Andre Menezes, Co-Founder & CEO of Next Gen Foods, gives Talking Plant Protein insight into their start-up and how a global mindset is a key to market success. In early 2021, Next Gen’s seed round raised $10M for chicken alternative TiNDLE. They’re announcing now a successful extension with an additional $20M secured. TiNDLE entered markets in Singapore, Hong Kong, and Macau drawing heavily from their gastronomy-first approach. Their alternative chicken product will soon be available in Kuala Lumpur and Dubai.
Nicole Astra: Welcome to Talking Plant Protein. This is going to be a very popular interview. My guest today, is the co-founder and CEO of Next Gen, the very successful brand behind TiNDLE. Please welcome Andre Menezes.
Andre Menezes: Thank you very much. So, happy to be here with you and to share a little bit more about our company and story.
Nicole Astra: I know people are going to be tuning in to hear your secrets behind the success. But, first I want to talk about you. So, give me a little bit about your professional history.
Andre Menezes: Cool. So, my career is actually extremely non-linear. I'm a mechanical engineer, and out of all places, I end up going for investment funds and from investment fund, I end up going later to the meat industry, which was the largest poultry exporter in the world, that was a part of the portfolio from the investment fund I used to work with. That's how I got connected into the meat industry first. And then, from that meat industry experience, upstream, that was back in Brazil. I had the chance of being [inaudible 00:01:12] again, this time from the company to a joint venture here in Singapore, which was responsible for doing all the distribution of foods here. And it's the largest food distribution right here in Singapore. So, it was a company about $200 million revenue, we have two factories, doing some meat processing, over 50 trucks running around, distributing mostly meat. So, what was really interesting in that journey, is that I was conflicted by my engineer mindset, my investment business that we had for the company and the reality I was seeing in the meat industry.
So, from my investment phases, we were thinking that meat sector in general, would be very highly promising in the future. While in reality, what I started seeing when I was part of the meat industry, connected to my engineering mindset is that, it's such a highly inefficient system. And as such, I was asking myself whether that would ever make sense in the longterm? And somehow, we were able to build that as humanity over the last thousands of years, is animal farming. But, it's not a technology that will answer any future problems of our planet, in terms of resource utilization. And also, as a career progression, it was only natural to me to really connect to what was next and what was next, is plant-based foods for me. And I started distributing Impossible Foods here in Singapore, still as part of my previous company. And I really got so much in love with that space. So, proving to meat lovers like myself, that you could actually make that delicious meat experience without an animal. And from there, I decided to leave my career path and jump into the entrepreneurial journey. That's how we started Next Gen.
Nicole Astra: So, you come with an incredible amount of experience, as well as your co-founder. However, you still started this business from scratch. And what I think is unique, is you had a global mindset. So, share your views on that.
Andre Menezes: That's exactly right. So, Timo, he had his company Like Meat, which he started back in Germany in 2012. And he brought it on, literally from nothing to a successful, profitable, over 20 million Euros revenue company. Which, he sold to the LIVEKINDLY Collective in early 2020. That was one of the most successful exits in the plant-based history. But, as entrepreneurs are always looking for more and looking for doing better than we did before. And for myself, after the experience I had with global meat businesses, with meat distribution, with investment fund, I also wanted to take on an entrepreneurial role and build up a global leader. So, we were very happy to be here in Singapore at the same time, both of us ending the previous step of our careers. And we decided to put together everything we've learned in our own experiences around the globe in meat and plant-based, upstream and downstream.
And also, considering everything we learned from all the food tech, such as Impossible Foods, when I had experience of working very closely with them and they're a great company. So, we basically designed Next Gen Foods from day one, to bring everything we had learned, being from our experience with other companies and put up a business model that's global from day one. That means that, instead of doing something small and trying to figure out how to grow, we are building from day one, something highly scalable and global, and that will enable us to accelerate so much faster. I think an important proof point for that, is that in less than a year, we actually already launched in Singapore. And less than three months after the launch in Singapore, we started our international expansion in Hong Kong, Macau and many other markets to come.
