Podcast #17: Haofood Co-Founder and CEO Astrid Prajogo speaks with Andrew D. Ive from Big Idea Ventures about starting a company producing chicken alternatives from peanuts.

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SUMMARY KEYWORDS

peanut, astrid, china, chicken, restaurants, hao, food, plant based, product, meat, eat, shanghai, ingredients, people, chinese, linkedin, protein, consumers, format, chef

SPEAKERS

Andrew D Ive, Astrid Prajogo

 

Astrid Prajogo  

Hi, this is Andrew from the Big Idea podcast focused on food. Today we’re going to be talking to Astrid, the CEO and founder of Hao Food spelt, HAO Food from China. They’re creating a solid white chicken piece made from peanuts. Really interesting company. Interesting product. Let’s get into a conversation with them and find out how they will be changing the world.

 

Andrew D Ive  

Okay, hello Asterid from HAO Food? How are you? 

 

Astrid Prajogo  

I’m very well, thank you so much, Andrew, how about you? How are you doing there?

 

Andrew D Ive  

We are doing very well. The US is doing well. Where are you today? 

 

Astrid Prajogo  

I’m calling from Shanghai. 

 

Andrew D Ive  

Okay, fantastic. So one of many great companies coming out of Asia, really great to speak to you. So today is going to be a discussion, we’re going to talk all about Hao Food, how you got the company started. What’s the motivation for that? Some of the interesting things that have happened along the way. So why don’t you start by telling us about you and about Hao Food so that people can understand more? And that’s Hao Foods spelled Hao And then food? Correct?

 

Astrid Prajogo  

Correct? Hao Food is actually a food science and technology startup from Shanghai, that makes alternative chicken protein. This nutritious plant based chicken from peanut is our first innovation. Hao Food actually stands for hao and food in Chinese means good food. But what does it mean by have a good food for us? A good food means food that is safe, tasty, nutritious, and sustainable at the same time.

 

Andrew D Ive  

Now the microphone on my end made a jump when you were telling us exactly what the product was. So tell me. Yeah, tell me again, what the what the actual food is and then we can continue the discussion.

 

Astrid Prajogo  

Sure. So how could this Hao Food is food science and technology startup from Shanghai that makes alternative chicken protein, nd our first innovation is a tasty and nutritious plant based chicken from peanuts.

 

Andrew D Ive  

Okay, so plant based chicken from peanut perfect and when you say plant based chicken does this look like a chicken breast? Does it look like a chicken tender or a leg? Or you know what’s the format once it’s manufactured?

 

Astrid Prajogo  

Yeah. So we are trying to mimic the chicken breast. We come in several different format. The first format is in pate, this big thick chunk of pate amounted 113 grams, so it’s very fulfilling to eat one and then we also come in several different shapes from chicken thighs, chicken fingers, chicken meat balls and chicken nuggets at the same time.

 

Andrew D Ive  

Okay, so nice, big chunky pieces of plant based chicken and you said they are made from peanut. I’ve never actually met a company before that’s making in a plant based meat from peanut. How does that work?

 

Astrid Prajogo  

Yeah, so we are in Shanghai. During our first day of devlopment we went to the market by sending samples to chefs and foodies. We asked them what do they like and what don’t they like about plant based meat? In China the plant based meats are based on soybean. It has taste, texture, aroma and experience that reminds consumer of tofu. At first we don’t understand it as well. Plant based meat is tofu. But then we realized that the Chinese palate has a very deep memory on the taste of soybean because we eat tofu every day, three times a day and consumers really really expect to get a very different kind of experience from plant based meat.  Because we’re so used to tofu already. So we had to be more creative to find a way, with the right ingredients, that are available locally in China and that can be transformed to a plant based meat and give a very tasty experience as well. Being tasty is extremely important in China, because Chinese palate is also very demanding, very sensitive, very complex. So they demand food must be very, very tasty.  So we really had to find a way to get the right ingredients for this. We tested so many types of ingredients and then we realised that plant based meat from peanut tastes better. And from our testing we found that our consumers loved it. So we decided to go with peanuts as the chief ingredient. 

