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50 Innovative Companies to Watch 2021

Reshaping the Future with Meat-Free Alternatives: Next Meats Co., Ltd.

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“We are aggressively enthusiastic about expanding our business and being successful, but we are also invested in improving the state of the Earth and everyone’s collective future.”

Next Meats Co., Ltd. is a Tokyo based food-tech company specializing in the development of alternative meats and proteins. With the mission of “not letting the earth end”, the company aims to reduce the demand for livestock (meat) and excessive animal agriculture around the world. Next Meats explains that in this way, the amount of harmful greenhouse gas emissions said to contribute to climate change can be reduced, and other natural resources such as water and land, can also be protected and used in more efficient ways.

The company is known for launching the world’s first plant-based Japanese BBQ meats “NEXT Yakiniku” series and the plant-based Japanese beef bowl “NEXT Gyudon”.

Next Meats started their research and development in 2017 and was incorporated in June of 2020.

Ryo Shirai (CEO of Next Meats Holdings) and Hideyuki Sasaki (CEO of Next Meats Co.) spoke Exclusively to The Silicon Review. Below is an Excerpt

Q. Have you always been passionate about the food-tech industry? Tell us what inspired the foundation of Next Meats.

Shirai: I was working in the financial industry but quit in 2006 after feeling a strong urge to contribute to an environmental cause. I founded multiple startups from there — one of which Sasaki was a part of — and I experienced three buyouts. Then in 2017, we both finally settled on jointly researching and developing alternative proteins.

Neither of us had much experience in the food industry, but we felt it was the easiest and most relevant way to establish a business that contributed to environmental conservation. It has not been easy at times, but we expanded our connections and were able to recruit and conduct research with many university researchers.

Sasaki: Yes, we came from different business backgrounds, but we were determined to try. Even if you have uncertainties, we find that once you start, things and people tend to gather, and the next steps reveal themselves. We actually think the fact that we didn’t have a background in the food industry worked in our favor since we had no rigid preconceived industry conventions blocking the way of our aspirations. I had experience in product development and knew the process of manufacturing things. Shirai had the ability to conceive ideas and speedily implement them into reality, which made us a good combination.

Q. Next Meats strives to create tasty alternatives to favorite dishes without the same environmental impact of using meat. Splendid. Would you like to elaborate on this a bit more?

Shirai: We established this company so the children of future generations can live without worrying about the planet. I had been concerned about the state of the global environment since before the establishment of Next Meats but got even more obsessed about finding a solution after my two children were born. Put simply, we think a lot about the needs and satisfaction of families with children when we develop our products. We seek to provide safe and healthy food that can satisfy them and the whole world.

Q. How do Next Meats’ meat-free alternatives benefit human health?  

Sasaki: The NEXT products are great because they have equally sufficient protein content as regular meats but contain no animal-derived ingredients, so there’s no cholesterol. It has been reported that ingesting less cholesterol means blood is harder to clot, and better blood flow can be expected, which in turn enables us to attain our bodies’ fullest potential. Our products also contain no artificial additives.

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Q. What marked the beginning of your success? And how do you plan to stay ahead of the competition?

Shirai: I would say our business really started picking up last year in December. We received numerous job applications.

Sasaki: Yes, earlier this year we were listed on the US OTC market, moved into a bigger office, and felt more stability within the company. We released our products soon after the COVID-19 outbreak started, after three years of R&D. The timing was perfect as the pandemic had ignited the alternative protein trend in Japan, which gave us a lot of momentum and attention. The industry and the condition of the world were perfect for expanding.

As for our business strategy, we place great value on working speedily. We believe that in order to have a positive impact on the environment, we must work as fast as we can.

Q. What are your focus areas? Please share an overview.

Shirai: We are working intently on our research and development and raising awareness about the link between animal agriculture and environmental deterioration. Of course, we will continue working hard to develop the market in Japan, but we aim to be a worldwide brand available everywhere, so our focus is more on the world. And while 2020 was a good year in Japan for the alternative meat industry, many of the general public is still unaware of the correlation between meat consumption and climate change. Hence, we want to be the factor that leads people to learn and think about the subject in a natural and pleasant way, like through eating our delicious products.

Q. Will your company be expanding, bringing on any new products or services that we should be aware of?

Shirai: Yes, we are working on quite a few things: Product-wise, we will be releasing NEXT pork in the summer, and we are also scheduled to release our meatball, curry, and cutlet-style products. We have also developed a milk substitute and are currently working on finding a facility for its large-scale production.

As for our research, we are studying the effects and implementation of epigenetics in soy and different legumes, and also developing new machinery to manufacture our original textured vegetable proteins, to name a couple.

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Q. How do you plan to transform your company into a future that is unfolding before you?

Sasaki: Our people are our strength. We are comprised of people who truly believe in our work and mission. Clearly, that’s what has enabled us to grow rapidly across nine countries in just 10 months. With that said, we seek to continue recruiting people of all ages and backgrounds to build an even bigger team across the world and keep sharing our passion and vision. Hopefully, in five years, we can grow to have four billion in revenue, 400 million in income, and 10,000 employees.

Shirai: We are also flexible and creative with our aspirations, so we want to stay that way and keep breaking the boundaries of what a food-tech company is thought to be. For example, we want to utilize our research and contribute to other fields such as medicine or astronautical science, go to space, and create a self-sustainable island community, to name a few. We also want to collaborate with other leading sustainable companies and invest in them as well.

Q. Is there anything else you want us to highlight that we might have missed?

Shirai: We are not interested in purely pursuing profit. We are aggressively enthusiastic about expanding our business and being successful, but we are also invested in improving the state of the Earth and everyone’s collective future. Therefore, we want more people who resonate with our mission to join our team, and we invite consumers who believe in our mission to support our journey. Thank you all.

The Leaders Upfront

Ryo Shirai is the CEO of Next Meats Holdings, Ltd. He quits his position in a major stock brokerage firm at 26 and founded three startups, which were all bought out. Shirai then co-founded Next Meats Co. in 2017 with Hideyuki. He hails from Niigata prefecture, Japan.

Hideyuki Sasaki serves as the CEO of Next Meats Co, Ltd. Originally from Tokyo, Hideyuki lived in Shenzhen (China) for 12 years, conducting various businesses and helping with the expansion of major corporations of Japan. He then founded Next Meats with Ryo in 2017.

“We are flexible and creative with our aspirations, so we want to stay that way and keep breaking the boundaries of what a food-tech company is thought to be.”