By Economist Impact | 26 Jan 2023
As our global population grows, so too will our need for food. In 2020, undernourishment impacted an estimated 770 million people globally—about 10% of the world’s 7.7 billion population. By 2050, this number is expected to top 9.7 billion, a population that will further exacerbate food shortages as they stand.
Key to keeping people healthy is a balanced diet. But increasingly, access to quality meat and other produce that are key ingredients for swathes of the global population are under threat from climate change, the pandemic, and supply chain disruptions. A further challenge for food is its carbon footprint, where foods made from conventional crops and livestock are among the world’s highest emitters. In 2019, food production accounted for 26% of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions.
To help overcome these challenges, German-born food innovator Timo Recker has a profound vision when it comes to the future of what we eat. If you can make food that’s both pleasurable and responsible, consumers will bite. “We want to help make the global food system sustainable with delicious food,” Recker explains of his vision for the company he co-founded, plant-based food tech Next Gen Foods.
However, moving a change-resistant industry towards more sustainable food production and consumption is far from easy. Fortunately, Recker—who is also executive chairman of Next Gen Foods—has the help of strategic partners who can help fuse technology, innovation and great taste into what they believe is a winning formula.
The proportion of homegrown food that Singapore plans to source its nutritional needs from by 2030—up from less than 10% today
Now is an opportunistic time to disrupt the status quo, he says. Consumers today are asking for meat alternatives now more than ever. And the technology to create nutritious foods from plants has improved. Latest technologies also allow for the creation of innovative plant-based foods that offer the authentic taste, texture and aroma of meat.
“It’s really about transforming how food is produced for consumers,” Recker describes of the meat alternatives that his and fellow companies are helping to pioneer. “We are building a scalable business model, ready for hyper-growth. And that basis is very important—because we want to change the world.”
Tech for the greater good
Born into a family that owned a meat processing business, Recker gained an early appreciation of food industry trends and key business drivers. “I grew up in a family of doers and creators,” he recalls. While the family’s core product of pork schnitzel was a cultural mainstay, young Recker soon had a different dream of finding alternatives to farmed animals.
“It was very clear for me that this was not the future—this was not how we were going to eat in the next generation.” Indeed, while feeding almost eight billion hungry mouths requires smart alternatives to livestock farming, Recker also knew that to be successful, he must embrace the emotional aspects of protein consumption.
The projected amount on food spending in Asia between 2019 and 2030
“I’m a meat lover,” he confesses. “I love the texture and taste of a good piece of meat. So we needed to find a technology that enabled us to have a nice five-second bite. It had to be juicy.”
In his early 20s, Recker founded his own alternative-meat business, LikeMeat, with the aim of creating products that were healthier, more sustainable and less destructive to the planet. While pioneering products that delivered both texture and taste was important, so too was producing food in a less wasteful manner. “The technologies help us to be more efficient in the use of resources because there’s much less water going into the process, and fewer emissions coming out,” he says. “The bottom line then is to give more people access to a balanced, healthy, sustainable diet.”
New world, new opportunities
For his next adventure, Recker looked eastwards, seeking to tap into the enormous growth potential of Asia’s food market. Spending on food is expected to top $4.4 trillion for the region between 2019 and 2030. Singapore was identified as the home base for his new company, Next Gen Foods—and a home for Recker himself.
He knew the city-state had bold ambitions around food innovation. In its Singapore Green Plan 2030 initiative, the nation announced plans to source 30% of its nutritional needs from locally produced food—up from less than 10% today—as well as create a wealth of new jobs and business opportunities in its emerging food tech sector.
> 680 million
The number of people living in Southeast Asia, one of the fastest-growing consumer markets in the world
Believing in the power of plants to create a better future with the provision of both food and jobs, the company capitalised on Singapore’s future-facing start-up ecosystem. The city-state houses some of Asia’s most active private equity and venture capitalists, from whom Next Gen Foods was able to secure $30 million in seed funding.
In partnership with the recently established Food Tech Innovation Centre by Asia Sustainable Foods Platform, a company wholly-owned by Temasek, the company plans to open its first innovation centre within the next year. Here, Next Gen Foods will house its full-time R&D and technology teams, including protein scientists, food technologists, ingredient experts, and product development professionals. Recker also plans to expand Next Gen Foods’s portfolio of plant-based foods, while simultaneously entering new markets globally.
To that end, accessing new markets in Asia and around the world has been a key priority since the company’s founding. Next Gen Foods’s location in the heart of fast-growing Asia, makes it ripe for expansion. Southeast Asia alone, home to over 680 million people, is one of the fastest-growing consumer markets in the world. Powered by a large rising middle class, the region is poised to become the world’s fourth-largest economy by 2030.
“Singapore is a gateway into Asia and the western world,” Recker says. “It’s transparent and people are open to doing business. It’s a quality market, and as a Singaporean company, we can easily venture into other markets across Asia, plus Europe, North America and the Middle East. There are no closed doors.”
Across Asia and especially in Singapore, food is a form of cultural identity. For Recker, the region’s rich culinary tapestry and array of unique flavours have been highlights in the last two years. Equally, the reception to his new products has been welcomed. “We work with the most renowned chefs to test our product, and the many different applications. They challenged us right away—boiling the product, deep-frying it. There was so much to learn.”
The company’s TiNDLE plant-based chicken substitute is currently sold to restaurant operators in Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia, the UAE, North America, the UK, and recently to Germany. To achieve this, a stable, well connected and pro-business environment, as well as a government keen to support sustainable businesses, were crucial factors in helping the business grow.
Linking up with decision makers and new talent in the food-tech industry is essential to the success of Next Gen Foods. “The ecosystem is very important to us, especially when connecting with partners and investors where we can listen, understand their journeys, and connect to the network,” Recker says. “Asia is about relationships, and we’ve been very strategic in choosing our partners.”
Next Gen Foods works closely with a network of wholesale distributors who supply restaurants locally and internationally with TiNDLE. The plant-based meat is now available in nearly 500 restaurants across four continents.
Companies like Next Gen Foods also benefit from the support of Singapore Global Network, whose role is to connect people and opportunities, as well as their peers around the world, with enriched economic and cultural opportunities. “There’s a lot of talent from all over the world meeting in Singapore,” he notes. “It’s a talent and innovation hub, and there are a lot of best practices to share and learn. Everyone’s open, and the environment is very collegial.”
With interest in meat alternatives rapidly rising globally, and with the company’s core capabilities based in front-footed, outward-looking Singapore, the future for Next Gen Foods looks particularly bright. “If we are going to solve the world’s food challenges, we need to rethink where our food comes from,” adds Recker. “Plant-based food is a viable long-term solution.”