FOOD & BEVERAGE | Staff Reporter, Singapore

Food startup Karana's drive for more sustainable food source

How the innovative startup is turning plant-based foods into delicious meat alternatives.

Thinking of jackfruits as an alternative for meat may sound odd, but turning what was considered an "underdog" of fruits (due to limited export quality) into a delicious meat alternative is the key strategy that food startup Karana applied after extensive research and development.

Before starting the company, founders Dan Riegler (pictured) and Blair Crichton saw a gap in the market for a new generation of plant-based meats that were both minimally processed and had a shorter ingredient list of additives.

According to Reigler, humans currently consume 30 of 150 edible plant species, but only 12 crops make up 75% of what people eat.

“Blair grew up in Hong Kong and I spent the majority of my career in Southeast Asia. We saw market entrants from the West coming in with largely beef-based products in Western formats. These products are great and there is plenty of room for them, but we thought if we really wanted to move the needle in addressing the issues of animal agriculture we needed to do something that was more focused on the meats that are most commonly consumed in Asia. That is why we’ve started with a pork alternative, as it is the number one consumed meat (in Asia),” Reigler explained.

At the start, they faced a lot of challenges. Number one being that ‘vegan’ was sometimes considered a dirty word and a lot of eyebrows were raised at their product. Many industry players grew even more skeptical when they heard that their plant-based alternative centers on the little known jackfruit.

However, Reigler says this is the perfect meat alternative - and is currently being wasted because of its lack of appeal as a fruit.

“Only about 10% of the crop is currently commercialized, and there is limited value added to the end products. We have a huge opportunity to tap into it in a way that value is created across the entire chain, from the farmers, to us, and our end customers in the form of restaurants and retailers,” he explained.

From there, the partners aim was to create "deliciously indulgent" comfort food from whole-plant ingredients-turned meat alternatives.

Food industry experts are also giving Karana's business model their support. The company recently raised more than $2.24m (US$1.7m) in a seed funding round led by Henry Soesanto, CEO of Monde Nissin Corp, Big Idea Ventures, Japanese and Singaporean fund Germi8, as well as Asia-based FMCG distributor Real Tech.

“The plant based space is very hot right now so we are seeing a lot of interest, especially since we are based in Asia Pacific, where there is a huge opportunity, and we are doing something that is quite differentiated from many of the other products in the market,” Reigler said.

Right now, Karana isfocusing on innovation, and seeking more ingredients that are currently under-commercialised or wasted, and turning them into delicious products.

“Karana represents our goal to empower and encourage everyone to take action, however small, to bring more balance back to our food systems. It also represents our commitment to blending innovation and tradition, using technology to improve what we already have available and celebrate food in its natural form,” Reigler said. 

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