Text by: Farrah Darma
The heightened world of technology enables us to consume protein without meat. This is where Phuture steps into the picture, a plant-based meat company that is redefining the future of food with its intention to celebrate goodness. Phuture is introducing a new hallmark to the world of plant-based wellness, connecting the science and technology of food to the art of Asian cooking. As their tagline goes “The Future is Changing, So Does the Way We Eat.” Their founder and CEO, Jack Yap, truly believes in indulgence for a better planet.
A civil engineer by qualification and a health food entrepreneur by profession, Jack first started his first food business fresh out of university. After graduating from Ohio State, he found himself wanting to understand what people consume and starting a restaurant business was the fastest way to do exactly that.
He also sought inspiration from the Wholefoods Market in the States, which sold all-natural food items. Impressed, he noticed an astonishing difference between the market and the style in which wholefoods was displayed and perceived in Malaysia. “Back then, wholefoods in Malaysia was only viewed as food for those who were sick. That was the conventional idea at the time, but it was already a norm to sell wholefoods to the masses in the U.S.,” he recalls.
At the tender age of 23, he ventured into his first food business selling gourmet burgers. From then on, he tried his hand at all the different cuisines your heart could desire – from burgers to pasta to grilled chicken chops – he went on to open up 8 restaurants by himself, including cafes, kopitiams, steamboat and western restaurants.
Although his entrepreneurial journey started a mere 10 years ago, Jack’s seed in the plant-based world was sown way back when he was just a little boy chasing chickens on his grandmother’s farm in Jeram, Kuala Selangor. Little did he know, his favourite food at the time (KFC’s fried chicken) was made from his farm-friendly animal friends. “My mother brought home a bucket of KFC one day and out of curiosity, I asked her where they came from. She proceeded to point at the chickens on the farm, and I remember almost immediately bursting into tears and throwing up,” he shares. “That really planted a strong seed in me, and it took a good friend later in life to encourage me to explore other pathways in the world of food.” Jack acknowledges that it was not an objective decision, but rather an intrinsic persuasion to cease operations on his meat businesses. He has since been a plant-based practitioner for over 10 years. He took it on to himself to commit to the transition out of his meat businesses, and to start his first plant-based food restaurant.
Gone were the days where Malaysian masses view vegetarianism as a hollowed-out option. We are now seeing a seismic migration to healthier options and consumers who readily wave their pitchforks at the sight of unhealthy meals and unsustainable lifestyles.
While his plant-based restaurant was still in its infancy, Jack recalls the struggles he faced within the industry, “It wasn’t successful at first. Six years ago, the only idea people had of plant-based food was traditional vegetarianism – usually associated with religion and beliefs. That was what people understood at the time.” Through multiple experiments and huge initial losses, Jack was determined to find solutions that promote plant-based food to general meat eaters when he realized he could not “just rely on vegetarians” for his business. Jack saw a gap in the market and captured it through creativity in his product offerings. He began including quality ingredients like quinoa and avocados to reach the wider public.
He deep-dived into it, researching every aspect possible – the technology, concept, and approach. “I knew this area was the future to unlock the nation’s plant-based story. The more I studied it, the more I believed this was the future. Hence, Phuture was birthed to ride on that trend.”
Navigating through a fairly new industry, Jack acknowledges the plant-based industry is unique and requires education. He believes that being compassionate and understanding is key to driving consumer relevance and hence shortening the education pathway. “Our business model operates in a way that we don’t ask for understanding, we understand consumers.”
Similarly, he encourages anyone tapping into the industry to understand the importance of putting people first. “The idea is to help everyone to be part of this journey rather than convince them to. That’s the responsibility you uphold. You help people live better, not ask people to live better.”
Sharing more on the thought process behind his products and brand, he explains the 3-step thinking behind Phuture.
“(1) How do we redefine the future for the people – do we start with the right intentions? (2) How we redefine the future with the people – rather than being viewed as a company, we’d like to be viewed as a platform in which people gather to build a sustainable future. (3) How do we redefine the future to the people – how do we bring results to the table?”
With these principles upheld, it’s the perfect time to seize the market and build a future together. “We don’t want to just discuss ideas. There are real-world issues already happening. Rather than saying we are only here to build concepts for the future, it’s time to build real solutions to real problems. So if the problem is now, the trend is now, and we are here to act immediately,” he reminds.
All of Phuture’s plant-based meat products are curated with the intention to solve real-world issues. This includes one of Phuture’s feature products in its latest range, the High Fiber Chick’n. Each serving of the High Fiber Chick’n contains about 13g of fiber which is equivalent to approximately 6 medium bananas, apples or strawberries. It could also be equated to eating 2kg of sweet potato leaves by yourself.