 

Andrew D Ive  

Got it. So tofu is such a common ingredient in Chinese food that by making plant based meat out of soy was too similar. What made you choose peanuts? Is it particularly available in China? I didn’t realize peanuts were so available in China and how did you discover it as an ingredient source for this particular format?

 

Astrid Prajogo  

Well, actually, we tried many types of protein but then, my partner Professor Hsu, he’s a local Chinese food scientist, very senior, he actually comes from shangdong, it is the biggest agricultural area in China and he grew up with peanuts. One day he said to me “Oh my god, Astrid we can make great products from peanuts”. Let’s try using peanuts and it matched very well with the Asian cuisine actually, especially because in China, we use lots of peanut oil in our cooking. So our plant based meat being made from peanuts worked really well.

 

Andrew D Ive  

Got it. So if you’re cooking, because you’re frying and cooking with peanut oil, people are used to meats having that slight peanut taste. So by making the plant based meat out of peanut, it’s an expected part of the taste. It’s an expected part of the complexity of the taste of meat.

 

Astrid Prajogo  

Correct. It gives a more meaty taste and a more meaty taste means a bolder taste as well. And it’s more umami because peanuts have some very high glutamine and aspartic acid that enables to impact their own umami flavor. The base is bold, and the base is heavy. It’s more meaty.

 

Andrew D Ive  

So take me from picking a peanut. I don’t know do you pick peanuts? I actually know very, very little about peanuts. How do you go from peanuts to plant based chicken? How does that work?

 

Astrid Prajogo  

It is actually very easy. So in China, peanut oil is the second or the third largest type of cooking oil used. The industry is actually just taking the oil and threwing away the protein from that peanut butter. So we kept the protein, we processed that again with extrusion and then we transformed that into our plant based chicken.

 

Andrew D Ive  

So how do you collect the protein from the oil producers?

 

Astrid Prajogo  

So we buy that from the oil producer. There’s the product producer that makes oil and peanut protein at the same time so we buy that from them. 

 

Andrew D Ive  

Okay understood. So you take the peanut protein, that remains from the oil processing, and then you take that protein and you form it, do you add other ingredients to change the overall taste or texture or any of those things?

 

Astrid Prajogo  

Yes, of course. Right now we are using nine different ingredients, the major one of course being water and then after that peanuts we are also using corn oil, and then foreign oil, and flaxseed oil and then we’re using binders and then finally Also using the freaking chicken fleet free. That’s all the ingredients that we’re using. 

 

Andrew D Ive  

So nice and simple in terms of manufacturing. It doesn’t sound like you’re putting lots of chemicals and lots of different things in it to achieve that product.

 

Astrid Prajogo  

Well we still need to use enhancements, like to bind all of the product together. Whether we like it or not, we still need to use that but the ingredients that we’re using are actually already very simple and minimalist. If we really really need it, then we put it in, otherwise, we dont.

 

Andrew D Ive  

Yeah, so if you don’t absolutely need it, you don’t put it in there. But I mean, you talk to me about flaxseed oil, peanut, water, you mentioned another kind of oil, and then a binder s, apart from the binder, all of it is what you would get from a farm or what you would get from a manufacturer or from a normal agricultural process.

 

Astrid Prajogo  

Certainly, it’s all simple ingredients. That is we are already very close to every day ingredients that we use every day in our kitchen.

 

Andrew D Ive  

Perfect. Okay, so how long ago did Hao Food start?

 

Astrid Prajogo  

We were born last year, actually, in the midst of the pandemic in April 2020. We were born and then within a year, we managed to have our first launch in the market. We had our launch in Shanghai restaurants all across Shanghai last March 2021 and today, we are already available at 20 different restaurants in Shanghai.

 

Andrew D Ive  

So this is your company. You started it. What made you want to do this….

 

Astrid Prajogo  

I’m a foodie Andrew, I’m a hardcore foodie, I love food so much but I know that the way they do it today, I might lose my happiness for food because it’s just too much for us, and it’s not really sustainable. So being selfish, I want to sustain my happiness from food forever. So I think we just need to change the way we eat and let’s start it with ourselves. Let’s not pinpointing everyone, then let’s just start it from ourselves. That’s from me.  But another side is also from my daughter. So when my daughter was a little girl, nine years old, we were having a very beautiful dinner. I remember it very clearly that it was in Hong Kong and she suddenly said, mum, mum, I’m not gonna eat this beef soup anymore because that is my friend that I’m eating. So and then from that place from that point until today, she became a vegetarian and I had quite a hard time, as a mother handling a case where my daughter suddenly wants to become a vegetarian overnight but she keeps crying because she is missing her comfort food. And I cannot handle it. So I thought this plant based meat is a great idea because it will enable us to reduce meat intake easily, comfortably. So yeah, I just, I just fall in love with this Andrew.

