Abhishek Sinha is the co-founder and CEO of GoodDot, a plant-based meat startup creating healthier and planet-friendly alternatives in India. As one of the leading figures in the country’s growing alternative protein movement, Abhishek has a wealth of experience and knowledge about how to drive positive change for the people, animals and our climate-stricken planet. In this interview with Green Queen, he shares his journey founding GoodDot, what motivates his work, how the company has navigated the coronavirus crisis, and what he believes the future holds for the global food system.
GQ: It’s so great to be able to speak to you Abhishek. For those unfamiliar with GoodDot, could you tell us about the company?
AS: GoodDot is a plant-based meat manufacturing company based out of India. Our product line includes plant-based alternatives to mutton, chicken, and we are shortly also launching fish substitutes as well. Basically, we make products that are tasty, healthy and affordable alternatives to animal proteins.
GQ: What was the initial inspiration that led you to co-found GoodDot?
AS: I am an animal lover. Our whole team here is defined by our love for animals. But some of us come from communities where people eat meat. In fact, even 7 years ago, I would eat meat. So from an ethical point of view, it was a moral dilemma that didn’t sit down well with us. We needed alternatives to animal meat products, which could be produced without harming them. This was something that I as a consumer felt the need for back in 2003. For a decade, that didn’t really happen in India, so we decided that it was time to start something ourselves.
GQ: How important is accessibility and affordability to convince more consumers to choose plant-based in India and across Asia?
AS: It is absolutely critical. Of course, taste is the predominant driver of mass adoption of plant-based products. But I think that not very far off from taste is affordability and accessibility. I believe that in order to have mass adoption of plant-based meat, especially in India and across Asia, we need to nail all three points – taste, affordability and accessibility.
GQ: GoodDot also runs a vegan kiosk chain in India, GoodDo, and some of its products such as the “Gurber” have reached price parity with similar fast food offerings. Do you believe that more plant-based products will be able to achieve this soon?
AS: Yes, I think with more and more work being done to reduce prices, we’re going to see many more companies coming out with affordable plant-based products. As far as GoodDo is concerned, which is our sister company that offers vegan fast food dishes in India, almost all of our outlets are selling products at a more affordable rate than its meat counterparts.
GQ: What else is in the pipeline for GoodDot in the coming months?
AS: We are now expanding to export our products to Dubai and Canada soon. GoodDot is also looking to introduce our products across Africa, and perhaps also Australia and Singapore. Aside from expanding distribution, we are developing some new products for these markets, which we will soon reveal. Our R&D is continuous – we are continuously improving and refining our products to make it customisable for different regions across the world. We’re really excited about the opportunities ahead.
GQ: Has the coronavirus pandemic changed these plans? How has GoodDot adapted and pivoted with regards to the crisis?
AS: Interestingly enough, as a manufacturer, GoodDot has seen an increase in sales compared to pre-coronavirus times. Month-on-month, we’re seeing a 50-60% increase. During this time, it is evident that more people are interested in plant-based options, and it’s being reflected in our distribution channels. Overall, even though our online sales have been affected, the increasing sales in our distribution channels has helped us to register a sharp growth.
In terms of our GoodDo outlets, they have been closed due to the lockdown, just like any other foodservice business in India. But once measures are eased, we will be resuming our operations. That being said, we’re continually receiving requests from consumers who enjoy our products, so what we have done with our GoodDo outlets is to package and send out frozen curries, wraps and other dishes that are normally sold in those outlets to consumers.
GQ: You mentioned that you think more people are now interested in plant-based meat. Do you believe the pandemic will bring about a significant shift amongst consumers towards more sustainable and crisis-resilient alternative proteins?
AS: Definitely. We have seen strong requests coming from very unexpected corners, including people who are regular meat eaters who are now becoming new customers of our products. The pandemic has created concerns amongst consumers as to the challenges of hygiene and other associated problems with the animal meat industry. The other day, the nonprofit organisation Million Dollar Vegan hosted an event for Eid Festival in India, which was attended by 2,000 people. Our GoodDot biryani was served, and we got a really positive response. So we’re seeing unique sections of society now interested in plant-based, and it gives us a lot of hope for the future.
GQ: We’re seeing much more development in the alternative protein space in India in recent months. Do you think that India will become a crucial innovation hub for the whole of Asia?
AS: Certainly, we believe there is a lot of talent here in India, from both a technical and human resources perspective. Of course, the labour costs here are lower than in Western markets as well. So eventually, as more and more companies enter the segment in India, India will be both one of the largest consumer markets for plant based products and one of the largest exporters of plant based meats too. I see this happening in the short to medium-term.
GQ: Like other Asia-based food techs, GoodDot is able to cater to local tastes and appetites. Is that going to be a key advantage against Western plant-based players, in your opinion?
AS: Yes, for sure, and this is a distinct advantage that Asian food techs have. At GoodDot, we created different kinds of textured plant meats that are versatile and curated for different cuisines. It is customisable for local dishes in India, but can also be adapted to the Western palette. The way people within and between Asia consume meat is quite different from the Western world, and this is where companies in Asia are able to do some really interesting work. I think that no matter where you are in the world though, every plant-based meat company has to customise their solutions to attract mass adoption and acceptance.
GQ: GoodDot has adapted well to the coronavirus pandemic- do you have any advice for other companies in the food industry to adapt to the crisis?
AS: We can only say from our own experience and perspective, but what we feel is that for new entrepreneurs, the goal should not be to imitate someone else’s success story. Everybody tackles individual issues in their own way, so you have to be successful in your own vision.
First and foremost, look for the gaps in the market. What is the average consumer missing? Is it the product, the pricing, or the unique way of delivery or packaging? It can be anything. But if you are looking to fill a real gap that is present in the market, that is a good starting point for a lasting and scalable impact.
So my advice is: take inspiration, read and study the subject, extract learnings and apply them to a real problem that hasn’t yet been met. Then stay on course – because anything that is long-lasting and sustainable takes time. Believe in your vision, and go after a need that is large-scale and real.
GQ: What motivates you when it comes to your work?
AS: We are very strongly driven by the ethical aspect of plant based meat. I think that every human is an animal lover, it is just that there are so few tasty and affordable substitutes to replace animal meat. If given the chance with good-tasting, healthy and affordable alternatives, I think that a lot of people will make the shift. Firstly to a flexitarian approach, and eventually as the market progresses with even more products, animal meat will become obsolete. There will be more plant-based options than conventional meat.
GQ: Would you say that a complete plant-based meat revolution is on the horizon?
AS: 100% – we’re already witnessing it globally. India itself is a fertile ground for such a revolution. There is a high willingness of people here to embrace plant based lifestyle. In November 2019, we launched a Goodness Mission campaign. The target of the Goodness Mission is to convert 100,000 meat eaters to give up meat and transition to plant based alternatives. To date, over 40,000 former meat eaters have already given up meat completely. So we’re already witnessing increased adoption of plant-based alternatives, and with more awareness and better products being rolled out, the movement is bound to accelerate.
GQ: Final question – rice or noodles?
Lead image courtesy of Abhishek Sinha.