The co-Founders of Good Food Tech, Andrew Leung and Joshua Ng, discuss their plant-based meat venture and advice for food startups.
When the co-Founder of Hong Kong-based food startup Good Food Tech (GFT), Andrew Leung, introduced his new product—“PLANT SIFU”, that is plant-based pork—to his family, they responded positively but also offered criticism (something he considers essential). Like most dishes in Chinese culture, their reaction was perfectly balanced. More than anything, his parents were simply pleased that he was applying what he had studied while bolstering his cultural roots.
Pork is deeply entrenched in Chinese food culture. Be it dim sums or patties, a truly festive feast demands the indulgence of pork. However, the process of procuring pork often leaves a negative impact on the environment. Animal husbandry is one of the most carbon-heavy industries. Leung expounds that it takes 28 weeks to produce 75 kg of pork at a 57% yield. He shares, “Using plant-based meat technology, we can produce the same amount in one hour—cutting down carbon emissions, water use and waste treatment.”
In 2020, Leung, along with Joshua Ng, founded Good Food Tech—a startup that focuses on creating innovative food driven by research and development (R&D). As of March 2022, the startup has received a HK$12 million investment to launch retail in Hong Kong and expand to mainland China. Here, the founders discuss their journey, future plans and tips for startups.
Where did the idea for Good Food Tech come from?
The company was born out of the founders’ mutual love for food. They got the inspiration for their startup from their traditional Chinese restaurant background and a local chef’s remark. Leung reveals, “A Chinese chef highlighted that there’s a gap in securing good quality and safe meat, a problem accentuated in the recent pandemics, such as the swine flu and Covid-19.” With that in mind, Ng and Leung set their sights on transforming the sustainable meat landscape.
“We started with a clear goal of developing sustainable food products applicable in Chinese restaurants,” notes Ng. Their kick-off point? A crowd-favorite: dim sums! Working closely with a Chinese family restaurant, the GFT team started their early-stage research and development by making dim sums with existing brands offering plant-based pork. They found that some brands weren’t good for stir frying due to lack of adequate moisture levels, and some were not fit for steaming due to weak texture. Once their problem area was clear, so was the solution. “We decided to start this project once we tasted that one delicious siu mai using our prototype,” Ng affirms.
Making it durable and delicious
Typically, a pork dish is heavy and often leaves you feeling drowsy. While little compares to post-lunch siestas, working professionals don’t have the luxury. Given that, Leung and Ng were determined to create an alternative which was light and better for one’s health and environment. Additionally, he notes, “Our pork is easier to manage as you can simply defrost and use it. In the case of traditional pork, you will need to deskin, wash, dice and mince, which can be time-consuming.” They wanted their products to be malleable to allow chefs to unleash their creativity fully, which is why, he adds, “we designed our products to be mild in pork smell and taste.”
While working with chefs, they also realized that pork fat or lard is a key ingredient in Chinese cuisine. So, they invented AROMAXTM, a plant-based pork fat that’s made of konjac, coconut oil and natural plant extracts. He details, “It has no cholesterol and 90% less fat while retaining the flavor, texture and aesthetics of a piece of pork fat.” As for the shelf life of Plant Sifu, he is awaiting results but aspires to make it one year.
Behind-the-scenes of plant-based protein production
Narrowing in on the process, he discloses, “It starts from sourcing the right raw materials—we chose soy as the protein source because it has a high protein score. Then, it’s about finding the most unflavored strain—as the fragrance of soy might put off some meat-eaters.” Next, they look for the right natural ingredients to lend meatiness to the product. For this, GFT uses yeast extract. In making this alternative, the team is aiming to keep sodium levels as low as possible. The final step is nailing the texture. For that, the startup uses AROMAXTM. Leung adds, “We tested this with a texture analyzer, which mimics the bite force of human jaws. We found that not only does the bite force match animal pork, but our product also had a well-layered texture.”
Addressing the affordability challenge of plant-based meats
A common criticism of plant-based meat alternatives is that they are too expensive, and thus are inaccessible by all and sundry. Ng is aware of this. To address it, he mentions that, unlike other products, Plant Sifu is made in Hong Kong with locally-sourced raw ingredients. This way, they are able to cut down on their importing costs. “Currently, we are matching the price of traditional frozen pork,” Ng shares. In the future, he foresees this price reducing even further as production processes become increasingly automated.
From launching ready-to-cook products in specialty stores to claiming shelves in top-notch Japanese retail chains, like Hana Mushibi, Good Food Tech’s year is set to be a busy one. During last year’s Winter Food Expo, the startup released their retail prototype and were met with a positive response. This year, it plans on establishing their presence in traditional retail stores. Ng shares, “We will be launching our own brand, Plant Sifu, with specialty stores across Hong Kong. The product range includes ready-to-cook dumplings and siu mai, starting with familiar flavors, like chives, corn and shiitake mushroom.”
On a product level, they want to upgrade their pork’s nutritional profile so as to complement their audience’s on-the-go lifestyle. They are also looking to create plant-based iterations of other protein types, like seafood. Geographically, customers can look forward to discovering their products in China and South-East Asia soon.
Recipe for F&B startup success
GFT is the first startup for both Leung and Ng. So, when it came to reaching out to potential investors for the seed round, Leung reveals, “We attended events and programs and shortlisted potential investors, then fine tuned our pitch and demonstration, then just used the knocking on the door approach, asking for potential connections from clients, friends and family.” The fun in succeeding in the food and beverage space is that there is no right or wrong answer, feels Leung. He says, “[It] is a very subjective market, and when consumers enjoy the product, it makes it all the more fun to tackle!” His advice to startup founders is to pay close attention to customers’ feedback. Ng adds, “Leverage existing infrastructure as best as you can. If possible, try to launch your products via OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) and prove demand first before committing or raising capital to build your own.” This way, you can substantially reduce the risks and enhance customer experience by focusing your resources on key areas, such as branding and customer acquisition.
The sign of a truly good product is when the founders themselves are eager to use it. Rest assured, GFT’s co-Founders are ever-so excited to indulge. Leung is excited to savor a steamed meatloaf; after all, according to him, “it’s the most challenging product.” Ng, on the other hand, is looking forward to devouring dim sums and dumplings, as they are diverse, flavorful and easy to make and share. Plus, who doesn’t enjoy them?
Header Image by the Good Food Tech team