Japan’s NEXT MEATS became the first publicly listed plant-based startup in the country, however, the company has lofty ambitions and states it is still far from the corporate philosophy of “saving the earth”.
“We are talking with the CEO of a particular US fast-food chain for the launch”
Plant-Based Japan Inc. (former freefrom Inc.), a Japanese contributor to vegconomist, interviewed Mr. Ryo Shirai, co-representative of NEXT MEATS, a meat alternative producer steadily showing the fastest growth not just within Japan but in the whole of Asia.
It’s been about a year since the company was established. How is the response in Japan so far?
As reported in the previous article, the major supermarket chain Ito-Yokado in Japan has also switched from the initial sales marketing phase to full-scale introduction. The number of stores that have introduced this brand alone has expanded from 10 to more than 100. A mainstream supermarket (*news coming soon), a competitive chain that has stores in other parts of Asia, has decided to handle it nationwide. It is becoming accessible to almost all Japanese consumers.
In addition, the introduction of NEXT Gyudon (beef bowl) to IKEA Japan announced on the 18th of May has a considerable influence as an approach to the restaurant sector.
How is the response from overseas?
Overseas expansion has been promoted primarily in Asia. We have already partnered up with restaurants such as YAKINIKU LIKE in Taiwan and Singapore, but this is still in the preparatory stage. In addition, as long as we are aware of, preparations for launch are proceeding at a rapid pace in nine countries and regions, including the United States, which will become the main target in the future.
“We need an impact that can save the earth”
In addition to the current development, it is a remarkable breakthrough with expansion in nine more countries. You emphasized that the leading development destination will be the United States. Could you tell us the reason and its direction in business development?
There are two reasons: the difference in market size and the stock listing. After all, the size and growth of the American alternative protein market are significant. We, as a company, predict that success in the US market will lead to more than 100 times the growth as of now; thus, we are focusing more than other market developments.
Since our stock is in the United States, it also implies that we must not fail in the home country.
At the moment, I can’t reveal this in detail due to the information disclosure, but we are talking with the CEO of a particular US fast-food chain for the launch.
Sounds exciting. Can you tell us more about the development of the other six countries/regions?
In Europe, we are working on projects in France and Spain, the food capitals, and in China, Hong Kong, India, and Vietnam in Asia. We have secured production lines in China and India, aiming for large-scale and stable supply. We plan to start deployment in both locations by this summer. News about Hong Kong is scheduled to come out this month, which will announce that our products will be available at major Japanese retailers.
This year, you became listed on the American OTC Market. What is your intention with this move?
In order to realize our corporate philosophy of “saving the earth,” we need an impact that can save the earth. And for that purpose, ample funds are indispensable. Since financing via banks in Japan is not ideal because of speed and funding limits, listing in the US has been our answer. In the United States, DCF determines corporate value, and speed and scale are at the whole next level.
So far, we have mainly asked about the geographical development of your business, but are there any other areas you are currently pouring your resources into?
The current two pillars are an expansion of the production system and research and development. The larger the project, the more urgent it is to secure a stable and mass production facility.
As for the second pillar, research and development, what is the purpose of this?
There is an R&D laboratory in my hometown called Nagaoka. We have gathered very talented engineers and food scientists from all over the world, such as Russia, China, and France. Starting from specialists in mechanical design, the team also has professionals in creating and optimizing extruders dedicated to meat substitutes, gene analysis, genome editing, and so on.
What are any issues or challenges you currently face as a company?
We need more workforce! The company, which started with two people a year ago, presently has about 50 employees. However, there are still not enough people. The company scale will grow further down the road, and we are looking for passionate people to enhance the impact together with us.
Could you tell us something about your future outlook?
As a milestone, we will apply to NASDAQ around this summer and aim to be the fastest in the world from establishment to becoming listed by switching within this year. But what we are looking for is not the title of the fastest in the world. Many people say that the speed of our business development is fast, but we believe it is still slow. I feel that this speed is not enough to save the planet.