 

Andrew D Ive  

So I really appreciate that you changed, you became a mother looking for a solution for a daughter who had decided not to eat meat? Because, you know, she felt that these animals were her friends. You could have just said no, you could have just said you’re eating them. You could have just said you’re eating the meat. That’s what we do. That’s what the family does. That’s what everybody does. You know, you have to continue eating meat.

 

Astrid Prajogo  

There’s no school for parenting. Usually we do parenting by the tradition that was passed down to us but, if you keep doing that, then I think we will not break from the unwholesome traditions. Not every tradition is a wholesome tradition. So I think when my daughter said that she wanted to give up meat because animals were her friends, I think that was very positive. I would have to question myself if I forbid my daughter at that time for doing the right thing and as a parent, I thought I should support her in that intention.

 

Andrew D Ive  

I absolutely agree with you. I think it’s wonderful. Did it change how you eat and how you see food?

 

Astrid Prajogo  

Of course, totally. The way we now think is that the only way for us to keep our health is to eat healthy food from a healthy planet. That’s how I see food right now, as long as our planet is our lamb is not so good, then we forget about the quality of food that we’re eating.

 

Andrew D Ive  

Perfect. Okay, so the company is only a year or so old. You’ve already launched it in Shanghai, you’re in, I think you mentioned just over 20 restaurants, how are people responding to your peanut based chicken…

 

Astrid Prajogo  

We have had a very good response. We’re very glad that we get a very, very good response, especially when we cook our product in Chinese food. Then restaurants who cooks our product as Chinese cooks, as Chinese cuisine, they are just like wow….. I’m very glad to see people enjoying our meat.  So there was an event around a month ago, where we make a Chef’s Table and invited lots of people. One of the chefs was cooking chicken tikka the Indian food. That night, there was one consumer who went back to the kitchen and said tell the chef, I’m not gonna eat chicken, you asked for my input but this is a chicken, and I am not going to eat it. So someone thought that it was a real chicken and she cannot eat it because she thought it was too real looking like chicken.

 

Andrew D Ive  

How did you get the restaurants to take your product? When this is not a normal type of cuisine in China and plant based meat, plant based chicken is still a growing, very quickly growing, but still very small category in China. Right?

 

Astrid Prajogo  

Correct. I am a foodie so I always enjoy eating in a restaurant. When I eat in a restaurant, I spend my time building a connection with the restaurant people, build the connection with the chef and so on. So we entered the market, not from professional perspective, but from personal perspective and then from there, once we got several restaurants that accepted us, then we started getting known by word of mouth and then we started getting feedback from consumers. Restaurants started picking us up and it kept on rolling like that. So no secret actually no sophisticated secret, no sophisticated strategy. We just do. I was just doing it from a very personal level.

 

Andrew D Ive  

So you would sit down in a restaurant, you’d order a meal, you’d start talking to the servers and eventually maybe talk to the chef. And you’d talk to them about what you did and it would just go from there. Does that happen every time you go into a restaurant now or do your friends and your family say Astrid this time just eat the meal and don’t try and tell them about your product.

 

Astrid Prajogo  

My very favorite part of the restaurant experience is when I sit at the open kitchen and talk with the chef, probably the sous chef. I see what are they doing, I think it’s just so beautiful. It’s still the same today and I think my husband knows when we go to a restaurant, that I will chatter to the chef if I can. 

 

Andrew D Ive  

That’s part of your experience with your husband. Okay. So it’s available in 20 restaurants, are they all doing the same style of food? Is it mostly Chinese style or  some of them using it in different types of food?

 

Astrid Prajogo  

It’s quite fair, I would say there are some that are using it in western application, some that are using it in Chinese applications, even Indian applications, but most of them are using it in, I would say, the Cosmopolitan application.

