Ashish Korde states that “A large consumer segment that can be referred to as “flexitarians” want to reduce their animal meat consumption and include more plant-based options into their diet.”
Claus from Food Infotech spoke to Ashish Korde, Co-Founder of the Indian Startup, Proeon Foods. Proeon is one of the leading plant protein ingredient innovators, focused on manufacturing and supplying of plant-based protein ingredients of superior nutritional, functional and sensory qualities. Ashish Korde spoke in detail about his entrepreneurial journey since 2018 with co-founder, Kevin Parekh. Ashish has spent over fifteen years of his professional career across various sectors that included Pharmaceuticals, Technology, Nutraceuticals and Food & Beverages in various roles, including International Business Development, Corporate Strategy and Product Development. Besides revealing the reasons for setting up of his venture, he also spoke about the consumer shift towards plant-based proteins as an alternative to animal based meat, Proeon’s focus on developing highly functional, better tasting and nutritionally superior ingredients, the growing demand for plant-based proteins among individuals globally and much more.
Edited Excerpts Below:
i. Could you share a brief history about Proeon Foods, including its founders for us?
Proeon was started in 2018 with a vision of creating high value, clean label plant-based ingredients for the global food industry. I, along with my co-founder Kevin Parekh, started this company in 2018. Both of us come with more than 25 years of combined work experience in the natural products industry.
I have graduated from BITS, Pilani and ISB, Hyderabad and have worked in various industries such as Pharmaceuticals, Food and Nutraceuticals ingredients in various roles including business development, strategy and product management. Kevin comes with a biotechnology background, with MSc in Medical Biotechnology and an MBA from IRMA, Anand and has experience in product management, New Product Development and Open Innovation.
ii. Please explain for us a bit about what was the reason to start a business that focuses on plant-based protein ingredients?
As globally consumers are becoming more aware about the health, environmental and ethical concerns of consuming animal-based foods, they are looking for more sustainable plant-based foods. A large consumer segment called “flexitarians” wanted to reduce their animal meat consumption and include more plant-based options in their diets. At the same time this group of consumers which are reducing or removing the animal protein from their meal do not want to compromise on the experience. This has led to the creation of first generation of plant-based meat, dairy and egg replacement products. As the market for plant-based food is growing and spreading globally, consumers are demanding more variety and plant-based foods that are healthier, more sustainable and tastier. The food brands are limited with few first-generation plant-based protein ingredients. We saw an opportunity here to create highly functional, better tasting and nutritionally superior ingredients for this growing demand. Hence we started Proeon to develop high performance plant protein ingredients.
iii. What are the reasons that make you strongly believe that there is enough growth potential which exists for the plant-based protein industry in India in the years ahead and how does Proeon Foods plan to make use of this opportunity for further expansion of its business?
India has a sizeable middle-class population with increasing disposable incomes. According to multiple studies and surveys, almost 60-70% people in India have protein deficiency or are not consuming enough protein daily. This is a huge opportunity for plant-based proteins as a significant population in India is vegetarian and looking for sustainable plant-based protein options. As Proeon is creating plant proteins for global market, we are in a strong position to be ready to fulfill the demand in India as well.
iv. How would you rate Proeon Foods’s performance post the arrival of COVID-19 and how has it affected your business and its operations?
COVID-19 has significantly hampered the pace of the consumer industry. However, in health foods and nutraceuticals, there is an unprecedented demand as people want to improve their immunity and overall health. Though, it is tough operating during multiple lockdowns, we have used this time in research and development to bring well differentiated ingredients to the market.
v. Can you describe about few of the notable features present in the various protein ingredients supplied by Proeon Foods that makes them ideal for being added to the various food products that are being manufactured by food manufacturers?
Proeon plant proteins are highly functional and neutral in taste and flavour which makes formulating tastier food products easier.For example, our mung bean has got very good gelation, foaming and emulsification properties, which makes it ideal for egg replacement and baking applications. Our chickpea protein has got very good water binding and gelation properties and creamy mouthfeel, which makes it an ideal choice for plant-based meat, health drinks and nutrition bar kind of applications. We have also created a highly nutritional proprietary protein composition with complete amino acid profile and PDCAAS of 1, which can be used in protein supplements category.
vi. Please tell us about some of the challenges faced by Proeon Foods in the past few years and what had been your biggest learning experience as on date?
It is not easy to build an R&D focused company in India, as this requires longer gestation period and high level of focus. For a startup, getting access to R&D infrastructure, talent and capital is a challenge. Our biggest learning in our journey in has been getting associated with right partners and academic institutes in this process. We have benefitted immensely by working with Good Food Institute in India, which is a not-for-profit organization doing a great job in building plant-based protein ecosystem in India. We are also incubated at Centre for Food Technology & Research Institute (CFTRI), Mysore, which gave us access to best-in-class R&D infrastructure, experts and talent to build highly differentiated ingredients. We are also supported and mentored by CIIE.CO (Centre for Innovation & Incubation for Entrepreneurship), IIM-Ahmedabad, which is also one of our investors.
vii. Can you tell us more about Proeon Foods’s presence in India?
Our team is based out of CFTRI, Mysore and we have a plant near Mysore – we are producing these proteins.
viii. How have you been marketing your products, since plant-based protein is a relatively new concept in India? How have you been connecting with your customers till date?
We see a lot of traction in this space in India and are getting lot of inquiries from Indian customers lately. There is immense interest among large, medium and small companies and startups in launching new products in this space. We have been leveraging social media, industry forums and virtual trade shows to market our products and reach out to our customers.
ix. Can you tell us more about who have been your major customers as of today and whether they have had any specific expectations on the products supplied by Proeon Foods and how have you been able to cater to their specific requirements in general?
We have a good mix of large as well as small and medium companies and startups with whom we are at various stages of engagement. Some of these companies are large multinationals and global food brands. We are engaged with customers from India, Japan, North & South America, Europe, Southeast Asia and even from Australia and New Zealand. This is a clear indication of the growing global demand in this space. Through our customer interactions, we have understood that it is difficult to source highly functional plant proteins and hence most of them are asking for high functionality and better sensory properties in the proteins they want to incorporate in their new products.
x. What steps have you been taking when it comes to keeping costs under control, since that would be a major determining factor in today’s business world that could influence the buying decision of a majority of consumers?
We strongly feel that consumers are looking for better value and not necessarily lowest cost products. From this point of view, we feel we are delivering better value in our ingredients in terms of functionality, taste and nutritional profile. Over and above this, we are giving consumers in India an option to have local source of plant proteins, as most of the plant-based proteins in India are imported.
xi. Do your products have a presence outside India? If yes, please share with us a little about the same?
Yes, we are mainly focused on global markets for commercialization of our protein ingredients and right now engaged with multiple customers and distributors around the world.
xii. Do you have any plans to invest further in product innovation for 2021? If yes, can you tell us more about the same?
We are continuously investing in R&D for developing newer functional proteins.
xiii. Do you have any suggestions to offer for the government that can help boost the demand for plant-based nutrition among individuals?
We need to create more incentives and ecosystem for R&D in plant-based foods, similar to Food Valley in the Netherlands.
xiv. Please tell us about your forthcoming launches, if any or what next has Proeon Foods lined up for its business in the months ahead?
Right now, we are mainly focused on commercialization of our already launched proteins which is mung bean, chickpea, hemp and amaranth proteins.