The Live Green Co. wanted to make a healthier and more sustainable plant-based ice cream.
So company founders Priyanka Srinivas and Sasikanth Chemalamudi looked at the ingredients labels for other plant-based ice creams on the market. They put their ingredients through Charaka, the algorithm they developed that helps replace animal-based, synthetic, processed, unsustainable and unhealthy ingredients with more natural ones. Then they used the suggestions from Charaka — which included bananas, avocado and flaxseed — and made their own ice cream. Srinvanas described Live Green's ice cream as having a taste and texture very similar to premium dairy ice cream, but with less than 3% added sugars, and around 20 grams of protein and 7% fiber per pint. It's currently available in several grocery stores in Live Green's home country of Chile.
But Live Green isn't trying to sell ice cream — or plant-based burger or pancake or drink mixes, which the company also has on the market in Chile. It wants to sell technology — namely, use of the Charaka algorithm to help companies improve their products' ingredient lists, nutritional qualities and sustainability.
"We view the CPG arm basically to validate the outcome of Charaka and to show commercial viability of the product," said Srinivas, company CEO.
Live Green's mission is to help larger CPG companies make improvements to their ingredients using its algorithm. Chemalamudi, who is the chief operating officer, said this is the best way that it can make a difference in more products being sold worldwide. And in order to convince manufacturers that this algorithm actually can improve ice cream, it helps to have some of that product to see and taste.
"We view the CPG arm basically to validate the outcome of Charaka and to show commercial viability of the product."
Co-founder and CEO, The Live Green Co.
But not only are the products potentially convincing consumers and manufacturers, they're also convincing funders. In April, Mexico-based multinational food company Sigma Ailmentos took a minority stake in the company. The Live Green Co. had been a participant in Sigma's first accelerator class, during which the company pilot tested the Charaka algorithm on one of the Mexican company's products. Srinivas said Sigma was very happy with the result. According to Bloomberg, through the minority stake, Sigma will bring Live Green’s products to its 18 internatonal markets, hoping to attract more Charaka licensees.
The Live Green Co. has its eyes on becoming a global force.The company has participated in three other international accelerator programs, and its $1 million seed round of funding came from investors in Chile, Argentina, Mexico and the United States.
A blend of tradition and science
The Charaka algorithm leverages science and chemistry to reformulate products. But it also uses something fairly unique: ancestral wisdom.
Considering the algorithm's name, this makes sense. In Indian culture, Charaka is known as the father of Ayurvedic tradition. Ayurveda is the subcontinent's cultural ancestral knowledge of holistic, natural healing through plants.
"He's the one who started modernizing it," Chemalamudi said. "Before that, it was more passed on verbally from generation to generation. He started documenting it, and from then on, now we have more than 25,000 different plants we should be using."
Information about plants used for different purposes through Ayurvedic tradition has been added to the Charaka algorithm. The Live Green Co. also included plant information from other ancestral traditions. Chemalamudi said that ancestral knowledge about plants goes deep and spans a wealth of species that might not be currently used in mass production of food. These plants have been used for generations and their functions and benefits have been proven, he said. The Charaka algorithm also has information from Chinese herbology as well as Japanese and Korean traditions.
But it's not just traditional ancestral wisdom in Charaka. The algorithm also goes deep into the food science of these different plants, looking at taste, functional, chemical and sensory data. Chemalamudi said there are currently more than 15,000 plants in Charaka, and there are about half a million data points represented.
"That is why we say we are blending ancestral wisdoms with modern science," Chemalamudi said.
The Charaka algorithm also uses machine learning, which helps build on those data points by adding information on other plants that may be similar and also be good substitutes for some of the less desirable ingredients.
The Live Green Co. isn't the only food company to use an algorithm to help with formulations, but Charaka has another unique aspect. While the algorithms used by companies including NotCo and Eat Just help them reformulate animal-based products with plants, Charaka goes a step further.
"Charaka's focus is not just on replacing the animal ingredients but also on replacing other additives. That is a major difference," Chemalamudi said. "...The idea is to bring in a paradigm shift from plant-based or plant-made to plant-only, so that we all focus also on health and sustainability, and not just on meat replacement."
Srinivas added that many consumers of plant-based foods classify themselves as flexitarians, meaning they will also buy some items sourced from animals. So instead of spending all of their efforts on replicating animal products, The Live Green Co. is also interested in getting into the foods that are traditionally ultra-processed, she said. The goal is to make those items healthier, tastier and more sustainable — as well as more clean label.
"Their [flexitarian consumers'] reason for shifting to a plant-based diet is how healthy is it, what are the benefits like?" Srinivas said. "And that's the reason why for the flexitarian consumers, this is the solution — which is clean label functional ingredients, and the whole reformulation of making things better."
While Charaka has shown success in tests and The Live Green Co.'s CPG offerings, the algorithm is going to be getting more market exposure very soon.
The company is in late-stage conversations with a Mexican producer for a launch of reformulated ice cream, which would bear "Powered by Charaka" on its label, Srinivas said. Chemalamudi added that this agreement, plus some others that are in the works, are being facilitated through The Live Green Co.'s relationship with Sigma, though no additional details could be shared.
"The idea is to bring in a paradigm shift from plant-based or plant-made to plant-only, so that we all focus also on health and sustainability, and not just on meat replacement."
Co-founder and COO, The Live Green Co.
Srinivas said the company's performance in accelerators and industry startup competitions — and funding — has also helped generate interest. She's had some "very, very interesting conversations" with both global ingredient and CPG companies. The Live Green Co. is very open to collaboration, and Srinvanas said major players see it as a new and non-disrupting solution to reformulation challenges. The company plans to announce more partnerships and new funding as well as expanding into new geographies and adding more people to the R&D and tech teams.
In the meantime, The Live Green Co. is going to keep doing what it started: using Charaka to develop healthier substitutes for common product lines. Chemalamudi said the company has identified about 30 basic product lines ranging from snacks to dairy alternatives that are consumed in large quantities around the world and could use plant-based, clean-label health upgrades. It is planning to develop them all and put them out to consumers to see what happens.
"The idea is called the 30 product line," he said. "Use Charaka and make them tastier, healthier and more sustainable."