Before Matias Muchnick, CEO and Founder at NotCo and Mike Natale, Global Leader of Plant Based Proteins at Ingredion join us for a fireside chat at future Food-Tech Alternative Proteins, we were keen to find out more about this successful partnership and the exciting developments ahead to scale up, reach new geographies, unlock new categories, all at an impressive speed.

At NotCo, your mission is to completely disrupt the factory-farm food system. What is unique about your approach?

Matias: NotCo utilizes and creates technology-based machine learning and artificial intelligence that allows us to produce products and food formulations faster better and more accurately than anyone else in the space. Although we are not the only company that is trying to achieve this, every company can choose which way to get there. This is disrupting the food industry and accessing the mass market. We have chosen the technology and AI route and the result has been fantastic, in only 3 and a half years of commercial execution we have been able to launch our products in 5 different countries in 4 different categories and access mass markets through significant market shares. We have a value proposition that goes from taste to experience to price and distribution channels. By going to the mass market in a very short period of time we want to move the needle on our environmental impact.  We are very excited for the future and are very excited to have just launched in the US. 

At Ingredion your mission is to bring the potential of people, nature and technology together to make life better. What is unique about your approach?

Mike: We share an inspiring purpose at Ingredion — to make life better, for our colleagues, our customers, our communities, and the world. Our shared purpose energizes and motivates us to boldly innovate—imagine breakthrough solutions, advance new technology platforms, enable new business models, and improve daily work practices. People are valued here, and welcomed, as part of a team of diverse, experienced people committed to learn, to grow, and to succeed, together. This is what makes us unique and sets us apart from our competition. We are a group of talented, caring people, working together for a shared purpose. At Ingredion, we are all IN to make life better! With this purpose in mind it helps us prioritize our growth around objectives that can do this.  We see this clearly when we look at our 5 growth platforms.  Our Growth Platforms focus on Sugar Reduction, Clean & Simple Label, Plant Based Proteins, Providing superior Texture, and designing food systems for product functionality in taste, nutrition, label, etc.

Less than six months ago NotCo launched in the US. How does NotCo / Ingredion leverage partnerships to achieve production scale and operation efficiency?

Matias: Since the get-go we always planned to be a mass market company and a growth category company. When you have this goal you do not want to avoid the complexity of manufacturing, the supply chain or co-manufacturing relationships. We always planned for NotCo to be asset light and very early on to be partnering up with global suppliers to allow us to create a ‘plug and play’ style company.

Velocity is one of the biggest assets this industry has and when you look at NotCo we have the ability to become a really big player in the meat and dairy replacement categories, that are huge substantial businesses, but you can move the needle very fast if you get the market opportunity right when you communicate the brand as you should. There are so many moving forces in generating success in this category that might be overwhelming.

We have been through many challenges over the last 3-4 years, we have learnt a lot and now we have amazing partners in the supply chain that allow us to create this business at the speed that we want to create it. 

Mike: Ingredion has developed many initiatives to support emerging and rapidly growing businesses like NotCo. This is very well aligned with our mission and our core value of Being customer-preferred by delivering consumer[1] preferred solutions.  Our network of Idea Lab® (32 globally) innovation centers around the world has been a great resource to develop and test innovative new product concepts using prototype concepts developed by Ingredion’s experts.  Resources such as the emerging business web-portal that allows the direct purchase of small quantity ingredients online on the web. Ingredion is firmly committed to growing together to enable shared success.

How were you able to integrate your / NotCo’s product and processes into the existing supply chain, or did you have to create a new supply chain? What advice would you give to other ambitious technology companies looking to partner with ingredient companies / with Ingredion and scale across new markets?

Matias: No one strategy fits all – every company has their own way of operating and producing depending on what the core proposition is of each company. With speed and momentum being two of the biggest factors of success in this category we planned something that would be very asset light and be reliant on only a few global suppliers who can adapt to our necessities.

A lot of suppliers had to adapt and learn with us, you need to build a lot of self-awareness as well. We operate in different categories so the speed we are trying to put into every innovation we launch is not the standard of the industry.

There are many factors that need to go into the equation of what success looks like for every company. For us we wanted to prioritize speed and quality in a global perspective, and this is how we built the supply chain and network of commerce around the world and have the team to manage the complexity of what you are trying to achieve.

Mike: NotCo had developed a leading product using their unique proprietary approach to product development (Gussippe).  Ingredion’s Idea Lab team collaborated closely with NotCo’s experts to preserve the essence of their product design and defining product characteristics.  Working closely with their team,  Ingredion Idea Lab experts worked on product optimization and scale up to help the NotCo team optimize formulations towards desirable outcomes.  Our teams collaborated in final design, sensory testing, and optimization of scale up. 

I would also add NotCo in their DNA has set out a very clear priority to not be typical food. They are looking at how new food can be created based on their consumers desires. Their discipline in staying focused on these consumer products is creating new markets, this is never easy to do, but my advice for other start-ups watching this is to stay focused on the consumer wants, have a very clear vision of what the consumer would like, and have a strong partner like Ingredion to help you get to market.

Can you share some examples of how collaboration and partnership between Ingredion and NotCo helped overcome formulation challenges to develop a consistent product?

Matias: Since the get-go, Ingredion have been pioneers of understanding what this industry was going to turn into very early on. They supported us when we were nothing – they supported us with innovation in ingredients, supporting with their manufacturing and innovation capabilities because we couldn’t afford a processing plant. Ingredion has all of this and not only this but they very generously allowed to access these capabilities. In addition their genuine excitement from all the team into innovation is not something that all agents in this industry have. There is a clear generosity and purpose behind what they are doing and what they are building and how they are supporting start-ups.

