Chilean startup: 'Using technology for plant-based food development is going to be huge'

By Kacey Culliney

- Last updated on GMT

Image courtesy of The Not Company
Image courtesy of The Not Company
The Not Company is using an artificial intelligence algorithm to identify suitable ingredients and blends to replace animal-origin products and will soon launch a plant-based milk in Chile.

Founded in 2015, the Chilean food-tech startup already had a plant-based mayonnaise 'Not Mayo' on the market, made from a blend of chickpeas and lupin, and was now primed to roll that out into Brazil, Peru, Colombia and Argentina in November, this year. At the same time, The Not Company will launch its latest plant-based product 'Not Milk', made from a blend of three plant proteins, in its home market Chile.

Mapping molecules: It's what Giuseppe does...

“The thing is, our competitors are the regular milk processors; that's the market we're targeting because our milk is totally different from whatever plant-based milks are out there,” ​said Matias Muchnick, CEO and founder of The Not Company.

“We don't compare ourselves with soy milk or almond milk because our milk actually tastes and functions like milk – it blends; it foams; it makes everything that actual milk does – and it's going to be sold basically at the same price-point as regular milk, which is a huge difference to the other milks,” ​Muchnick told FoodNavigator-LATAM.

NotMayoSqueeze_mitades con logo
Image courtesy of The Not Company

The Not Company had identified three suitable proteins for the milk replacement using its machine learning computer software 'Giuseppe' – an artificial intelligence algorithm that identified the patterns of food at a molecular level to develop combinations for desired flavors and textures. The company now had 7,000 non-animal origin ingredients mapped out, including plants, fruit, vegetables, protein isolates, flavor molecules and aromas.

Once prototypes were developed, Muchnick said trained panel tasting then provided organoleptic feedback that Giuseppe stored and aligned with the relevant ingredients for future blend predictions.

“Giuseppe is being developed every single day, all day. It's an algorithm that's constantly being trained to discover new patterns between the molecular components in food and the human perception of taste, texture, color and smell.”

He said regular food research and development was “very inefficient” ​because it was based on human knowledge with no “elaborated knowledge” ​behind it. In an era where technology could do “pretty much whatever you want”,​ he said food and beverage developers had to start using it.

'The only way to get rid of human bias was to generate an algorithm'

This was especially true for plant-based R&D, Muchnick said, because of the roughly half a million plant species on the planet, only a fraction were being used in food and drinks.

“We only explore a bunch of them – soy, processed sugars, corn, wheat – just a handful of plants,” ​he said. “I thought the only way to get rid of human bias was to generate an algorithm to suggest ingredients, rather than a human.”

“...Using technology for plant-based food development is going to be huge, huge, huge, huge. I mean, what we have today wasn't even thought of two years ago and technology is being developed so fast today that changes are going to be just across the street.”

Not Milk Bottle
Image courtesy of The Not Company

'Not Milk' would be sold in the chiller next to regular milk in Chile, just like the Not Mayo held prime position next to Hellman's Mayonnaise. The plant-based milk matched regular milk in bioavailable calcium levels and contained one-third of the sugars. “It's going to be a replacement, not an alternative,”​  Muchnick said.

Taking the animal “out of the equation”, ​he said, was the “best way to go” ​for sustainability and human health -“the way we're doing food today is basically crazy”.

Muchnick said The Not Company hoped to change that, and in the next five years wanted to be “top of mind”​ for dairy alternatives and animal product replacements across the globe.

“We're building a global company and targeting the US market in 2019. We have pretty ambitious plans and we want this company to be the future of food,” ​he said.

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