The formulation of this product and its range were derived to address Malaysia’s fiber gap issue. Jack elaborates on the issue further, “An average female adult requires around 28g of their daily fiber intake. Studies show women only average 8g-10g of fiber. We envision our products to solve this known problem in Malaysia, i.e., the fiber gap issue.”
With the uprise of other major silent killers, Phuture’s products aim to close the gap with each serving of its high-fiber products. They also have a full plant-based extended chicken range, with products like plant-based popcorn chicken, meatballs, patties and tenders. “This is also how we empower our consumers. Our high-fiber chicken provides them with positive and sustainable energy. Its formulation provides the right nutrition for improved overall wellbeing – not to mention a guiltless pleasure.” Providing the right satisfaction without exploiting or sacrificing anyone’s health is Phuture’s utmost priority.
Though it may not be apparent to the consumer’s naked eyes, multiple elements, technology and processes go into building a single product at Phuture. Their immaculate R&D synergy uses smart fiber technology to identify plant-based substitutes and combine them with varieties of plant proteins, carbohydrates, healthy fats, natural colours, and natural flavouring to mimic the texture and taste of meat with the benefit of enhanced health elements. With R&D experts and food scientists from the US, China, Singapore, Malaysia and more, Phuture’s groundbreaking technology has reinvented the meat experience without compromising on the original texture and taste. Micro-emulsions are created to produce the fatty, juicy textures in their plant-based products, mimicking that of the building blocks one can find in meat.
“We don’t want to be just an alternative; we want to be the better product. With our sustainable food technology, we deliver the highest standards of food quality using only the most ethically sourced ingredients equipped with sophisticated food technology solutions. The tech also improves the physical structure of the product while expanding its nutritional value. We also use molecular sensory science to study the uniqueness of animal protein on a molecular level. The technology in mixture of thermal processing, natural umami flavours and reaction flavours are delivered with ease and versatility.”
Although a common perception of processed food is its unhealthiness, Jack’s observations relay a slightly different belief. To him, it’s more about the intentions that go behind the food. “Yes, most processed foods in the market are unhealthy, because they were developed to address issues like cutting food waste, extending shelf life and fitting into a hectic lifestyle. At Phuture, our intentions are different.” With the scientific and technological advancements in food, Phuture is moving away from the run-of-the-mill idea of processed food. The knowledge Phuture has allows them to re-design the approach to processed food with pure intentions. For example, intentions to narrow the country’s fiber gap.
Catalyzed by the Covid-19 pandemic, business owners and consumers alike are becoming more conscious about their food intake. This includes more carefully thought-out considerations around food sources and supply chains. Supply chain disruptions during Covid-19 was just the start of realizing how volatile the system can get. “Businesses are starting to prepare for change after the Covid-19 wakeup call that action for change has to be now. The use and sourcing of our plant-based meat are more sustainable in combating this and other global issues. For example, we consume 40 times less energy and produce 22% less carbon emissions than a regular meat business would.”
Since its incorporation six years ago, Phuture has grown into a household name with a variety of local and global partnerships. With growing partnerships with brands like Grand Hyatt, Zus Coffee, OmuLab, HalaVeg, Spargoeats and many more, Jack admits it was not always easy getting reception when he first started. This continues to be a confidence-building exercise. To Jack, it’s not a one size fits all situation. “I think what we have done well is we create together with our partners. It is a fairly new segment so it could be seen as a trial for many businesses. As a driver in this industry, we are responsible to build partners’ confidence in the process. This is done by addressing different solutions for the different needs of partners – that’s how we bring additional value rather than just being a supplier.”
Along with Phuture’s partnership successes, there’s a great team behind it. “It all wouldn’t be possible without the great people in Phuture and my co-founders. Although we share different perspectives, we are open-minded enough to absorb everyone’s opinions – that is very important as we move forward bracing the uncertain future. We need those multiple perspectives.”
As the world grows increasingly volatile, Jack has big plans in store for Phuture. Though Phuture’s legacy of being a leader in the alternative protein industry has already kicked off, Phuture’s next masterplan is to feed at least 500 million people on a daily basis. “We don’t see this as a niche market at all, we see it as the future of foods.”
Phuture continues to be a part of the global conversation on sustainability, raising awareness and inspiration on the journey through their products. “When you have the enjoyment of being able to participate in the right journey, you extend that enjoyment to another level that aligns with positive values.”
In the long run, Jack hopes that when people see and think of Phuture, they understand that it’s a brand filled with products that were created with the right intentions, thought, effort and technology.