Next Gen Foods of Singapore launched its flagship plant-based chicken product, TiNDLE, just 11 months after its founding in April 2020. Three months later, the company began its international expansion—bringing TiNDLE to over 130 restaurants worldwide, from Hong Kong to the U.A.E.
Now, Next Gen is introducing TiNDLE in the U.S. This week, the company will offer a sneak peek of the product at the Food Network & Cooking Channel New York City Wine & Food Festival. The team is currently working with chefs to bring TiNDLE to restaurant menus next year.
This week, I met up with company co-founder and CEO Andre Menezes at Next Gen’s New York City tasting room to learn more about the anticipated launch—and try TiNDLE myself.
According to Menezes, the Wine & Food Festival sneak peek is part of Next Gen’s international strategy, which hinges on building partnerships with sought-after food names and brands. “We’re working toward launching in food havens around the world,” he said. “We’re targeting the coolest places, the best chefs, the restaurants consumers love to visit.”
I tasted the two dishes featured at the festival: a lotus leaf bao wrap with veggie slaw and a parm slider on a brioche bun. TiNDLE appeared as a breaded patty in both dishes, although there are other ways to cook the product.
Both dishes were flavorful, creative, and fun to eat. The TiNDLE was satisfyingly crunchy, with none of the wet sponginess that I associate with fast food chicken patties. It had a defined, fibrous texture, an appealing bite, and a rich, convincingly chicken-y taste. A more chicken-y taste, I thought, than some actual chicken products. Menezes said that that’s because the company didn’t set out to recreate the taste of a chicken breast; they wanted their products to taste more like a wing or a thigh.
In developing TiNDLE, the team wanted to figure out what people love about chicken and then develop a food ingredient that would maximize those beloved qualities—which turned out to be chicken’s fibrous texture, smell and taste, and versatility.
The fibrous texture is achieved via extrusion. To mimic the flavor of chicken, the team uses a proprietary, sunflower oil-based emulsion called Lipi™. “As an emulsion, it goes within the fibers just like fat does,” said Menezes.
As for versatility, Menezes said the team wanted to create “a product that chefs can really play with, like Playdoh.” Rather than offering preformed products like burgers, they’re working closely with chefs to see what TiNDLE can do.
One of the items on Next Gen’s tasting room menu, a miso ramen dish, incorporates TiNDLE in noodle form: instead of chicken and noodles, an actual (plant-based) chicken noodle. Menezes mentioned a chef who rolled the product out like dough and cut it into flower shapes, and another who put it on top of a sushi roll, then cooked it with a torch.
Menezes said that the company has developed the technology to manufacture whole cuts as well as nuggets and tenders, and that one day, they’ll explore those options. But first, they’re working on growing their brand worldwide through restaurant partnerships.
“We believed that if we really wanted to drive food system change, we needed to be global from day one,” he said. At the outset, the team wanted to address both current meat consumption in the U.S. and Europe, and fast-growing consumption in Asia.
Next Gen focuses on controlling product development, branding, and operations internally. The company builds local teams as it expands, and partners with external contract manufacturers and distributors. Production is currently based in the Netherlands, but Menezes said the team is interested in partnering with U.S. manufacturers, and potentially using the U.S. as an export platform for Canada and Mexico.
The company will use its $30 million extended seed investment to build global operations and supply chains this year. In 2022, they plan to launch at restaurants in the U.S. and Europe. After that, they may eye other plant-based spaces, like dairy and seafood.
How will Next Gen compete in the diversifying alternative protein industry? According to Menezes, Next Gen is all about expanding the plant-based category, and the team doesn’t see other companies as rivals. “Our competition isn’t other startups,” he said. “Our competition is birds.”