentation introduced tempeh to us. We fell in love with it instantly! We fell in love with how delicious it was, how nutritious it was, how easy it really was to cook, and how it can be cooked in all the ways that meat can traditionally be cooked. 

Over time our obsession with tempeh, coupled with our mission to make protein without compromise, evolved into what Better Nature is today. With Better Nature, we want to make naturally delicious protein as accessible as possible such that anyone can eat delicious, nutritious and all-natural plant-based proteins on a daily basis without compromising on their health, the health of the planet, and the lives of animals.  

Can you tell us more about your proprietary all-natural protein powder Betterein™ and the expansion in dairy products?

The Betterein™ is an all-natural plant-based whey replacement that we developed by experimenting with the myriad of functional benefits that our proprietary tempeh fermentation process is able to confer to low-cost commodity crops.

What we’re observing in the plant-based dairy market, which is very similar to the meat alternative space, is that in order to mimic the mouthfeel, the sensory quality and the nutritional quality of animal-based products, a lot of plant-based milks and ice creams need to supplement their products with a long list of ingredients that are oftentimes unrecognizable to the end customer and potentially not foods that ought to be consumed on a daily basis as part of a balanced and nutritious diet.

If you take a plant-based ice creams for example, you have the base source of protein, you’ve got an emulsifier, or multiple emulsifiers, you’ve got stabilizers that are usually gums, and then you’ve got the fat content provider which are usually oils, and on top of that you’ve got all sorts of things that add a great deal of complexity and cost to the product such as colours, flavours, preservatives, etc.
If you look at the animal-based counterpart, it’s literally cream, milk, sugar and your flavouring of choice.

What we’re trying to do here at Better Nature is to make protein without compromise – all-natural plant-based proteins that do not compromise on taste or nutrition. We want to create meat alternatives and plant-based dairy products that not only taste amazing but are also all-natural and made from ingredients that you can recognise so that consumers have the confidence to adopt such foods as part of their staple diets.

The Betterein™ really came by chance. We were doing a lot of research into creating meat alternatives using our proprietary starter cultures and as part of analysing the end results we had to dry our samples, mill them into a flour and solubilize them into a solution before we can run them through an HPLC machine for example. While we were doing that and centrifuging down these samples to clarify them, we found that by comparing our solubilised mixture against the standards – which in this case were other plant-based dairy products in the market – our solubilized tempeh separated at a much higher centrifugal velocity than that of soy milk and almond milk. This then begged the question “Why is that?”

That’s when we started investigating the fermentation process and found that the emulsification capacity of the proteins, the ability of these proteins to hold fat, increases in the soybeans as a result of our proprietary fermentation methods. Hence, our solutions were more difficult to separate than the standards we used. It was here we realized that this increase in emulsification capacity was super important when it comes to producing plant-based dairy products and is ultimately what dictates the mouthfeel and taste of most dairy products as well as how well it foams (in the case of milks) and how well it freezes/melts (in the case of ice creams).

This property of increasing the emulsification capacity of soybeans, coupled with the fact that the base ingredient is also a great source of protein and soluble fibers meant that we felt we had a truly viable solution to the conundrum faced by most plant-based dairy products.

Not only is the Betterein™ a potent protein emulsifier, it also contains a lot of protein. We’re currently at 50g of protein per 100g of powder but we’re still working on it as we believe it still has a lot of room for improvement! It’s also a great fat carrier, which is obviously important if you want creams, double creams, ice creams, etc. and has a lovely neutral flavour similar to that of soy milk.

We’re in a very early stage but we’ve had amazing results in the lab. We don’t know yet where we want to go with this product – whether we want to go B2B or incorporate a new range of dairy products under the Better Nature brand. Either way, we’re incredibly excited about what the future holds of the Betterein™ and can’t wait to share it with the wider plant-based community!

How does Better Nature tackle consumer acceptance of plant-based products and have you seen any changes of behavior in consumers due to the pandemic?

I think there are primarily three challenges/opportunities in the way of gaining wider consumer acceptance of plant-based products: 1) overcoming the consumer’s preconceived thoughts when it comes to taste, 2) making it simpler for customers to understand what’s in plant-based products, and 3) making these foods more affordable.

By leveraging this amazingly scalable process known as tempeh fermentation, I believe we are well-positioned to meet all three challenges. With our technology, we can produce high- quality meat alternatives that contain zero artificial ingredients at very low cost. We can then marinade and present our products in formats that are intuitive for consumers to engage with. So whether it’s bites or ribs or strips or rashers, we are able to create these products quite easily from the tempeh we are able to produce!

Furthermore, by perfecting the fermentation process which naturally enhances the umami content of the base plant-based substrate, we can create all natural meat alternatives that actually taste delicious and can work well with a variety of flavours.

We’re just about to launch a new range of delicious products which include our Southern-style BBQ Ribz, Shawarma-spiced Kebab Strips, Sweet & Smoky Rashers and our Tender & Traditional Roast Bites in June this year. These products are priced very competitively in the market and have a simple and transparent ingredient list so hopefully with these attributes we can gain wider consumer acceptance. 

Congratulations on the fund raised on Seedrs, what are the next steps for Better Nature?

The fundraiser was a huge success which far surpassed our expectations. We closed round up in two days of going public! That said, a large part of the success can be attributed to the fact that we secured 80% of what we wanted to raise from VCs and angels before taking the round to the crowd.

We are incredibly proud of the investors we managed to secure on and off Seedrs. For example our Lead Investor is Ascension Ventures, one of the UK’s leading early-stage VCs, and, via the Good Food Fund, their investment came with free-of-charge mentorship from Mission Ventures, the UK’s leading F&B accelerator. We also managed to secure investment from Kale United, the leading plant-based distributor in the Nordics, and Alex von Behr – Unilever’s ex-Global Chief Customer Officer.

In terms of next steps, the main priority is to support the launch of this new range that I mentioned earlier. We’re already in discussions with basically all of the UK’s leading retailers so my primary focus is to make sure these deals go through and, once the products are on the shelves, to support as best as we can to drive greater sales and further distribution.

We’re also working on a new range and what we’ve done with it is to establish a very strong operational framework which will help us quickly launch other products in the future!

We mentioned the Betterein™ and a huge next step is to prove the commercial viability of this product. We need to make sure we are able to consistently produce a high quality product that can be incorporated into a variety of different products – whether it’s milk or yogurt.

Beyond that, we have spent a lot of time developing the Better Matrix™ – a plant-based meat alternative matrix made using our own starter cultures and our own proprietary blend of raw materials – that can be used to produce meat alternatives that look and cook just like meat with zero artificial ingredients and a great nutritional profile. With this round, we hope to prove the commercial viability of this technology and to launch our first use-case of this matrix – The Better Burger™ – by working with QSRs and in retail. 

Thank you Chris for this great conversation, it was lovely speaking to you! We can’t wait to see what the future brings to Better Nature, and hopefully be able to taste it soon!

 

For more interviews like this, go here!

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