Q&A w/ Eugene Wang of Sophie’s Bionutrients: Why We Moved Our Production From Singapore to the Netherlands
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We recently had the chance to speak to Eugene Wang, co-founder and CEO of Sophie’s Bionutrients. The Singapore-based company, which grows microalgae in bioreactors, recently announced a move to Europe, and we wanted to know more: why would an alt protein startup leave the city that is being touted as the world’s foodtech capital?
In this interview, Wang talks more about the startup’s European headquarter plans and the rationale behind setting up a new base in the region. He also shares more about what’s next for Sophie’s Bionutrients, having already created allergen-free microalgae milk and beef-free burger patties with its algae-based protein.
GQ: Why did you make the move to Europe?
EW: Well, first of all, it’s not a “move”. We are simply “expanding” to Europe a lot earlier than we expected. We are not giving up Asian market yet. It is just that Europe, in many ways, is far ahead and more advanced in understanding and adapting microalgae into foods. And this is especially true when it comes to alternative protein.
More companies in Europe are interested in incorporating microalgae in their plant-based dairy or plant-based meat products. And more companies in Europe see microalgae as the next sustainable new food ingredient. We got a lot of companies interested in buying from or collaborating with us in Europe. And I guess this is all thanks to the fact that Europe has the highest density of microalgae research institutes and for-profit companies than anywhere in the world.
On the other hand, the pandemic is another reason why we decided to expand to Europe sooner. Shipping during the pandemic is a nightmare. Not to mention the travel restrictions still in place in some countries. Therefore, we decided to come to Europe earlier so that we can plan for production locally here in Europe.
GQ: Why did you choose Wageninen specifically?
EW: It is not just about Wageningen. It is more about the Netherlands. Wageningen is the best food and ag-tech school here in the Netherlands. Unilever even set up an R&D center on their campus. You can see how important this school is to the new food & ag tech. There is also a program on the Wageningen campus called AlgaePARC. I guess you can see the reason why we set up our first office here at Wageningen.
We are also looking at another university here in the Netherlands, TU Delft, to help us scale up our technologies. Delft is famous in the industrial segments. And DSM has a campus just next to the school. All in all, you can say that the Netherlands is really the Silicon Valley of global food and ag-tech. That’s why we think we need to be here.
GQ: Will you be keeping your Singapore base?
EW: Absolutely, Singapore will be one of the R&D centers when we are planning for our next phase of expansion centering around Europe. And quite frankly, the company was “born” in Singapore. Singapore will forever be our home.
GQ: Is Europe a key market for Sophie’s?
EW: Absolutely! I think Europe will account for more than 70% of our revenue in the next 3-5 years.
GQ: What are some of the challenges in APAC that prompted the move to Europe?
EW: Well, I guess when it comes to sustainability, people speak louder than their actions. Here in Europe, none of the supermarkets are giving out plastic bags automatically or for free. Sustainability is slowly becoming a lifestyle. And in APAC, plastic bags are still everywhere and used widely.
All images courtesy of Sophie’s Bionutrients.