 

Andrew D Ive  

Okay. Now obviously in the United States, there are consumers who are allergic to peanuts. So does that mean that you won’t be coming to the United States? or would you try to come to the United States with a different protein source or it really doesn’t matter right now, because China is such a huge market that it might take you 10 years to get here anyway, before you completely cover China?

 

Astrid Prajogo  

Yes, indeed, China is a very huge market but talking about the United States, it would be avery interesting place for us to go, because United States is definitely on a different level already compared to any other part of the world. We understand that there are many people who are allergic to peanuts, but as long as we always communicate clearly, hey, this fan base chicken is made from peanut, the key ingredient is peanut, so it is actually up to the consumer to decide whether they want to take it or not.  Because we already give information about that and actually, when we talk about allergies, some people are also allergic towards soy. There’s always an allergy towards something. So I think if we can give more variety, I think it will be more fun for people to to travel from one product to another, and so on. I think at the end of the day, it enriches their options.

 

Andrew D Ive  

The one thing I would say is when Hao Foods becomes one of the most popular plant based companies in China, you need to make sure they put on the menu maybe a special logo or something that lets people know that it’s Hao Foods peanut, because I know that there will be American vegans and vegetarians when they come to China who will eventually want to try your food and if they don’t realize that it’s peanut then that could be quite interesting for the restaurant.

 

Astrid Prajogo  

It is part of branding, but at the same time, it’s also partly education and informing people that these products are actually made from peanut. On one side you can see it as branding but on the other side, it’s also a label, actually.

 

Andrew D Ive  

So I wonder if over the last year or so while you’ve been starting Hao Foods, if there have been any challenging times or difficult decisions that you’ve needed to make?

 

Astrid Prajogo  

Of course, there were lots of them. There’s always something every day, but it’s still variable. So it’s okay.

 

Andrew D Ive  

So I mean, if you can identify at any point in time, something that made you think about, okay, do I go in this direction or a different direction? You know, I’m wondering if there’s been any times in the last year or so, where you’ve really had to sit down and think about what you were going to do?

 

Astrid Prajogo  

One of the biggest decisions that took us some time to contemplate and to think through was actually making the decision to choose chicken as our first production. Why? Because, obviously, China, eats more pork than chicken but we used chicken instead of pork. Everyone was challenging us saying are you sure? You would have a better business if you made it with pork and so on. But then the four founders sat down and discussed, what kind of company are we going to be? What kind of product should fit well with our vision and mission? We decided it should be chicken.

 

Andrew D Ive  

So you said chicken was something that came through in terms of your mission and your founding principles? What is that vision? What is what are those founding principles of Hao Foods?

 

Astrid Prajogo  

Our mission is to sustain happiness from good food for ever and our vision is that we want to be an international, sustainable food company that last for centuries. So for that we need to choose and we need to make a product that speaks well in the international market. Speaks well in Chinese in China, and then in other markets. So we stuck with chicken. That is one of the biggest decisions that we made and we got challenged from everywhere.

 

Andrew D Ive  

And it sounds to be going well. 20 plus restaurants. How do you grow your business in the future? Is it very much by Astrid going and chatting to the chefs and the sous chefs every time you go out for dinner? Or is there another strategy for growing more quickly? 

 

Astrid Prajogo  

No of course not. That way was only good at the beginning, and is not not really the way for us to scale up. So we are also having some distributors that are helping us right now and then aside from distributors, we are also working with Chef organizations and so on. So we enter  the market faster.

 

Andrew D Ive  

Absolutely. From a manufacturing perspective, have you outsourced the manufacturing of the product to a third party to another company, or do you manufacture the product yourself? On a daily basis? 

 

Astrid Prajogo  

We outsourced the manufacturing to a co Packer.

 

Andrew D Ive  

Got it. Okay and so they’re the ones who are taking the peanut ingredient and creating your recipe as it were, from a production perspective, where do you see the product and the company going over the next 12 months? What kind of volumes do you think are possible?

