Meet Our Founders: Timo and Andre
18 September 2021
TiNDLE is now in Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, and if anyone is wondering why we made this Ridiculously Good chicken from plants, well, our founders are here to tell it all. Grab popcorn!
Interviewer: Timo, Andre, thanks for coming by today! To get right to it: Why make plant-based chicken when so many other meats and proteins seem to be popular in the market?
Andre (TiNDLE CEO): Why chicken right, that’s a great question. It’s interesting: the other players in plant-based protein are mostly American, Impossible and Beyond mainly, as everybody knows. And being American, it is only natural that one of their first movements would be to tackle the burger. But we are not coming from the US: we wanted to make a global business from the beginning, to be successful in the US but also in China, in India, in Brazil, the Middle East, in Africa, Europe wherever people eat meat. For that, the most universal protein is actually chicken, and it’s even overcoming pork as we speak! Just look at fried chicken taking over the world. So from a market perspective, chicken makes a lot of sense to start with: it is the fastest growing in consumption, and it is the most universal protein.
Timo (TiNDLE Chairman): We saw a white space in the market. On top of that, in the work I’ve done since I started exploring the plant-based world in 2012, we had a significant breakthrough in the recreation of chicken fiber! Chicken is more about fiber than beef or pork. We also found that the taste of chicken really comes from chicken fat– which can actually be reproduced from plants. That’s Lipi™, and when you put it together with the breakthrough in fiber, we have the technology to replicate the exact chicken experience– the taste, the crunch, the mouthfeel– all from plants, without any compromise in the food experience! This is what we have achieved together with our CTO John Seegers and the outstanding chefs from Singapore.
Andre: There is another element to this as well, which is how people eat the different proteins. If you are a beef lover, you know that you want it to kind of bleed, to be at the right doneness with salt and pepper and that’s it. Don’t do anything else, because if you do, you are screwing it up, and that’s the end of the story with this meat. Whereas for chicken, you want it to be coated, you want it to be innovative, you want it to be spicy, you want it to be in a different sauces and curries. There is the wing, the leg, the breast. In any cuisine, from a lean chicken breast salad to indulgent food, you want chicken to do it all. No other protein is as versatile, as universal, as widely accepted as chicken, or nearly as open to innovation. Again, why stick to one dish when we could make something everybody could enjoy?
I: When you set up Next Gen Foods (TiNDLE’s parent company) did you already know that your first product is going to be plant-based chicken?
Timo: No. When we started back in the day in Singapore, we had a lot of different ideas: for branding, for product, for go-to markets. We played with the idea of exploring pork products, different cuts, and we looked at Asian recipes. Then we went step by step and thought: we build a global brand, we talk to the global consumer, we need mainstream products that can be personalised for any foodie’s cuisine. This was a shift in strategy and that impacted the product development process.
Andre: It’s all based on our most important intel: discussing with chefs what they want to cook and with consumers what they want to eat. Then it worked out beautifully from there. John, our CTO, has extensive experience in creating many plant-based products, including chicken. And from a technical perspective, although chicken is known to be one of the hardest proteins to replicate– given its fibrous elements, the taste of chicken, the differences between dark meat and white meat– we had John and he’s been doing that for more than 20 years!
I: Can you tell us what the next products are going to be?
Andre: A bunch of chicken products from TiNDLE! From tenders and nuggets, Chinese dumplings and Japanese gyozas. We have given ourselves the benefit of not having to decide the next category yet– it could be dairy, or pork, or beef, or fish.
Timo: When it comes closer to the date that we want to do that, we will look at the market again and ask ourselves what is best, considering internal and external elements, and choose.
Andre: Plus, we don’t have TiNDLE chicken wings yet, so we know we need to get that out in the world!
Check out our restaurant locator to find the TiNDLE dish nearest to you!
I: Already excited, sign me up! But what got the two of you into plant-based food in the first place?
