Andre Menezes: Co-Founder & CEO of Next Gen Foods and TiNDLE
Andre Menezes & TiNDLE broke a record for plant-based meat companies when they raised $100 million in Series A funding.
Tindle makes a plant-based chicken alternative that’s sold around the world and championed by world-class chefs and fast-food chains alike.
But more importantly, Andre’s personal journey took him from working directly in the meat industry for many years to realizing the problems with that industry and why plant-based meat alternatives are the future of “meat”.
Full Unedited Audio Conversation:
If you enjoy the show, please rate it 5 stars on Apple Podcasts, subscribe, and leave a nice review!
Why Tindle Use The Word Chicken on Purpose
*1:37 – “We get a lot of questions like ‘Why do we even call it chicken?’ And so on. But the reason why we do that; it’s on purpose, we are trying to make people understand and believe and challenge the paradigm that what you love about chicken as food, it’s not the fact that it comes from birds. What I love about chicken as an ingredient, it’s the texture, the taste and everything you can deal with. And if you think about it, all of us meat lovers who love chicken as an experience, we don’t really like the way it’s produced, but we shut our eyes and we don’t want to see it. We love that ingredient. So by using the word chicken, we’re basically celebrating those aspects of the ingredient and being very clear, though, that we do that without the birds basically separating that chain.”
3:16 – (Ross) “I think that these terms like chicken, beef, meat in general, they’re going to take on different meanings because at the end of the day, it’s not that you killed an animal that is what people love. It is the taste of something. It is the perceived health benefits of something. Because if I’m a meat eater and I eat chicken, I do it because I want protein and I want to build muscle for cheap. I want to feed my family. I do it because it tastes good. And I like the texture. All of those things that you describe. That’s what we actually love. I doubt that there is anybody, other than a truly sick freak, on this planet who actually enjoys the fact that it comes from killing an animal.”
4:12 – “I spent over seven years in the meat industry, everything from production, exports, imports, distribution. And despite being a meat-lover and doing business, I realized that every time I was visiting a slaughterhouse, which I had to do obviously plenty right, I felt like I didn’t crave meat, the meat that I love. I was not craving it for the next few days, right? I never became a vegetarian on that occasion or visiting a plant, but to me it started just being a point like something’s wrong. When I visit a cookie factory, a pizza factory; I crave that cookie, I want to take it off the line. When I go to a slaughterhouse, it doesn’t matter how much I love meat, I just feel like I don’t want to eat it. That smell, that everything that comes with it, you don’t want it. And to me, this is when I realize how we separate everything you just described the nutritional, the benefits, the taste, the texture from the way it’s produced. And then the question becomes, is there a better way?”
5:10 – “I’m a car guy. So a similar story – you want to move from A to B, right? It doesn’t mean it needs to be on a horse if you have a better option. We forget the fact that until, like, I’m here in Chicago, as I told you, 1800, late-1800s, the streets were full of manure from horses pulling carriages around and people would not give up horses, obviously, because that was what transportation was about. Motorcycles and cars came and evolved and took this off. That’s the same thing. We believe it’s happening right now for food.”
7:58 – “If you look at everything, the way we communicate and the way we’re positioned and the way we serve the product, the product performance, it’s never about pushing you as a consumer to a guilty trip. That’s not what we want. It does not work. Food is enjoyment, it’s emotional, it’s social, it’s so intimate. And then times it’s the best moment of your day. You stop to have a great meal with someone you love when you’re travelling. Those are part of the travelling memories and that’s the bar that we need to perform as a sector. You know, without the animals.”
Pulling People Towards, Rather Than Pushing Them Away
*9:24 – (Ross) “Anybody who has ever tried to convince anybody ever to be vegan or vegetarian has an impossible time of it. It’s almost impossible to do because people associate these moments with the best moments of their life. Barbecuing with my family is the most enjoyable thing for me in the summer. I’ve had a rough day. I want a good meal. These are really, really powerful moments of joy in our day, in our year. Thanksgiving, a ritual. Christmas, a ritual. These are beautiful moments. And when you tell somebody we shouldn’t do this anymore, the message that they receive in my experience is ‘I’m going to remove joy from your life. I’m going to make your life miserable and I’m going to take away the very things that make you human.’ That’s why I think what you have done is so profound because A) you’re focusing on pulling people towards something instead of pushing them away from it, which I totally agree with. But it’s also profound because you have built a very large business. You have hit all of the metrics of a successful start-up or new venture doing something that is also good. And I feel that a lot of people separate that too. It’s ‘I just want to make the most money I possibly can. Who cares how I make it?’ And you said, ‘No, we can do both. We can build a successful company around something that is also better.’”
11:48 – “There is this false dilemma between, as you said, you either do something sustainable or you do something profitable and that may be caused by real short term pain points, because if you’re starting something new that’s more sustainable, a new way of doing it, the scale is not there yet. It’s likely that’s not going to be profitable, obviously. But fundamentally what we’re doing is using much less resources than the meat industry using animal would. So in the long term, if you put it side by side, scale by scale, we are making something that can be potentially cheaper, more profitable, better and bigger. That’s as simple as that. So to me, sustainability is not about just doing something that is more expensive, it’s about utilizing less resources. As long as resources are not for free, and usually they’re not, that also tends to be economically more feasible.”
