Andre Menezes is the co-founder and CEO of Next Gen Foods, maker of vegan chicken TiNDLE, currently served at over 200 restaurants across six international cities. Today, the company announced a record-breaking $100 million Series A, the largest such round in the plant-based meat sector. We spoke to Menezes about why investors love Next Gen, the biggest challenges facing the industry and whether the plant-based chicken market is getting overcrowded.
SF: What makes TiNDLE so unique? Rounds are getting bigger across the alt protein board but still, $100M less than 18 months is pretty fast. Why are investors behind you?
AM: To answer your first question, our plant-based Chicken TiNDLE was developed with chefs and for chefs. It is unique and highly versatile, delivering the taste, texture and experience of chicken. We ensure that our product is as versatile as chicken is expected to be, no matter how it is prepared and cooked, from fine dining to fast-food. This means our product can be customised and catered to a diverse range of cuisines, tastes and preferences.
It offers high protein, high fibre and low carb. It is made from 100% plant-based, non-GMO ingredients with no antibiotics, hormones, or cholesterol. TiNDLE meets the nutritional guidelines for the Healthier Choice Symbol administered by Singapore’s Health Promotion Board due to its lower sodium and lower saturated fat content as compared to regular plant-based meat alternatives.
Regarding our funding, we are blessed to have investors who are aligned to our mission and are aware of the importance of transitioning to more sustainable foods. Although Next Gen was established only in 2020, the leadership team is very experienced in the plant-based meat industry and in global brand building.
Our asset-lite business model also allows us to operate remotely and digitally, facilitating scaling our business quickly, first in Singapore, then Hong Kong, Macau, Kuala Lumpur,the UAE, and now the US.
These factors have played a key role in high investor interest.
Next Gen Foods brings the best talent, the most delicious products and the most scalable business model.
SF: Are you always raising?
AM: We do not see investors as “pockets of money” to draw resources from; we see them as an integral part of our journey and we onboard them according to our strategic and business objectives.
In this case, the majority of our Series A has been raised with capital from the Western hemisphere. The new funding will support expansion of TiNDLE – and its chef-first approach – into US foodservice and distribution, along with the research and development of new sustainable foods. We raise capital to support our mission through technology and operational scalability, and to onboard investors who will have a positive impact in our journey.
SF: Do you have new products planned? What’s your R&D road ahead?
AM: Absolutely. We are working on three buckets for our Research & Development:
- 0-2 years : introducing new TiNDLE products using existing technologies including TiNDLE nuggets, TiNDLE tenders etc)
- 3-5 years – developing new technologies to improve existing products
- 5 years+ – Exploratory work on both new and existing technologies and introducing categories that may or may not ever be commercialised).
SF: You’ve cited the US as your big focus this year. But it does seem the market has a great deal of plant-based chicken players already, wouldn’t you say?
AM: We feel that there are not enough players yet. While you can certainly see new entrants, the reality is that plant based chicken is barely available in restaurants.
Most products in the market right now are limited to nuggets or tenders, which are far from an authentic representation of chicken. Chicken is the most widely consumed animal protein, and plant based chicken is limited to a few nuggets and tenders available in some supermarkets.
SF: Is is fair to say that you are the ‘Impossible of chicken’? Their ex-CCO Rachel Konrad did come onboard recently.
AM: It is no secret that we admire and appreciate the first generation of pioneers who have proven to entrepreneurs like us that a more sustainable food system is possible.
We do not, however, limit ourselves by comparison with any other company. Our objective is to be innovative and bold across every area of our business, delighting consumers and increasing positive impact globally.
We are focusing on the expansion of TiNDLE to some of the world’s largest markets for chicken, and developing TiNDLE as the leading plant-based chicken brand. Later in the year, we are opening a brand-new research centre in partnership with the Food Tech Innovation Centre (FTIC) here in Singapore to focus on R&D and product innovation. This will be our launchpad for the development and trial of new products, as we expand our portfolio of plant-based foods – including meat, seafood and dairy – for consumers around the globe.
SF: What have been the biggest challenges for the business so far other than the pandemic?
AM: Inflation, supply chain crunch, and talent war are affecting all businesses and we are certainly not immune to it. We are, however, very aware and we do everything in our power to mitigate these challenges. This drives us to be better every day across all dimensions
SF: Talent is often cited as a major roadblock for growing companies. You seem to be able to find high quality, loyal people to join you. Why is that? What’s different about Next Gen’s company culture?
AM: We are blessed that the brightest minds in the world are interested in working on a meaningful mission, and having great backers, relevant traction and a strong leadership allows us to be attractive to the greatest talents. Having said that, we are humbly aware and the topic “people” is number 1 priority for the company and most important asset.
SF: What are the biggest roadblocks standing in the way of plant-based meat growth as a sector over the next 12-18 months in your view?
AM: Plant-based foods have been long associated with compromising on authentic meat experience. On the other hand, meat is aspirational and the most important dish on the table.
The category’s biggest challenge is breaking that paradigm.
We believe, however, that there is no dichotomy and that we can create a better future, without compromising any factor.
Having a product that delivers what chefs are looking for, we believe that the culinary world can embrace plant-based foods and create a completely new world of gastronomic experiences. Great chefs create mind blowing dining experiences with the best ingredients in innovative ways. Innovative plant-based foods add another layer of possibilities to this space, and their creations influence the entire industry on a much broader level.
Lead image of Andre Menezes courtesy of Next Gen Foods.