Timo: For me, it was motivated by our family business. My grandfather started an ice-cream wholesaler-ship in the 50s, which later became a meat processing business, all private label. My father built a big factory for it, and not all of the new employees could cope with the new factory– there was idle capacity, and a very difficult time for our family business. I was just done with my bachelor’s and was thinking what to do next: but the idea was not to go home and help produce schnitzel. But in the end, I helped my family turn the business around, but while I did this, I wondered: How can we have a sustainable business in 40 years? I knew it was not with animal meat. Animal meat is highly inefficient– what you put in, what you get out, the resources you use, the land you use, the water you use is all inefficient, and we consume it too much on top. If everyone worldwide wanted to consume meat all the time, you would need more than one planet to make it! But I am a meat lover and I want that protein, all alongside a healthy lifestyle. Animal welfare, sustainability, protecting our natural resources; that is all important for me, and for so many people around the world. So when I saw the market from that perspective, I knew we needed a meat product but not made from animal meat. Then I discovered a technology that enables us to produce fiber, that could actually make schnitzel but from plant-based proteins. But it wouldn’t have the impact it needed to have from just our private-label family business. So I founded LikeMeat in 2013, which was essentially my entry into plant-based food.
Andre: Similarly to Timo, I’m a meat lover and I was always skeptical of anyone convincing me to eat meat that is not made from animals. Why would you, right? But then I started working in the meat industry and saw firsthand: as a business, from an environmental perspective, from a health perspective, the meat production system is just not sustainable.
There was a time when we travelled in horse-drawn carriages, and farmed animals for food. But we have advanced to coal, diesel, planes, and even electric transportation since then– so why do we eat like we still live in the horse-drawn carriage world? I’m an engineer and that system efficiency–or inefficiency in this case–always strikes me. So in 2018, I started working closely with the plant-based industry. But I really decided to jump ship because I tried Impossible one day and I thought, “Wow, I would have that over a beef burger.” And if making plant-based food is possible, then it’s just a matter of growing it to scale and developing the technology further.
I: Do you eat more plant-based now?
Timo: Absolutely. I love meat but I can balance it out with plant-based meat now.
Andre: There are more options and more places serving better options too, now. Maybe two years ago, you would have barely any choices, but even TiNDLE is in close to 70 restaurants in Singapore already, and TiNDLE only launched a few months ago! So, yes, I am already covered for beef and chicken, and I look for oat milk instead of dairy milk. But I’m not replacing anything if my palette is not satisfied. The good news is that it is satisfied most of the time!
The TiNDLE Parmigiana: simply a mindblowing chicken experience.
I: Do you think your intention is that all chicken from birds in the world is replaced by TiNDLE?
Timo: I personally don’t believe in black and white. I don’t believe meat will ever disappear, but I believe there will be a new balance, and that plant-based food will play a significant role there.
Andre: We were just making a comparison with transport: people still travel on horses, either because of what they can access or as a hobby, and we see the same thing in food. We do expect people will start eating more plant-based food in the week, like I was saying I’ve been switching, but it doesn’t have to be everyone and at all times. Sometimes I’ll get sashimi, and I don’t have a plant-based option for that yet. With chicken too, it’s a question of whether it will be one, 10, or 50 percent consumption change, maybe more, but I don’t see it at a 100 percent. There will always be people, even if some people are raising hens and chickens in their own backyard, that will keep eating chicken from birds. But we can offer everyone else a TiNDLE meal.
I: So is it correct then, that areas of the world that have largely plant-based cuisines already are not the intended audience for plant-based brands like TiNDLE?
Andre: That’s a great point. Our hypothesis, from all our learning of the market, is that our product caters mostly to meat eaters, and perhaps to meat eaters that are trying to reduce their meat consumption for a few different reasons. Not necessarily to vegans and vegetarians. That meat-eating market is very big, and with chicken, China, Brazil, the US, and Europe are our brand’s primary targets, as the largest chicken-consuming markets in the world.
