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Serving up healthy, sustainable options, Switch Foods triggers shift to environmentally, socially responsible eating habits

Serving up healthy, sustainable options, Switch Foods triggers shift to environmentally, socially responsible eating habits
21 Dec 2023 10:07

MOHAMMAD GHAZAL (ABU DHABI)

A strong desire to address serious gaps and inefficiencies in the food system brought forth the launch of Switch Foods, a FoodTech startup based in the UAE, said its Founder and CEO, Edward Hamod.

In an interview with Aletihad, Hamod detailed the startup’s journey and highlighted the need for healthy, sustainable, and delicious food options, particularly in the Middle East.

According to Hamod, food production is one of the world’s few sectors sustaining 30% waste at origin and 30% waste at destination – no other industry is as inefficient as the food system. In addition, after energy, the food and agriculture system is the second largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions, with around 30% of total global emissions.

“At Switch Foods, we aim not only to create another food company that helps reduce our dependence on animal meat but also to provide food options that appeal to the regional palate while being globally conscious. We identified a notable gap in the market – the lack of relatable protein alternatives for consumers beyond the usual burger patties and nuggets; with Switch Foods, we want to provide accessible, culturally familiar options that align with the culinary habits and preferences of the region,” he said.

“Our range of meat alternatives, such as kofta, kebab, sujuk, mince meat, as well as our exceptional burger, offer delicious, healthy, nutritious, and sustainable food choices for consumers, aiming to enhance food security, diversify sources, and transform perceptions of plant-based meats,” Hamod added.

Climate Support

Moving to environmental preservation and emission reduction, Hamod said that Switch Foods’ commitment to food security aligns seamlessly with the UAE’s national strategies. By recognising the importance of local production of sustainable and self-sufficient foods, the company’s approach involves creating nutrient-rich, plant-based alternatives that are less resource-intensive than conventional meat.

The shift towards locally produced plant-based options significantly contributes to the UAE’s vision of diversifying food sources as well as reducing dependence on imports, a vital aspect of the country’s food security policy. This will contribute to the National Strategy Food Security 2051, which aims to make the UAE the world’s best in the Global Food Security Index by 2051, he said.

“Additionally, by focusing on producing healthy, clean-label, GMO-free, and allergen-free products, we are ensuring that the nutritional needs and health of the UAE population are addressed, aligning with the nation’s goal to provide access to safe, nutritious, and sufficient food all year round,” according to Hamod.

Sustainable Environmental Practices

Hamod said that Switch Food’s approach to sustainability begins with its core product – plant-based meat alternatives. By nature, plant-based foods have a far lower environmental impact than traditional meat since they require much less land and water and significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the CEO noted.

“We focus heavily on local sourcing, which supports our community’s economy and reduces the carbon footprint associated with the long-distance transportation of ingredients. In our production processes, we always strive for ways to cut down on energy waste and consumption,” he added.

Plant-based Meat Alternatives

“At Switch Foods, we take pride in the adaptability and versatility of our plant-based meats. We also ensure that the consumer can treat the product exactly how they’re used to treating conventional meat. Our products are formulated to be free of common allergens, including soy and gluten. This ensures that individuals with dietary restrictions and sensitivities can enjoy our products without worry,” he added.

A Holistic Approach

Elaborating on how plant-based products stand out in terms of health and sustainability, the CEO said that Switch Foods takes a holistic approach to its plant-based products. “Our products use pea protein as a base, which is an excellent plant-based protein source and boasts a remarkable essential amino acid profile, ensuring both protein quality and digestibility,” Hamod said.

“We’ve invested heavily in research and development, collaborating with food technologists, scientists, and culinary experts to produce products that are carefully formulated to be free of allergens, GMOs (genetically modified organisms), soy, gluten, and lactose, catering to various dietary preferences and restrictions. Our products empower all individuals to embrace a healthier lifestyle while indulging in the authentic flavours of their cherished dishes,” he noted.

Food Security in Arid Regions

According to Hamod, in arid regions like the UAE, food security is a big concern, particularly in the face of climate change challenges.

“It has also been proven again and again that large-scale conventional agriculture doesn’t work. However, technology is allowing us to produce healthy, nutritious, and sustainable foods in a region that needs them the most, reducing our dependence on imports. This is how we are aligned with the UAE’s National Food Security Strategy 2051.”

“Earlier this year, we inaugurated our first exclusive plant-based meat production facility at KEZAD, Abu Dhabi, marking a key milestone for the UAE’s plant-based food industry and promoting food security through sustainable innovations and diversified sources,” he said.

The company sources its ingredients locally and also produces high conversion products locally, substantially reducing the environmental footprint in terms of water consumption, land use, and greenhouse gas emissions.

“Our plant-based meat alternatives use far fewer resources than traditional livestock farming, making them ideal for the UAE’s arid environment. Furthermore, we are lowering the region’s reliance on meat imports by providing a healthy and sustainable alternative to traditional meat,” Hamod said.

Mission and Vision

The CEO said that engaging regional hospitality and restaurant groups is crucial to incorporating plant-based meat alternatives into consumer diets.

“Convincing them to include plant-based meat substitutes in their menus required highlighting our products’ health and sustainability benefits. We have signed partnership agreements with leading groups such as the Lebanese restaurant chain Al Safadi, The First Group Hotel Group, and The Millennium Hotels & Resorts Group to curate special plant-based menus for them,” Hamod noted.

Switch Foods has also been actively participating in prominent regional events to showcase its innovative food varieties, including food exhibitions, cultural events and sporting events.

“Recently, we had the opportunity to showcase our products at the exhilarating Formula 1 Grand Prix in Abu Dhabi, a remarkable platform for us to serve an array of Switch varieties, allowing the diverse and international audience to experience our unique and sustainable food options,” he added.

Accessible and Appealing Choice

Hamod said that Switch Foods is dedicated to making the switch to a healthy and sustainable diet an accessible and appealing choice for everyone.

“Our engagement with the community is not just critical; it is integral to our ethos at Switch Foods. We understand that our customers are at the core of our mission, and their insights and preferences drive our innovation. To this end, we actively seek and value community feedback through various channels, including social media, customer surveys, and direct interactions at events and product demonstrations. This continuous dialogue allows us to keep our finger on the pulse of consumer needs and preferences. By incorporating this invaluable feedback into our development process, we ensure that our products not only meet but exceed customer expectations,” Hamod added.

The CEO also pointed to Switch Foods’ plan to lead the MENA region’s transition to sustainable and conscious food choices.

“Switch Foods will spearhead the charge as the MENA region shifts towards more environmentally and socially responsible eating habits. Our strategy is simple: innovate with products that align with local tastes while educating on the benefits of plant-based diets. By offering delicious, healthy, nutritious, and sustainable alternatives and fostering awareness, we aim to significantly shift the region’s eating habits by providing appetising, sustainable options.”

Source: Aletihad - Abu Dhabi
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