This week we wanted to share with you another inspiring story from one of the changemakers featured on our Collective Futures section. Better Nature offers us a healthy, sustainable and ethical selection of plant based proteins that don’t compromise on taste. Through their work, they are able to measure their environmental footprint and positively impact SDGs 3, 12 and 13 (Good Health and Wellbeing, Responsible Consumption and Production and Climate Action) among others.
Chris shares with us the humble beginnings of Better Nature, his motivations for switching to a plant based diet, the competitive advantages the company gained through their sustainability strategy, some of the challenges they have faced along the journey and a little glimpse into their future plans.
Let’s begin reading!
Chris, can you tell us a bit about Better Nature? What products do you offer? Where and how can people get it?
At Better Nature, we make plant-based protein without compromise – plant-based protein that is delicious, nutritious, and all-natural. By using tempeh fermentation, an ancient fermentation process that originated in Indonesia 300 years ago, we make delicious meat alternatives that are versatile, high in protein and fibre, and completely absent of artificial ingredients.
We made these products primarily with the flexitarian/reducitarian in mind – consumers who want to replace some of their meat consumption with plant-based options for ethical, environmental, and/or health reasons. By producing food products that don’t pretend to be meat but still taste great, are easy-to-cook, and are incredibly nutritious, we hope to make it easier than ever for people to reduce their meat consumption for whatever reason they feel compelled to do so and to make them feel good doing it!
Currently, Better Nature’s products are sold in the UK and Germany. You can purchase our products for next-day delivery across the UK online via our website! We’re also stocked in roughly 200 independent retailers across the country. If you’re in London, check out Planet Organic if you’d like to try out some of our products!
Can you also tell us a little bit more about the history of Better Nature? How long has the company existed for? What was the purpose of creating it?
Sure! Better Nature was officially incorporated on the 10th of October 2018, about two years ago, with the purpose of making tempeh a mainstream food ingredient to create a better food system that is better for people, the planet, and animals. The idea originated from Amadeus, a fellow co-founder, who actually did his PhD on tempeh fermentation! Amadeus was born in Indonesia to a family of Indonesian food scientists all obsessed with tempeh. With his knowledge about tempeh and its amazing nutritional and culinary properties, he felt compelled to make tempeh better known outside of Indonesia.
It was in April 2018 that we both serendipitously met during a biotech conference called The GapSummit hosted at the University of Cambridge. At the conference, beyond getting along incredibly well, it was clear that with Amadeus’ expertise in tempeh fermentation and our shared understanding of how our food system sits at the nexus of so many problems that we face as a society today – climate change, biodiversity collapse, the pandemic of diet-related chronic health disorders such as coronary heart disease and stroke, to name just a few – there was scope for us to do something together. After I graduated, I turned vegan and worked at a venture capital firm to save some money to travel to Indonesia to meet Amadeus and to experience tempeh in situ. It was during that trip that my love for tempeh was seeded and, just a few months later, Better Nature was officially founded with a couple other brilliant and like-minded individuals that we would not be where we are today without. Namely, our other two co-founders – Fabio and Elin. Fabio is a product development wizard and Elin is a marketing genius. Together, combining our varied yet complementary skillsets, we set out to take tempeh into the mainstream!
And about you? When and how did you embark on the impact journey? What brought you to the area of social and environmental impact?
I was vegetarian, primarily for ethical reasons, and in my final year of university wrapping up a Masters in Biochemistry at the University of Oxford when I met Amadeus at the conference. The plan was to start at a management consultancy firm after university to pick up a few more skills before embarking on my own venture but when I met Amadeus at the conference, all of that went out of the window and I knew that starting Better Nature was now or never. A few months after the conference, I turned down a full-time opportunity to work at McKinsey & Co. and went head-first into the world of start-ups.
The area of social and environmental impact has always been something close to my heart. I think my passion for the space first began when I was in school. We were learning about slum-dwellers in Calcutta when Mr Wright, my Geography teacher, rang off the quote “To whom much is given, much is expected.” At first, being 15 years old at the time, I didn’t quite understand what he meant by that. However, the quote stuck with me all day and I swear I didn’t go to sleep that night as the significance of the statement resonated so strongly with me. It was then that I felt that I had to commit myself to creating as much good as I could and to solve some of the world’s greatest problems. Pursuing a degree in Biochemistry was what I felt was the best first step to doing that, and the rest is history as they say.
How does Better Nature impact the world?