Nicole Astra: So, it is certainly possible, but I'm sure there were challenges along the way. Tell us about some that you experienced and overcame.
Andre Menezes: Yeah, I mean, when I share our path, it almost sounds like it was very smooth and easy. But, the reality is, if you think about it, we started in the middle of the pandemic, the highest level of pandemic. Back in April in 2020, it was when all the markets meltdown, when all the borders really shut. There was absolutely no idea of what was going to happen. Financially, for the world, the markets really melted. And we had moments in which we asked ourselves before starting, "Should we start this right now? Should we wait a few months?" We knew that whatever we were going to do, was not going to be a local, small business. We wanted to make a global business, we're very clear about it. And we were asking ourselves, "How can we make a global business without traveling? Without being able to leave the island? That's not really going to work. So, maybe we wait for a while, wait for the pandemic to be over and start."
But, guess what? Luckily we didn't, our entrepreneurial grit spoke louder. And at the end of the day we decided to do. But, the interesting thing is that, because of the restrictions we had and the ambition we have as well, we decided to... I mean, we designed a business model, that's really completely digital tech. While our factory's in Europe, we have worked with people around the world. We have launched in different markets and never really left Singapore since we started this journey.
Nicole Astra: So, let's talk TiNDLE.
Andre Menezes: Sure. TiNDLE, it's the first result of this journey. And it all started when we assessed the market and we assessed our own capabilities and we understood that there was a huge gap in the market for plant-based chicken. While many people would say that it's a busy market. And then, the reality, is that may be true for some categories, say for example, nuggets, or tenders, or some of those products. But, we realized that there was no one doing plant-based chicken, that could really deliver one of the key aspects of chicken, which is versatility. So, when we started this journey, one thing that we always do at Next Gen, is really understanding consumers in detail and starting from there. So, what we learned is that chicken really, basically means the fibrous texture and the result of the bites from there.
It means that chicken, it's now an aroma, which you can taste, which comes, mostly from chicken fat and also the versatility. We realized that the versatility component was not being addressed by anyone in the market. We have a very strong internal R&D capability, with our CTO, who has over 20 years of experience in this space. And we know for a fact that protein chicken is the fastest growing, is becoming the biggest right now, it's the most trendy, it's the most innovative and the most universal. So, it became quite obvious to us that we could unite our ability to address all of those challenges with a market need that was not being addressed. And that's how TiNDLE was born.
Nicole Astra: And why has it been so successful?
Andre Menezes: Yeah, I mean, we're just starting the journey, right? And so, the start has been very successful and we do have much higher ambitions than what we are today, we're just really starting. Bu, the successful start, I guess it's probably credited to this whole understanding of consumers, as you said, as well as customers. So, we understood exactly what our consumers are looking for, what are the things that they really want, as well as our customers. So, in this case, the best chefs, what are they really looking for in plant-based? Or, even in chicken. And when we engineered our product, our go-to-market strategy, our brand, we made sure to address all of those needs to the best of our ability, to address all of those needs and make sure that consumers shops would really love what we were bringing to the market. And we couldn't be happier with the response from Michelin star chefs, from author chefs, from Netflix Final Table chefs, and the Michelin star restaurants in Singapore and Hong Kong. It's been really outstanding.
Nicole Astra: And let's talk about your first round of funding, which is really what catapulted you into the press and the headlines.
Andre Menezes: Last year, when we started the company, we decided not to take an external investment first, until we had clarity on the business model that we were designing, and then Timo invested himself. He capitalized the company $2.2 million from his own pocket. And then, we went for our first external investment round, also had clarity on our business model, which investors we wanted to bring on board. But then, it was such an outstanding round with such a high quality of investors, and it was hugely oversubscribed. But, initially our plan was to raise 7 million and wait until we were out there, launching many markets, and then go for a bigger raise.
