Despite the proliferation of plant-based meat products in U.S. grocery stores and restaurants, many consumers have a preconceived notion that none of them are going to taste good, said Next Gen Foods CEO and co-founder Andre Menezes.
So to first launch the company’s Tindle plant-based chicken product to consumers, Menezes said they’re taking a unique approach by elevating the product.
Starting today, consumers in the U.S. can buy Tindle in meal kits curated by celebrity chef Chad Rosenthal. The kits are available direct-to-consumer through Goldbelly.
“How do we show consumers that this is very tasty, delicious, but also can be elevated into a real culinary experience that you could enjoy, invite your friends?” Menezes said. “...Have an amazing gathering with food that's easy to prepare, delicious and sustainable, that's elevating the experience of plant-based, which has been lacking.”
The consumer launch — taking place today both in Germany and the U.S. — is one of the largest the plant-based meat segment has seen, Menezes said.
Because the United States has a higher-end meal kit infrastructure and the consumer base for a curated restaurant-style plant-based option, Menezes said Next Gen Foods decided it was the best venue to launch Tindle to consumers. The company is eyeing a more traditional retail launch later this year.
The options available through Goldbelly include a Tindle Buffalo Chicken Tenders Wrap Kit, a Tindle Chicken Sandwich Kit and a Tindle Sweet Honey BBQ Chicken Wings Kit, featuring a barbecue sauce made with MeliBio’s plant-based honey.
Tindle takes over
Next Gen Foods hasn’t even existed for three years, but has already seen runaway success for its Tindle chicken analog.
The Singapore-based company was started in 2020 by Menezes, previously the general manager of Country Foods Singapore, and Timo Recker, creator of Germany’s plant-based LikeMeat brand, which was bought by The Live Kindly Collective.
Next Gen broke fundraising records twice — first with its $10 million seed round, the largest at that point for such an early stage plant-based company, then with its $100 million Series A round last year.
The company entered U.S. restaurants early last year, with Tindle first appearing in a dozen eateries nationwide — part of a small handful of restaurants in Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau, Kuala Lumpur, the United Arab Emirates and Amsterdam that carried the chicken analog. Early last year, Next Gen Foods was focusing on expanding Tindle to the U.S., U.K. and Germany.
Today, Menezes said, Tindle is available at about 1,500 restaurants worldwide. The U.S., U.K. and Germany represent about 90% of Next Gen Foods’ total sales, he said.
“Consumers are always asking us, ‘Where can I buy it? Which grocery can I order it from?’” Menezes said. “We were always only restaurant, right? So we decided it's now time to go for the retail. And we're focusing on these three markets for 2023.”
Tindle has more traditional launches in its near-term plans in the U.K. and Germany. In the U.K., products were available in Morrisons stores earlier this month to commemorate Veganuary.
In Germany, six varieties of Tindle products are hitting shelves at about 6,000 Edeka and Netto stores starting today.
Menezes said that in the U.S., they weren’t interested in another plant-based chicken launch that consumers would just toss into an air fryer and eat like ordinary frozen chicken nuggets or tenders. A chef-curated offering here, Menezes said, will help achieve the same level of consumer consciousness the company has in Europe, where plant-based meats are a bit more accepted. Besides, it’s also a more unique product for Goldbelly, which helps it stand out.
Ramping up production
All Tindle products that are available for consumers are frozen premade options, Menezes said, not the moldable initial product that was initially made available to chefs. That type of product allowed chefs to do “crazy, innovative” things like putting the dough into a waffle iron and running it through a pasta press and turning it into noodles, Menezes said.
Throughout its history, Tindle has been made at a single co-manufacturing plant in the Netherlands. As the company and product lines grow, Menezes said more manufacturing capacity will be needed. Next Gen is currently in negotiations with U.S. contract manufacturers, and Menezes said they are preparing to have everything in place once a U.S.-based manufacturer is needed. This contract will likely be executed later this year.
Next Gen Foods is also the flagship tenant in a new Food Tech Innovation Center in Singapore built by Asia Sustainable Foods Platform and A*STAR. This facility will be Next Gen Foods’ global R&D and innovation center, where the company will devise its new products.
Despite financial issues plaguing other plant-based meat companies and recent sentiments that plant-based meat is nothing but another fad, Tindle is thriving, according to Menezes. After all, Menezes said, the meat industry — from which he came — is known for price and supply fluctuations, and nobody has branded meat a passing fad or said it is a troubled segment.
“I could take the credit and say how amazing we are, but that's more likely to be a reflection of the stage of the industry, combined, obviously, with us bringing good products and having that trust built up on the company level,” Menezes said. “I do think that's only possible because the industry is growing and the perception is moving forward.”