DFSS is coming up March 29th and we’re bringing some of the participants to you now with a pre-summit interview. In this edition we talk to Sandhya Sriram, CEO and co-founder of Shiok Meats – the clean seafood startup in Singapore. If you want to see a listing of speakers and sessions, please click here. To register as a delegate, click here.
1) Could you give a brief background on how Shiok Meats started – the motivation etc?
Personal motivation: Ka Yi and I are stem cell scientists and cell biologists by education and training. I am a vegetarian by choice and Ka Yi is a meat eater who is always questioning where her food comes from. When the idea of Shiok Meats was born between my mentor (Ryan Bethencourt) and me, it was perfect timing and so in line with my expertise. Ka Yi then came on board as a co-founder – we have put our love for food and skill for science together with this venture. We want to work towards a sustainable world by innovation in the food sector
Environment and health motivation: The world’s population is going to be 10 billion and the way we are consuming meat and seafood currently, is completely unsustainable. The motivation for starting a clean meat company is make health-, animal- and environment-friendly meat/seafood.
2) How many products is Shiok Meats in the process of developing at the moment?
We are working on cell-based crustaceans (shrimp, crab, lobster) – we are currently working on shrimp.
3) What is the story behind the Shiok Shrimp Dumpling? Is the launch at DFSS the first?
The Shiok Shrimp Dumpling is the first ever cell-based shrimp going to be tasted and showcased. The launch at DFSS is the first and we are extremely excited.
4) What were some of the challenges faced in establishing Shiok meats?
The biotech/science startup scene and ecosystem in Singapore and SE Asia in general is very young and new. The public and private sector are trying to help as much as possible, but it is still hard for startups in this region to setup. Traditionally, at least in Singapore, biotech startups have always been spinoffs from universities or research institutes – so a major part of the research has already been done using grant money or other funding and then they spin off to form a company. In Shiok Meats case, we aren’t a spin off; we are an independent company and when we first started, people thought we were crazy. We did not have IP at that time, we had some angel funding backing and that is it! Word around town was that 2 female scientists quit their well paid job to start a company with just an idea and no data to back it. We had no lab space and honestly, there were no options for lab space for independent startups like us. But we paved our own way – used our previous networks and connections – we were in a lab in about 2 months time, we filed for our first IP and things have been good since. On the funding front, Asian investors are very slow and risk averse – so we raised most of our money outside of Singapore. Being in this field for more than a decade, I guess we just knew what NOT to do!
5) How did the company settle on the name ‘Shiok Meats”?
Shiok in Singapore/Malay English (Singlish) means delightful, delicious, fantastic. It is commonly used on a daily basis especially for food. So it was kind of a no brainer – the name was born between my mentor Ryan Bethencourt and me.
6) What are the challenges arising from the perception that plant-based proteins/meat alternatives are processed foods?
Cell-based meats are not processed foods to be exact – they are definitely much healthier than your factory farmed meats. They are definitely cleaner, sustainable with same taste and texture.
7) How do you think summits like DFSS help in bringing the message of sustainability to food, and why is it important?
In Asia, the concept of alternative protein is pretty new. Summits and events like DFSS get like-minded people together to discuss the future of food and let the consumers know of the outcomes, via the press, social media and other forms of communication. I encourage more events like these for consumers to get the right knowledge of what is happening.
8) Is the development of foods that resemble animal products going to be the key to convincing the bulk of people to stop the slaughter of animals for consumption?
Yes, yes, yes. In terms of clean meat, consumers need to understand that it is not fake or synthetic meat. It is real meat, down to the cellular and molecular level. It is just that that piece of meat or seafood comes from a cleaner and healthier source – and not from slaughter of an animal loaded with hormones and antibiotics.
9) How long before we see the shift in people consuming lesser meat – is that the direction we are heading towards?
The shift is already happening – the fact that we are talking about it means it is happening. The plant-based meats arena is booming and very soon it is going to the time for cell-based meats to enter the market. But one must remember that for cell-based meats to enter mass scale production, it is going to take another 3 to 5 years.
10) What more innovation in food can we expect to disrupt the existing unsustainable food system?
Innovation is happening fast and the whole new food ecosystem is growing at a rapid pace. We need more collaborations and less competition and duplication in the novel food sector. Using food waste and putting it to good use, increasing the nutrition in an existing food, cell-based meats are the biggest innovations!