But, the demand was so high, and we had so many great names, that we actually had to raise 10 million, that was closed in the beginning of the year. And after that, we obviously launched in Singapore, we are busy launching Hong Kong and things. The traction is so good and so strong, that more great names of investors actually came back to us and asked to be part of this journey, which we did. And just today, we announced that we have an extension of that round. And we raised actually another 20 million on top of the 10. And that's basically, to allow us to grow further in APEC, in the middle east, and also prepare for the US market entry.
Nicole Astra: It's very exciting news, thank you for sharing that with us. What do you have to say to the startups who are approaching this industry, which is growing so rapidly? And how they should be positioning themselves in front of investors?
Andre Menezes: Well, I think the first thing I would say, is to be really genuine to what you really represent, what you really believe. I'm not trying to enact anything, because obviously if you are genuine, it's going to be much more powerful, in terms of how you are communicating and delivering. But, I think the most important point that I see from my friends in startups that are mentioning guidance, or advice, or mentor, it's not to be uni-dimensionally focused on the product, or the technology only, because that's the only one out of a few components. But, also to take a look holistically, and most importantly, for what investors are looking for, which is how they would take that technology, that product, whatever you have, that is your own unique differentiation point and transform it into a scalable business?
Ultimately, investors are looking for return for their investments and return to their investments is pretty much linked to the ability of that company to grow and become profitable eventually. So, having a great product is fantastic, it's one of the elements. But, most importantly, how do we transform that into a great business? Considering brand, considering product, considering business model and the team that you're going to put in place. Without those really, that idea will not become a business and investors will not be highly excited about it.
Nicole Astra: And what's different about the power behind TiNDLE?
Andre Menezes: What's different about the power behind TiNDLE? I guess, it's that sheer drive to prove to consumers that, as opposed to what has been happening for decades in consumers' minds, plant-based foods are not associated with worst experience and not associated with compromises. They are simply associated with a better technology to produce delicious food. And consumers in general, have a perception, that the plant-based diet would necessarily mean that you are compromising your taste, or texture experience. But, since the few recent years that we have seen few of the other brands out there, being able to prove that that was not necessarily the case. TiNDLE is exactly that approach. The power of TiNDLE in that sense, is elevating that to the next level and bringing that to the chicken category, which no one has really done to the culinary perspective, to the versatility point of view, and connecting to the consumers on the very deep level, without being preachy, without telling consumers what to do. What we do, is just bring a better protein source that's delicious, is sustainable, and everyone loves eating it.
So, that's what we do. I think that's probably why it's so powerful about the brand. But, obviously as well, the fact that we can scale up globally so quickly, and we're not restricted by any GMO ingredient, which we don't have. We only have nine ingredients, and we do everything in a way that we can basically grow in every single country around the world without any restriction, because we don't really use no ingredients. That's also very powerful for us to expand globally and create a bigger impact.
Nicole Astra: Really, everything about you guys, is smart, your advertising is smart. There's so much buzz around what you guys are doing, and congratulations on all of your success. Tell us, what's next?
Andre Menezes: Well, thank you very much. So, for us is really just stock right now. And what's next for us, is really growing, expanding our geography base. So, it's really about expanding into more markets and bringing TiNDLE brand and TiNDLE product into many different countries. But, you will see that we're already in three markets right now, Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau. We have quite a long road coming and we have to, by coming September, we just announcing as well now. We expect to be in at least five markets by the end of the year. And we're working very closely on a plan on how to enter the US within the next 12 months. So, US is the biggest market, and we're looking closely on how to grow in the US.
So, what's next, is basically this geographic expansion for now, and next year we may have another fundraise, in early 2022, to keep fueling expansion into other places on there. And looking forward, further ahead, we will also have different categories. We're not going to stop in chicken, chicken is only our starting point. But, we do see potential to use our networks, our knowledge and our business in order to extend different categories around the globe as well. And we will do that once TiNDLE is widely present in the world.
Nicole Astra: Well, we appreciate your time. We're catching you on a day where you've announced your seed raise extension, and I know it has been a crazy day for you. So again, thank you for joining us on Talking Plant Protein.
Andre Menezes: My pleasure to be here, and thank you very much for having the opportunity to be here with you.