Food tech unicorn NotCo to manufacture plant-based products Down Under

Gazala Anver

Gazala Anver

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NotCo, a Chilean-born, New York-based food-tech unicorn has unveiled plans to establish Australian production facilities next year following a soft release of its plant-based milk, beef and chicken products. 

NotCo’s incursion into Australia’s plant-based meat and dairy products comes just as local competitor Eden Brew raised $6.9 million to launch an animal-free dairy product replicating the natural fermentation process of cow’s milk. 

Speaking to SmartCompany, CEO and founder of NotCo Matias Muchnick says Australia’s demography, particularly the youth, is influencing consumption behaviour towards more sustainable alternatives. 

While meat and dairy are part of Australia’s traditional primary industries, the highest growth demographic, Muchnick notes, are environmentally conscious and are leading the preferences on consumption. 

This is directly reflected in the response NotCo has received since it launched its plant-based milk substitute product NotMilk this month, says Muchnick.

Currently, NotMilk is available in nearly 1000 Woolworths stores across Australia at a price of $5, with NotBurger ($3.75) and NotChicken Nuggets ($8.50) also available at limited Woolworths stores.

In line with NotCo’s environmentally conscious approach, Muchnick tells SmartCompany that the next step, given the positive feedback NotCo has received from Australia, was to open a manufacturing facility in Australia.

This would reduce the need to import NotCo’s products and thereby shrink the company’s carbon footprint. NotCo is currently scouting for suppliers to source raw materials from in Australia and already has local manufacturing facilities in seven out of the 15 countries it operates in. 

Muchnick says while NotCo’s products are available at Australian supermarkets, it is working on partnerships with quick service restaurants and specialty coffee stores. Internationally, NotCo works with big US brands like Burger King, Papa John’s and more recently Shake Shack to offer its plant-based products to customers. 

While NotCo has partnered with Starbucks outside Australia, Muchnick says Australia’s independent, strong coffee culture has meant it’s looking to work closely with local coffee shops and baristas to offer NotMilk as a dairy-free plant-based substitute.

“Baristas are like children – they can’t lie,” Muchnick said. “Either they like the product or don’t. The compliments we’ve had come directly from baristas and that makes us feel we are in very good shape and have something in the market that tastes like milk.”

Like milk, but NotMilk

NotCo has seen success since its founding in early 2016, including a star-studded cast of investors like Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Twitter founder Jack Dorsey, tennis player Roger Federer and Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton. While investor support has been absolutely crucial – Muchnick says Bezos himself had noted how they were doing so much with so little – perhaps the real star is NotCo’s secret weapon: an AI named “Giuseppe”.

“I would say the secret sauce is not only in the formulations but also how we come about those formulations,” he said.  

This is where Giuseppe comes in, helping NotCo create products that mimic what the company wants to replace. That means milk that tastes, looks and froths like milk, but is – crucially – not.

Made from 100 per cent plant-based products, a closer look at the ingredients reveals a surprise. Ingredients like “pineapple juice concentrate” and “cabbage juice concentrate” may never be associated with milk, but Muchnick says that’s where NotCo’s value proposition comes in – AI that studies the molecular structure of animal-based food and replicates it using plant-based ingredients. 

“As humans, we would have had no idea if pineapple and cabbage can be combined to create the taste of milk. Or how a combination of strawberries, tomatoes and peaches combine to taste like chicken.

“It’s not something a group of humans can do or will understand. Our AI is definitely a superpower,” Muchnick said.

The story was originally published on Smart Company.

Gazala Anver

Gazala Anver

Gazala Anver is a technology and startups reporter at SmartCompany.

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