Better Nature impacts the world by offering consumers a more healthy, sustainable, and ethical source of protein. Though it’s difficult to track exactly how the consumption of our tempeh impacts the health of our customers (there is, however, scientific evidence for the relative benefits of the consumption of tempeh vs meat that we could lean on), it is much more straightforward for us to set KPIs to track our environmental and ethical impact. We track the former by comparing the carbon emissions saved through the consumption of our products vs animal products on a GHG emitted per unit g of protein basis. Regarding the latter, we track it by the number of animals we’ve saved from slaughter.
Though it is still very early days, since launching our products in January 2020, we’ve sold roughly 60,000 meals-worth of tempeh – enough to feed 55 people tempeh for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for a whole year. If we compare the average carbon emitted per meal in the UK to the average carbon emitted per meal of tempeh, those 60,000 tempeh meals are responsible for offsetting roughly 61 tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere – equivalent to 62 return flights from London to New York or driving a car 15.5 times around Earth’s circumference. Those 60,000 meals are also responsible for saving almost 2,000 chickens from slaughter.
Our products are also certified 100% Plastic Neutral by rePurpose Global. This means that for every g of plastic that we introduce into the environment, the same amount of plastic is taken out of the environment in regions of the world where the infrastructure to handle such waste is less robust. As a result, to date, we have offset 300kg of plastic from waterways in Indonesia – equivalent to 60,000 plastic bags.
The journey has only just begun for Better Nature I expect that the rate of growth of these impact metrics will only accelerate as we continue to grow.
What is the biggest challenge you are facing today as co-founder?
The biggest challenge I am facing today is finding the right manufacturing partners to help us meet future demand for our products at a price that will allow us to operate sustainably and give our customers great value for money. As tempeh is still quite a niche food ingredient, it’s tough to find partners that believe in our mission! That being said, in light of such impressive growth in the plant-based meat alternative category, it is getting easier to convince manufacturers to take a chance on us and I am confident we’ll find a suitable partner to help us scale-up the production of our newest range of products that will make tempeh far more accessible to the average customer. I can’t divulge too much information about this new range right now but follow us on Instagram or subscribe to our mailing list via our website to stay in the loop!
Sustainability is clearly an important element of your business. Do you think that sustainability can be a company’s competitive advantage? Can you give an example on how Better Nature benefited from sustainability as a business?
Yes and no. In today’s world where consumers are a lot more aware of their environmental impact and are actively looking for ways to mitigate it, sustainability can be part of a business’ competitive advantage. However, I wouldn’t rely on sustainability alone to make you stand out from the crowd. It’s almost a hygiene factor at this point as most companies are expected to have a sustainability edge! If you want to be truly differentiated, I would combine an edge in sustainability with another differentiating factor such as improved product performance, stronger branding, or even something as simple as revamping an existing product to target a new customer demographic.
Our edge in sustainability has given us some great PR opportunities. When we went Plastic Neutral, for example, we were the world’s first meat alternative brand to have done so! As a result, we were featured in a host of media outlets such as the Vegconomist and Vegworld Magazine.
How do you think collectivism can help your purpose / mission?
I feel that the only way we’d see the widespread adoption of plant-based diets is if consumers are made more aware of the myriad of health benefits that consuming a predominantly plant-based diet has over one that contains animal proteins. If we as a society could collectively spread that positive message, rather than one that berates meat-eaters, I feel we could more effectively and expeditiously reduce our reliance on meat!
Lastly, what is your vision for future that you aspire to? What kind of future do you want to build?
The future that I dream of and that I want to help build is one where humans consume a predominantly plant-based diet as the impact of such a shift in paradigm will be extraordinary, not just on the quality of life for millions of people around the world but on our environment.
It is difficult to predict how much better the world would be if animals weren’t slaughtered in their tens of millions per day. Let’s not forget that the COVID pandemic is the direct result of intensive animal agriculture and even more horrific outcomes could be avoided if we reduced our demand for meat. For example, land previously used to raise cattle could be reforested to support the recovery of threatened ecological systems which could, in turn, save us from the brink of biodiversity collapse. The positive outcomes of reducing our reliance on meat are oftentimes difficult to fathom as the whole process is incredibly convoluted but one thing is for certain – it is positive.
I want to make plant-based eating the norm and that means providing customers with cheaper, healthier, and tastier plant-based options. That, coupled with great consumer education, could one day make eating meat seem outmoded and frowned upon in the same way that smoking cigarettes are largely seen as taboo.
Thank you Chris for sharing the story behind the inception and successes of Better Nature, it’s truly inspiring! I hope you all got excited to try some of their plant-based products. If you’d like to hear more about Better Nature, don’t forget to subscribe to their mailing list via their website. You can also follow them on Instagram.
This post was edited by Fedra Szollosy. Fedra is Marketing and Communications Manager, UK Business Lead.