 

Astrid Prajogo  

So by the end of the year, we are expecting to produce at least 50 pounds of product. So for the next 12 months, it will be above 200 pounds of production. We see the next 12 months when people see or think about plant based chicken, they start to think Hao Foods, that’s how we expect things to be 12 months from now. At least one out of 15 restaurants in Shanghai will be offering our menu. Why 15?  because in Shanghai there are so many restaurants, around 100,000 restaurants, so if you can cover only 5% of them, it’s already very good.

 

Andrew D Ive  

Perfect so your initial strategy is restaurants. Do you see this product being available in other channels whether it’s grocery store or already cooked in a convenience store 711 etc what formats do you think this product works best with?

 

Astrid Prajogo  

The next launch will be happening in a month or two from now. We will launch in e commerce because in China we don’t really buy in supermarkets anymore .Well there are supermarkets still there, but the last time I went to a supermarket was about three or four months ago, so we don’t really buy in the supermarkets as everything is online. Our priorities for b2c is going for online and then, after that, we are preparing for convenience stores as well. That will come in a ready to eat format.

 

Andrew D Ive  

And that will be Chinese style, Indian style, Cosmopolitan? All of the above?

 

Astrid Prajogo  

It will be mostly all Chinese and cosmopolitan, Chinese and cosmopolitan. 

 

Andrew D Ive  

Absolutely. I heard it I heard it. Okay, so I think that’s really interesting. So 12 to 1500 restaurants in the next year then pre cooked, pre prepared in convenience stores and then also ecommerce. Perfect. So, okay, well, in terms of moving the business forward, where do you hope to be, or where will you be, not even hope as hope’s a bad word because I know you’ll accomplish everything you want to accomplish. Were will Hao Foods be in five years time, when you achieve everything you want to?

 

Astrid Prajogo  

We will be in every leading city in Asia Pacific. 

 

Andrew D Ive  

Okay, so not just China but in Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Vietnam, Korea, Japan.

 

Astrid Prajogo  

Correct. We want to be the most loved Asian brand for food.

 

Andrew D Ive  

So I think that’s fantastic. You may not ever come to United States because why bother? You’ve got the whole of Asia to dominate obviously. Awesome. So quick question for you, what should people do to help you? What can they do to help you in China and in other places when they’re listening to this podcast?

 

Astrid Prajogo  

So if someone wants to try plant based chicken that is unconventional, made from peanut, let us know. We’d be happy to share more information.

 

Andrew D Ive  

And how can they connect with you Astrid?

 

Astrid Prajogo  

They can reach out via my email, astrid@haofood.co or simply click on our website? www.haofood.co

 

Andrew D Ive  

Again, how food is haofood.co  Fantastictastic Are you also on LinkedIn and Instagram tik tok and all those wonderful places?

 

Astrid Prajogo  

For the Western world, we are in LinkedIn, you can search our name hao food or my name Asterid Prajogo. It’s all there in LinkedIn but aside from that, we are on Chinese platforms. So we are in WeChat.

 

Andrew D Ive  

Okay, so they can find you on WeChat in China, and Astrid is it Astrid Mahara Maharani in LinkedIn. Astrid Prajogo. Okay, you’re going to have to spell that last name for me so that people who are listening can make a note.

 

Astrid Prajogo  

My first name Astrid? Astrid and then my last name Prajogo.

 

Andrew D Ive  

Thank you Astra that’s fantastic. So if people want to get hold of you, they can do that through LinkedIn, they can do that through WeChat. Or they can do that through Hao Food, no s dot co. And if they want to try your food, if they want to put your food in their restaurant, if they want to put your food anywhere at all, they should reach out to you. 

 

Astrid Prajogo  

Correct? 

 

Andrew D Ive  

Awesome. Astrid, thank you so much for your time today. I really appreciate it. I really look forward to people reaching out to you and finding out more about your company. 

 

Astrid Prajogo  

Thank you so much, Andrew. Thank you. Coconut says thank you. Listening with my dog, my dog just decided to make an entrance. Thanks for listening to the conversation with Astrid from Hao Food. If you have any questions or comments, please do leave them. If you’re watching this on YouTube, please like and subscribe so we can send you updates as we get more interviews. if it is on another format another platform please do like an add comments and engage with us. If you’d like to connect with Big Idea Ventures, please do so at bigideaventures.com. You can also reach out to me via either bigideaventures.com or LinkedIn. Look forward to seeing you next week. Thank you

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