I: Folks, what is one thing that explicitly went wrong in the last one year of setting up the company and launching TiNDLE?
Andre: Oh no, so many things! The fact that we could not travel is just a massive wrong thing in the food industry, but we have tackled it pretty well. Every now and then something happens differently from what we planned: people got news of us before we wanted to tell them in the right way, we had unique issues getting the first product on time to our trade partners, not being able to travel and send samples… I’ll just give you an example: we didn’t have the products on time to do all the tastings for the Singapore launch. It was simply not produced at the factory in Europe yet. We were still waiting for our Halal certificate. But in order to get clients, we needed them to try the product, right? So, John made it in our R&D kitchen in Singapore. He made over 500kg of product in a very small lab bench machine. That is a major ‘wrong’ thing, but it worked out exactly as it had to. People will remember that, the restaurants and chefs, how they got their first TiNDLE product in a Ziploc bag and later in a styrofoam ice cream box.
Timo: I don’t think there is a ‘wrong’. Often, failures are more valuable than successes. It’s very important for us to try things out. Not to try is not okay. That means we have a culture of: failures and mistakes can happen, but we have to learn from them. So when we move on, we are all the better for it.
I: What is the worst advice you each have ever got?
Andre: One! A guy once told me that I should not hire or work with people that are smarter than I am because they will outsmart me and try to take my place. That was probably the worst advice I’ve ever heard.
Timo: I think, the really important thing with all the advice and information out there is to listen to the gut and listen to your intuition. I’m always happy to listen to advice but in the end I make my own decision, and that’s where I see the biggest successes.
I: Chef Adam (Three Buns, Group Executive Chef) was closely involved in the R&D process as well, wasn’t he?
Andre: Yes! Chef Adam is known as one of the burger gods. He already has the best burger in Asia, and it’s my all-time favorite in Singapore. In my previous job, when a plant-based product launched, Three Buns is where people would try it for the first time. One step further, I know how hard it is to convince him to accept products because he is very, very picky with the ingredients that go in his food. He does his own ketchup, it is to that level! So I knew that if Chef Adam liked our product, we would have cracked it and his would be the best place to launch with. I can actually show you pictures he sent us from the first ever burger he made– we took the first generation product in a Ziploc bag to him and he made it into a burger that was just amazing!
Timo: He’s a true pioneer in the plant-based space, like a trendsetter, and opinion leader. And just highly creative. I’ve never seen such interesting takes on burgers, really taking it to the next level. When he got his finger on our first version, the feedback we got and the things we could do, he really showed us how our product could shine. This was impressive, and we’ll never forget that. He made the product shine with his skills. We just create a foundation for the chef and they create their dream dishes. For me this was the biggest insight.
The first dish ever made with TiNDLE. From chicken-in-a-bag to scrumptiously unbelievable burgers, by the one and only Chef Adam, and Singapore gets to eat this all year round!?
I: Are you saying this is the first time he has accepted a product from you to cook with?
Andre: Yeah, he has tested many products in my previous life but he never really got excited with any of them until TiNDLE. We gave him a sample, and he would give us feedback: that’s too salty, or that is going to overpower the balance of the dish. We would tweak the product from each piece of feedback. I remember he told us, ‘the product is great by itself but when I add sauce it becomes too salty so, just hold back on salt.’ That actually helped us make TiNDLE more versatile, because now it can go in curries too, without overpowering them! It made TiNDLE healthier too.
I: Thanks for this walk through the TiNDLE journey, Timo and Andre. To end; what is your favourite TiNDLE dish?
Timo: Okay, that is genuinely very difficult. But let’s say, for this week it’s….. The Big Cease from Three Buns.
Andre: I refuse to say! No, seriously, I just look at the restaurant for the day. If I want to have Japanese Katsu Curry, I will absolutely have it at Prive; if I want Indian, I’m going to Adda or to Fennel… the best thing is I always have a TiNDLE restaurant near me.