Chilean food tech brand The Not Company (NotCo) made its U.S. debut in late 2020. Its plant-based milk alternative, NotMilk, contains no lactose, soy, gluten or genetically modified ingredients and is the first of several NotCo products to hit North American shelves. Unlike other milk alternatives made from nuts and legumes, NotMilk replicates the taste and texture of cow’s milk, so you can cook, bake and froth it just as you would its nonvegan counterpart.
The secret of NotCo’s success lies with their proprietary artificial intelligence, named Giuseppe. During his studies at the University of California, Berkeley, founder Matías Muchnick learned how Biochemistry, AI and machine learning were disrupting the pharmaceutical industry—and theorized the same technology could be applied to the global food system. During post-grad studies at Harvard, Muchnick met Dr. Karim Pichara, a computer/data science and machine learning expert studying the composition of stars. They developed a business plan and enlisted plant genomics expert Dr. Pablo Zamora to complete their forward-thinking dream team.
We caught up with Muchnick to learn more about Giuseppe and how the launch is going so far.
Is this really the first food made by a computer?
Matías Muchnick: Our products are made using a combination of artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms to identify and combine plant-based ingredients which replicate the animal-based product benchmarks at the molecular level. A team of chefs and food scientists test and provide feedback to Giuseppe (the AI) for continued improvement. Giuseppe produces hundreds, sometimes thousands of recipes every month and is constantly learning and improving. So far, we have not seen other companies tapping into this proprietary technology space.
Is the innovation the AI or the product?
MM: Both. Technology is an enabler to shift the world to a new and more positive space—it’s something we track constantly. It’s helping consumers connect, experiment with new things and make their everyday lives healthier and more enjoyable while powering different and more accurate solutions to deliver delicious plant-based foods. Our AI technology and all the possibilities it offers get us very excited with all we can do in this space.
How does the company look at the current plant-based market and where it is headed?
MM: Health and nutrition trends are here to stay and are accelerating even more with people opting for more sustainable options to their diets. We are excited to see this trend develop further into indulgence and pleasure without compromises in health and delicious taste, which is common in the segments NotCo operates. In dairy, for example, we know that about a third of plant-based milk consumers in the U.S. switch back to dairy because of compromises in taste. We are here to change that. There are many options in the market, but they miss something—whether that be look, taste or texture.
What is your innovation cycle like and how is it different from a typical food company's?
MM: Our AI allows our innovation cycle to be very fast. We get products from idea to market in months, not years. It starts with Giuseppe and our machine learning teams prototyping and building options for any given animal-based product we choose as a benchmark. Once the prototypes are tested and optimized, we take them to consumers for initial evaluation, then scale up with our ingredient and production partners. The process for NotMilk in the U.S., for example, took about six months from prototype to market launch.
How has the product been received so far? What's next for the company?
MM: We have seen great consumer pull since we launched in more than 490 Whole Foods Market stores last November and are exploring new product launches including NotMayo, NotBurger and NotIceCream. That’s the beauty of combining science and technology to better understand the food we love to eat and remove animals from the equation. With Giuseppe, we are able to discover unique combinations of plants that replicate the taste, look and functionalities of animal products and deliver food products that are just as delicious but less impactful on the environment.