Manuel Bossi will have you know, plant-based food can taste just as delicious as animal versions. As Group CEO of home-grown Growthwell Foods, his mission is to nourish one billion lives with accessible and affordable plant-based alternatives.
The brainchild of Justin Chou, whose father Chou Shih Hsin started the business as a vegetarian food importer in 1988, Growthwell Foods promotes sustainable eating. Among its brands are HAPPIEE!, which offers seafood and meat alternatives made from konjac and soya. Upcoming is the first-ever plant-based milk made exclusively from chickpeas.
By offering good plant-based options, the company feels it can help to reduce the global dependence on meat and seafood. Subsequently, this can lower our impact on the environment.
Research by The Good Food Institute shows that plant-based meat is responsible for 30 to 90 per cent less greenhouse gases than conventional meat. In addition, it uses less land (47 to 99 per cent) and water (72 to 99 per cent). The impact of ditching meat and dairy has even been singled out by scientists as the greatest.
“More people are more willing to make a positive change towards a more sustainable lifestyle if it is within their means,” says Bossi. “We can make it easy for consumers to make that change through our plant-based food options that do not compromise on taste, texture, and price.”
Serious about plant-based meat
Bossi, who joined Growthwell Foods as deputy CEO in 2021, has more than 20 years’ experience in multinational mammoths such as Ferrero and The Hershey Company. A flexitarian, he’s adamant about ensuring its products are just as tasty and hearty as real meat.
Growthwell Foods established an Innovation and R&D Manufacturing Centre at JTC Foodhub Senoko last November to achieve this goal. It houses a fully automated large-scale production line for plant-based products featuring High Moisture Extrusion (HME) — the first by a local SME. By heating plant proteins and then cooling them in thermal-controlled dyes, HME technology recreates the texture of real meat.
“R&D is extremely important. We are constantly experimenting with techniques and ingredients to create new products and improve existing ones,” says Bossi.
For instance, HAPPIEE! products, which are made at the centre, use konjac as their primary ingredient. Growthwell Foods is one of the few companies to create nutritious seafood alternatives with the root vegetable. Konjac is beneficial as it can help lower cholesterol and blood glucose levels.
On the other hand, its new dairy-alternative milk comes from a patented 90 per cent chickpea protein isolate powder. A very sustainable crop, chickpeas contain essential amino acids beneficial to our physical health. As well as using less water to grow, they also replenish the soil.
“We go through countless iterations and conduct taste tests with different groups to ensure that we get the taste and texture right while using natural ingredients,” Bossi shares.
In a strong position for Singapore to contribute towards food security
The Innovation and R&D Manufacturing Centre has various equipment for manufacturing, freezing and packaging capabilities, and enables Growthwell Foods to churn out 4,000 metric tonnes of plant-based products every year. “We can minimise susceptibility to disruptions from food supply chain resources and enhance food security in Singapore,” adds Bossi.
Singapore has established itself as a global leader in food technology related to alternative protein. Being a leading plant-based brand from Singapore gives us that connection, credibility and confidence with international consumers.
With an expanding product range and local production, Growthwell Foods has a strong positioning to contribute to Singapore’s 30 by 30 vision. It calls for 30 per cent of nutritional needs to be produced locally and sustainably by 2030.
Until then, Bossi spends most of his days expanding the business into other parts of the world. Malaysia was the first stop in June, with its HAPPIEE! products now in supermarkets and restaurants. Soon, Europe will follow, thanks to a successful US$22 million (S$30.9 million) Series A funding in September 2021 led by global private equity investment firm Creadev.
Bossi says, “Singapore has established itself as a global leader in food technology related to alternative protein. Being a leading plant-based brand from Singapore gives us that connection, credibility and confidence with international consumers.”
Lastly, what does he stock up on at home from Growthwell Foods? “HAPPIEE! Chickiee Plant-Based Popcorn,” he replies with a smile. “They are a fantastic appetiser and go well with a drink.”