15:41 – (Ross) “I did full-on total vegan for a couple of years and I had this awakening myself. I thought, ‘Oh, when people realize the truth, they’re going to be so excited to jump on board.’ And then I quickly learned that that was not the case. I’ll tell my friends and I’ll tell my family. They’re going to be so excited to do that. Nobody cared at all. And then I learned, okay, that doesn’t work. So I stopped trying. Like so many people, I just stopped telling people about it. And then if somebody would ask, I would explain but that was where we ended up. But I have noticed that through that behavioral change over the years, people around me would start saying things to me like, ‘I eat vegetarian meals sometimes, or sometimes I eat vegan dinners.’ And I was thinking, That’s it! That’s exactly the change. If they can go to Veggie Grill just one day and have a Tindle chicken sandwich instead of the one next door, that’s progress.”
24:06 – (Ross) “As somebody who hasn’t bought any meat or chicken or beef for over ten years, sometimes I am shocked to see how cheap it actually is because here in the United States, you can get – I’m being a bit facetious – 10 pounds of chicken for $1.66, you get a giant thing of chicken for under $2. And the same thing as an individually plastic wrapped, tiny single serving of whatever Beyond Meat or Impossible; it’s just so much more expensive. And that is an unfortunate bar that has not yet been met because for many people who are just struggling to get by, who don’t have a lot of extra income or wealth, they say, ‘Yeah, I might be interested in this, but this other thing is just so much cheaper and I can feed my family so much better with it,’ that we haven’t yet reached this equilibrium where the efficiency and the cheapness of products on the input side of the artificial meat matches the cheapness of purchasing the products for actual meat.”
How Can Plant-Based Be Cheaper Than It Is Today
*27:31 – “The other side is then how can plant-based be cheaper than it is today? And it’s still obviously, as I said, more expensive despite having already reduced so much. And here is where scale plays a very strong part. Fundamentally, it’s more efficient to produce it. But the company I used to work with was 8 million birds a day. You can dilute every single cost you can imagine in 8 million birds a day, there’s no problem. Whereas if you are doing a plant based a tiny, tiny amount, everything is not diluted so the cost is higher due to the scale not being optimized, simply a matter of volume coming out that’s going to come down. There is a bit of a, no pun intended, chicken and egg here. Volume drives prices, prices drives volume but I’m very confident that this is going to happen as well as the meat prices are going to come up, as they are. It’s already happened. If you look at the Netherlands, meat became more expensive than plant based for the first time.”
36:41 – “There were, to your point, many, many challenges from COVID-related challenges to how do we scale up? How do we do line trials without being able to travel? We were in Singapore, the productions in the Netherlands, we couldn’t travel. How do we do line trials? Everything on video conference? It’s not easy, right? And we’re able to do that. How do we hire remotely? How do you raise funds without seeing anyone in person? Like how do we get people to taste the product sitting in the middle of like – we’re not a continent. If we cannot travel, and shipping food, frozen food, around, it’s not something straightforward. And if you’re carrying in a hand bag, it’s easy to bring some samples, which is how people would do before. But for our case we couldn’t. We have basically to do an export process for every single sampling we’re doing. I mean, the list is just crazy and we’re very proud of all the challenges we went through…It’s our ability to go through them and navigate and adjust and move on that, I think, defines who we are.”
41:22 – “I think the world would be a much better place if everyone had achieved the minimum level of the basic needs being addressed in a way that…you still have access to education and health care and you can have a decent life…I do feel that if everyone had all of those basic needs met and you see through your point, smart people and very successful financial people, usually they go through that and whatever number the number is, they start taking care of bigger missions, right? So how do I impact more people? How do I leave a legacy? How do I leave a better planet than it was when I started? And then you become effectively less self-centric or egocentric and you start looking at a broader impact…I would hope the world would just be a better place, because then you were worried about bigger things and very likely that when you do bigger things, you actually get more money.”
45:19 – “We started from a perspective like we want to build a global leading player as fast as possible, learning from all of our past and the industry, meat and tech industry or whatever. How can we make a global leading company at the fastest possible way? And hopefully if this industry of plant based grows over that 1.4 trillion industry a year, that is the meat industry, we want to be one of the relevant players on the other side, right? And be one accelerating that transition, but also becoming a relevant player.”
46:27 – (Ross) “If you think about capitalism versus communism, right, in theory in communism, we’ll all help each other out. But people say, oh, it’s more likely that they go after their own best interest. And that’s why capitalism kind of won out in the West. We tend to care about our own well-being and our own family and our own best interests first, even though we should care about you and your children and all of those other things, we don’t as a society. And I love, love, love the idea that there is a really smart business person out there who maybe doesn’t even philosophically care, who’s not altruistic or doesn’t morally care, but that they do these kinds of things that are good for the planet from a business perspective. Now, the ideal person would be somebody who thinks about philosophy and morals and ethics and reaches these conclusions from that perspective. But if there’s somebody else who’s really smart and good at business, who does it because they say, ‘I can raise $100 million doing this because that’s where the world is headed, even though I don’t care,’ I’ll take it. I’ll take that. Because if more people do that, the world is going to change in a positive way.”