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Anat Natan, CEO and Cofounder of Anina

I talked to Anat Natan, the co-founder and CEO of Anina. Anina is an Israeli startup that takes imperfect food and transforms it into ready-made meals in pods. Food waste has significant economic and environmental implications, and it is estimated that the greenhouse gas emissions from food contribute to 7% of the overall greenhouse gasses emitted globally. We talked about the technology that powers Anina, operating in markets outside of Israel, and what she believes sets Israeli founders apart. 

J: Talk to me about the technology behind Anina. 

A: We create these laminates, these vegetable sheets, and we try to incorporate as much food waste as possible. The laminate is strong but flexible. We try to take the ugly produce, and we try to incorporate all this food waste in our production process because we care about all the factors of the produce outside of how it looks. A third of the produce in the US goes to waste due to aesthetic reasons. I think there’s a catch-22. As consumers, we want to be more and more sustainable, consume more sustainable brands, and support sustainable production. But on the other hand, we become, as consumers, more concerned about what’s perfect. 

After we create these laminates, we mold them, we fill them, and we close them. Our technology is protected IP, and this IP contains the process from fresh produce to the pod, including the laminate. We’re registering it in the US, the EU, Israel, and Singapore. 

J: Did you choose those markets because those will be your first entry points? 

A: Our go-to market is divided into two approaches. With the US, our brand will have partners to get to the market efficiently and reach customers in the right and creative way. With the rest of the world, we are going to use a B2B approach, which is a joint venture. We bring to the table what we know how to do, which is the production process and R&D. And everybody does what they know how to do best. The partners know the market, the consumers, and the supply chain. We start by creating pilots, and we’re going to conduct pilots in Israel, Spain, Andorra, and Singapore to understand the right way to approach the market. And after that, we will create a long-term collaboration with them. 

J: What type of consumer testing have you done so far? 

A: So much. We have conducted external research in Israel, Spain, in Italy (with Barilla) and very in-depth design thinking research. In the US, we have done a market analysis that organizes qualitative, quantitative, demographics, and surveys. Every time we ask the question, do you understand what it is? Do you know how to use it? We give the product to people to try at home and then answer surveys. Anina was established in June 2020, and I’ve been conducting research since August 2020 because I believe that innovation needs to go hand in hand with understanding how to approach the consumer. Obviously, they cannot imagine what they don’t have in front of them. But you have to evaluate what they think to make sure that you don’t bring an alien to them eventually. 

J: You mentioned a lot of different markets in the US, Europe, Israel, and Singapore. Have you noticed differences in the customers in each place? Maybe customers have different preferences, or it has to be given to them in a certain way? 

A: Yes and no at the same time. Our consumers are millennials and Gen-Z and they care about what they eat and care about investing in themselves. And then, when you look at it, the first difference between the countries is the culinary element. We have five different recipes. One of them has beetroot, spinach, and quinoa, and in Singapore, they told us how nobody eats beetroot. And then we spoke to a Russian lady. And she said, ‘that’s my favorite.’ You can talk about pasta. The Italians don’t want pasta in their meals because they know they do it better, but the rest of the world desires pasta.

The understanding of the culinary element is a very local element: What type of ingredients? What type of produce to use? What’s interesting? What’s weird? What’s familiar? So first, the culinary element. And yet, I will tell you that the differences we have expected to be bigger, but it appears that there are more similarities than what we have expected. When we showed them our recipes, there were only adjustments, mainly in the seasoning, not in the whole concept of the recipe. And I was actually curious about it, and I think there’s more similarity in that generation rather than Gen X because of social media. They’re more exposed to the same culinary element. And yet, there are differences.

The second one is about instructions on how to cook. For example, do you give a range of timing of cooking? Do you prefer words or icons? There’s a lot to how you communicate information. But what’s very amazing is that it doesn’t matter if it’s the US, the land of convenience. If it’s Singapore, which I think is the gate to innovation for tech in the Far East. Or if it’s Spain or Israel or Italy, which are very traditional countries when it comes to cooking. The acceptance of the product is unheard of, and everybody appreciates a good home-cooked mouthfeel experience with convenience.

J: So it’s not just about the product but about the experience and how the user sees it, what kind of instructions and images are used? 

A: The most important thing is the mouthfeel and the taste and flavor experience. We know how to control when and how the pod will break down during the cooking process since not all the ingredients get the same amount of time to cook. The pod from the outside is cooked the whole time, while the filling inside is cooked only part of the time.

What is the result? It’s multi-texture because when you cook different things at different times, it’s not that everything is soft. And then people do not understand that. But they say ‘Wow, it tastes like home cooking, it tastes like each ingredient got a different treatment of cooking.’ And this doesn’t exist in the food industry. 

J: Is this a prototype, or is this what you sell? 

A: This is what we sell now in Israel. We have already planned to do a joint venture with Strauss which is the second-biggest food company in Israel. 

J: Where can people buy this? 

A: Mainly online. 

J: I want to ask about is scaling. You have a very unique technology with the food as a laminate, and I imagine this packaging is also custom. How do you tackle the challenge of scaling up? 

A: We are supported by engineers. We have an advisory board that comes to support us so that we scale up in an efficient way. We already have the capacity to produce a few thousand units a month, and there’s a full plan for mass production. We have to do it as fast as possible to get to the most efficient objectives. 

J: What does the timeline look like for entering other countries? 

A: This year, we’re already doing the pilots in the countries I’ve told you about. 

J: How did this idea start? 

A: I met my other two co-founders, Meydan Levy and Esti Brantz. They are industrial designers from the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design in Jerusalem.  They invented the product. They wanted to overcome the challenge of food waste and ugly produce, and they saw it as a phenomenon that only increases with time. With their knowledge, ability, and their artistic way of looking outside of the box, they brought a lot of techniques from other industries to produce all this starting with the laminate and eventually building the pod.

They came to the Kitchen Hub, which is where I met them. The Kitchen Hub creates new teams of founders, allocating technologies, products, innovation, and ideas, and then bringing the right CEO who invents the business.

J: I saw Anina last year in New York at the NY-Israel Foodtech Bridge conference. From your perspective, what was your experience of that conference? 

A:  I met a lot of interesting people that we are even today still thinking of how we can collaborate within the US market. I think the exposure to the US market was very interesting.

J: How would you say Israeli startup founders are different? 

A: There’s a thing in Israel about getting to the bottom line: it looks like being rude. And a lot of Israelis, if you live here, it feels like it’s rude, but we cut to the chase. You can be aggressive in your movement and still be a friend when you finish the meeting, and that’s something that doesn’t exist in the world. I think there are a lot of benefits to that.

Joy Chen is a contributor at the Spoon and has been writing about robotics and alternative proteins for the past year and a half. Although originally from the United States, she is currently studying at Tel Aviv University in Tel Aviv, Israel.