Exclusive: Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, and a startup bring cloned food with artificial intelligence
"We are totally opportunistic, we are not so interested in your business plan, you have a competent team and a disruptive technology to revolutionize the food system completely", were the words that none other than Amazon, Matías Muchnick, founder of the startup, heard. Chilean NotCo.
The entrepreneur stared at his interlocutor on the Skype screen. He knew that what was coming was crucial. It was. And it caused a mixture of sensations.
On the one hand, absolute madness. I could not believe it. He never imagined that Jeff Bezos himself would read the presentation of his startup and that, a week later, he would respond. On the other, an indescribable satisfaction: the richest man in the world had just offered him $ 30 million to finance his company. The boy's dream had been fulfilled.
In the head of this 31-year-old commercial engineer, several images passed, one after the other, as if it were a PowerPoint presentation, the tool he had used more than once to seek financing.
"You think about all the Saturdays and Sundays that you worked, the birthdays and weddings that were skipped, and that you are believing in you people of the highest level", he would confess hours later exclusively to iProUP.
He recalled how he formed the team, along with the doctor in biotechnology Pablo Zamora and the doctor in Computer Science Karim Pichara. How they developed Giussepe, an algorithm capable of looking for chemical equivalences in the plant world of almost any food to "clone" it without the use of animal ingredients.
He also came to mind the "debut in first" with NotMayo, his mayonnaise made 100% from plants that grows at an accelerated pace in the market in Chile, world champion of per capita consumption of this dressing.
And he confirmed that having said "no" to a French food multinational that approached an offer for his startup was a wise decision. "We have to change the food system from scratch, reinvent it", proclaims Muchnick.
On Friday afternoon, the NotCo team held this entrepreneurial feat at its headquarters in Santiago de Chile. After three hours, it was time to put our feet on the ground and go to the other key of the "regional tournament": arrive in Argentina and Brazil, a mission that had been launched a few months ago.
Arrival in Argentina
As advanced iProUP exclusively, Argentina was the country that figured as a leader in the NotCo priorities table.
In fact, Sebastián Álvarez, an executive with 22 years of experience in the subsidiary albiceleste of Unilever, had been designated to face the regional expansion last August. The company hoped to import the mayonnaise and had even received the "OK" from a national capital supermarket to start marketing.
But the exchange crisis forced us to rethink the strategy to tax the dollar: to elaborate it in the country together with a local partner.
This delayed the plans, because it was necessary to obtain a manufacturer that complied with the standards of the company and sanitary approval in each province where it was marketed. The Argentine Food Code, which states that a mayonnaise must have egg to be mayonnaise, also added complications to the process.
The delay was taken advantage of by the best-selling dressing brand, which came out to mark the court at the end of the year with its vegan mayonnaise. Since NotCo, do not worry too much and ensure that they have a differential: the nutritional value of their product and the absence of additives.
According to iProUP, the first batch of NotMayo "made in Argentina" has already left the factory and is currently undergoing laboratory tests. Once this rigorous instance has been overcome, this month it will be on the supermarkets' shelves.
For a matter of commercial ties in Chile and strategic union, Muchnick says that Jumbo will be one of the first establishments to have its mayonnaise, but hopes that competitors and other businesses will also join.
In the launch phase, the company will deploy a strong tasting campaign in the sales halls so that consumers know the experience of this dressing and learn about its nutritional "quality" with respect to other alternatives.
In terms of prices, from the firm they say that it will be very competitive. It will be close to that of the most sold mayonnaise (10% more expensive) and below the premium segment.
"We want to be mainstream, just like what happened in Chile, we aim to be in the top of mind of the category," the entrepreneur tells iProUP.
NotCo plans do not end with this dressing. It is also developing the NotMilk (milk) and the NotIcecream (ice cream), which could reach the gondolas in June. Also, on your own hamburger.
A video "top-secret" spread among the company's staff shows a medallion of vegetable meat cooked on the grill and dismissing "juice". It is impossible to notice the difference with its "traditional" version at first sight.
This will be, according to Muchnick, the creation of your company more difficult to enter the regional market.
"This product will cost us more to change the head of the consumer, especially the Argentine, I do not think it takes us long to convince him," he anticipates.
NotCo's plans to "revolutionize" the food industry are not limited to "finished" products: in the future they plan to offer inputs for the industry.
In this way, they could sell butter, cheese, milk and other 100% vegetable ingredients to food manufacturers and even to the final consumer.
Before the million-dollar outlay of Amazon Expeditions, the investor arm of Jeff Bezos, NotCo prepares for an ambitious move: to advance globally to face other strong competitors, such as American firms Just and Impossible Foods.
"The funds will be 100% enforced, in labor and in scale in the countries to put this disruption in Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Mexico and the United States in gondola," Muchnick tells iProUP.
It is not the first time that the company receives financing. It was incubated by Indie Bio, a Silicon Valley accelerator specializing in biotechnology companies. Last year, he received US $ 3 million from SOS Ventures and Kaszek, a fund led by former Free Market Nicolás Szekasy and Hernán Kazah.
"And three clubs seemed like a lot, imagine 30," says Muchnick, who lived in Argentina between 1991 and 1997, more precisely in the Buenos Aires neighborhood of Belgrano.
On the other hand, the entrepreneur points out that it is the ideal time in Latin America to grow, since there is a change of thought in terms of food: people are beginning to look for healthier alternatives, but without resigning flavors.
"There are changes in food preferences on the part of consumers, we are living a 'Lehman Brothers' of this industry," illustrates Muchnik, comparing the moment of food companies with the crisis of subprime mortgages.
In this sense, the founder of NotCo sees this paradigm shift and Bezos' investment in his company as an opportunity for the region, which historically produced food, to play in the big leagues of biotech and foodtech, as it is called to the specialized technologists in biology and food, respectively.
"It would be a mistake not to feel this as a signal to Latin America that there is an open industry, upside down - no more Free Markets or Cornershops are needed - there is nothing better than entering a meeting and knowing at 5 minutes that your idea liked and can change the world, "adds Muchnick.
In addition, he thinks that "it does not matter which country the startup comes from, because it does not have to do with the proximity, but with the mindset (mental outline) that entrepreneurship has". In this sense, he confesses: "From day one we dreamed of arriving in the USA".
That boy's dream is now reconfigured. NotCo takes out a unicorn sheet and wants to hit the jump to get into the top of the biotech competition. He already has the backing of a giant and 30 million reasons to shout his goal in the Silicon Valley.