Innovating is hard, and maintaining innovation in time is hard as well. Ingredion suggest new ingredients and new processes to improve your products so if they are on top of things and they help you to understand what’s the next big opportunity.

When we had a requirement for a certain ingredient, they raised their hands and said let us work with you.  We work together on many aspects in different dimensions of the business. Ingredion has been a big part of our growth – they have been as generous at the beginning as they are right now, which is something that is not common in the industry. We love working with them and we are proud partners of Ingredion.

Mike: The challenge in designing a successful product is to produce a product that has great flavor and texture.  However, primary flavor and texture optimization typically needs to be optimized as the formulation is finalized through ingredient selection and commercial scale-up. 

Further, there are additional considerations such as shelf life or storage stability that can be influenced through a deep understanding of viscosity and the influence of temperature. Additional optimization of the sensory eating experience needs to be monitored carefully through this process of developing a market leading product. NotCo and Ingredion collaborated on multiple product concepts that led to successful product launches like BK Not Burger in Chile, Not Ice Cream, Not Milk, Not Mayo in multiple countries in South America and now Not Milk in USA.

How has NotCo’s go to market strategy evolved?

Matias: The market strategy always needs to change, and it is in constant change. You plan something, then reality tells you it is not the way you planned it and to need to react to it and you need to understand what works and double down on this as well as having the flexibility in terms of mentality and culture inside the company to be flexible enough to adapt.

You always need to start thinking about new business units and understand the business strategy. As a leader my job is to start to challenge, and continuously challenge, where we are going, and this has to be our market strategy.

You’re joining us on the fireside chat ‘Collaborating to Develop Our Plant Based Ecosystem’. Why is this an important and timely discussion? What will you be sharing in the session?

Matias: Every industry is really disrupted when a new technology is introduced. This technology has to be better, be more accurate, more efficient and more cost effective. We are not reinventing the wheel; we have seen this before. At NotCo we decided to create a technology that would allow everyone, not only us, to produce products, faster better and more accurate than ever before. The food industry has been operating with practically the same R&D capabilities over the past 80 years.

There is no material data or technology introduced to such an import industry as it is the food industry, whenever this technology is introduced, they are replicated, everyone wants to adopt this new technology.

The creation of technology introduced into an obsolete industry as I saw the industry 5 years ago is something every company would like to have access to. Technology is a part of what NotCo has been doing in collaboration with Burger King, Papa Johns, Starbucks, – we have so many partnerships going on around the globe that it is telling us there is a material pull of this technology from big companies in the world – not just QSRs but companies that want to use this technology to innovate better, faster and generate an agility that this industry has never seen before. Technology is coming and for NotCo it’s going to become something interesting to share, we are the catalyzers of change within the industry.

Mike: The development of plant-based foods is a complex undertaking due to several linked factors. As any new entrant to plant-based world discovers, collaboration is key to success since there are many aspects of product development and commercialization that are still being established for plant-based products ranging from manufacturing processes, supply chain, packaging, ingredients, and other aspects of product development that form part of the plant-based ecosystem. Collaborating to develop and leverage this ecosystem for mutual benefit is key to success in this area.

What roles do you see microbial fermentation and cultured meat ingredients play in the future of NotCo’s product formulation?

Matias: Fermentation, lab grown, cell-based is something still we haven’t seen in scale, we don’t know how this looks like and it is brilliant that many players are going into this direction and I couldn’t be any more fascinated. I still think we need so much more, that doesn’t even depend on capabilities of companies to get to the muscle or fish it also relies on fermentation capabilities, yield, water, in fact so many other parts that need to work within the development of this technology that I foresee this happening in the next 10 years – where it is capable of gaining scale. It is fascinating and when we get near that 10 year period, will be when NotCo is probably going to go in this direction.

We have found out so many plants that weren’t explored in the past have this potential of generating tastes, textures, smells and colors that we never thought of before, so we’re okay with plants in the meantime!

Until we get to that point where we say there are no more capabilities in the plant kingdom to create certain things, that’s the moment where we will look at other technologies – until then we are milking plants as much as we can to get to where we want.

What’s next for NotCo?

Matias: We’re trying to move the needle and the only way is to access the mass market. We want to be that company that really reduces and saves so many millions of tons of water, energy, land and CO2 emissions that will make an impact in the world. We are achieving this but we need more scale.

We have just launched in the US and the velocity of units per store per week is unbelievable. We launched in Wholefoods nationwide and we replicated this in Wegman’s and Sprouts and 230 independents; and we have already confirmed 3000 stores by the first 6 months of this year.

What should we expect in the future of NotCo: More scale, more presence in QSR and every single store in North America as they enter the Canadian market, growth in geographies, portfolio expansion as well as new products.

“With the alternative protein market heating up faster than ever, we will see more and more strategic collaborations and partnerships upstream in the supply chain.  The collaboration between NotCo and Ingredion is a good example of this, and I am excited to dive into more of the details with them in our Fireside Chat at the upcoming Future Food-Tech Alternative Proteins summit.” Elysabeth Alfano, Founder, Plant Powered Consulting, Host of the Plantbased Business Hour, Contributor, Vegconomist -the vegan business magazine.

Elysabeth will be moderating the highly anticipated fireside chat at Future Food-Tech Alternative Proteins this month with Mike Natale and Matias Muchnick.