Interview with Mario Ubiali from Thimus

In this day and age, when food, how & what we eat are constantly changing, it is more important than ever to understand the consumer at a more granular level, and this is where Thimus plays a role. Thimus acts as a magnifying glass: it helps its partners and clients look more deeply into the experiences of human beings, particularly those involving food, via neuroscience. A combined qualitative and quantitative approach enables them to really bring humans back to the equation. 

Recently, we had the opportunity to Interview Mario Ubiali, CEO and Co-founder of Thimus, where he explains to us a little more in-depth about himself, how do his company work, his vision and mission, and future plans of the company. 

Mario will be speaking at the event Future FoodTech in 2022, which will take place in San Francisco on March 24-25. This event has become the annual meeting place for the global food-tech ecosystem. Food brands, active investors, start-ups, and technology leaders come together to exchange insights, be inspired, and identify future partners. Make sure you don’t miss it! Use our exclusive code EA10 to save 10% off a delegate pass.

Mario Ubiali Thimus
Mario Ubiali, CEO & Co-founder of Thimus.

1. Could you talk to us a little about your background? Tell us how you ended up where you are.

 My family has always been involved in the entrepreneurial world but in a much more industrial and traditional sector. I have always felt inspired to start my own business. Theoretically, I shouldn’t have ended up in neuroscience since I am a philosophy graduate with a master’s in human development from the Catholic University of Milan. After my father passed, I closed a chapter in my professional life in which I worked in different fields related to my family´s company and sought out something different. There was where I entered the neuroscience world. Thimus was born out of a crazy intuition in 2016, where I wanted to do something to have a positive impact in the world. At that time I was involved in different conversations about how applied neuroscience was very promising, and I decided to go for it. Now we are a company very focused on our mission and vision, being helping clients understand more deeply the food experiences of human beings, and anticipate their food choices.

2. Thimus toolkit will be launched during the Future FoodTech event. Please explain to us how would Thimus’ toolkit work? Where does the data be collected?

The toolkit was born out of a need. In the early days of the company, we worked for a wide range of industries, from Nike to BMW, and then slowly, we became focused on the F&B sector. Since we wanted to make an impact on humanity’s future positively, we decided to make it our soul application. 

It felt important to us to make food more human, centered on real deep, emotional, and cultural needs. As we were merging in this sector, we realized that complex companies were not using neuroscience to understand their end customers because they find it too complicated, and do not see the possibility for it to become a permanent tool. This is what the toolkit is created for. We had the mission to give companies and research partners something simple to use, recording digital the brain response to food in a simple way. The toolkit is a way to infiltrate applied neuroscience in consumer research regarding food, making it easy for people to collect large amounts of data. In the next two years, we expect to collect big amounts of data and be able to offer our clients more machine learning and artificial intelligence layers. 

I envision becoming a data company with the largest repository of brain responses to food, able to anticipate how new food products will be perceived by human beings. 

3. What actionable insights can you derive from your data outputs?

It’s possible to provide our clients with many different actionable insights. The beauty of neuroscience in sensory experiences is that you can be very specific as to what you’re measuring.  We are able to give actionable insights by telling where exactly the experience was positive or negative during the food experience, being in the taste, smell, first bite, aftertaste, etc., giving the company the possibility to tackle the product’s problem specifically. 

Likewise, we can be more technical and design an experiment to specifically optimize a  section of the food experience (texture for example), giving them the exact notion of what attributes people like or don’t like.

4. Sugar intake has risen exponentially during the last decade, clearly humans like and enjoy sugar. What would Thimus’ conclusions look like in this scenario? Are you willing to support this type of behavior for the production of food?

This is an interesting point and it has a lot to do with the ethical implications of working with partners. There is no easy answer to that, but in essence, is not easy to make choices when you work on projects as a supplier of knowledge. Our approach and the intention is to be able to seat at the table with the company and show them with data that there’s a different way of doing things, promoting the message of sustainability.

I believe there are two ways to change the way companies are creating the future of food. One is to work with them, which we maintain and try to do it as much as possible. The second one is to be proactive and send the message. 

Last year we released a TEDx video, where two of my colleagues and I spoke about “food humanism” and neuroscience, expressing our cultural viewpoints and raising awareness around the complexity of food habits and how neuroscience could help make innovation sustainable.
Currently, our company is working on a study regarding alternative proteins with a partner who specializes in biotechnology and gastronomy. The goal is to attend FoodTech Summit in June in New York City to showcase what it means to integrate neuroscience in the multidisciplinary design of alternative proteins. Regarding this project, we are developing a docu-series on Youtube alongside with Anima Project, where we share a few elements of the thinking behind the project. We believe that talking, producing, and sharing ideas is fundamental to address and share your point of view 

5. Where do you see Thimus in the upcoming years?

I would love to see Thimus go in a couple of directions that go very well together. One direction would be for us to become a company that is disseminated in different parts of the world through partnerships, having the ability to collect massive amounts of data on how humans interact with food, understanding who they are, their culture, and their habits., being able to understand more about the brain food culture. I want to see Thimus influencing the way companies will design food products and adapt them to different food cultures instead of the other way around. 

I also intend to restore a farmhouse and move all Thimus’ activities there, so we can work in a more natural setting, with a kitchen and vegetable garden, and have a different working environment, which I believe would elevate our way of thinking and work.

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