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Veganism—or even simply eating more plant-forward—is one of the fastest-growing food trends—but bland tofu, watery non-dairy milk, and black bean burgers can get old quickly.
With an innovative technology that utilizes the power of artificial intelligence (say hello…or maybe “010101”… to their proprietary AI Chef, Giuseppe), NotCo is changing the game when it comes to plant-based eating with their vegan not-milk, not-burgers, and not-chicken that taste just like the real thing.
After sampling their star product—the NotBurger—at Expo East 2022, we had to learn more about this Chilean food-tech company, and Matias Muchnick (CEO and Co-Founder of NotCo) kindly supplied us with more answers.
In this mini-review, learn more about the origin story of NotCo and their Employee of the Year, Guiseppe, and how they stack up with factors like quality, transparency, value, and brand value.
The NotBurger uses the power of AI to mimic the flavors of meat in this vegan burger.
Water, Pea Protein, Coconut Oil, Sunflower Oil, Natural Flavors, Bamboo Fiber, Less Than 2% of: Methylcellulose, Dried Yeast, Rice Protein, Salt, Cocoa Powder Processed With Alkali, Psyllium Husk, Potato Fiber, Red Beet Juice Powder (Color), Chia Protein Concentrate, Spinach Powder.
NotCo’s Origin Story: No Meat, No Problem
Created in 2015 in Chile by co-founders Matias Muchnick, Pablo Zamora, and Karim Pichara, NotCo recently brought their unique plant-based products and proprietary AI technology from South to North America.
The team’s main goal was to reinvent the food industry by using plants and vegetables to replicate animal products—but they took it a step further with CTO Karim’s creation of Giuseppe.
Since 2015, they’ve experienced a quick expansion and launched products in the dairy, eggs, and meat segments in eight countries (Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Colombia, and the United States).
In 2020, NotCo made their way stateside, first launching NotMilk—one of their oldest and best-selling products—as their initial USA offering.
Giuseppe is our one-of-a-kind, artificial intelligence technology that creates true plant-based alternatives that replicate animal-based counterparts faster, better, and more accurately than anyone else in the industry.
Matias Muchnick, co-founder of NotCo
Now, NotBurger is available nationwide at Whole Foods and Sprouts Farmers Markets, and the most recent launch of the top-performing NotChicken Crispy Patties can be found at Sprouts country-wide.
Jumping to today, NotCo has partnered with some of the biggest food names in space, like Starbucks, Burger King, and Papa John’s in Latin America, and Shake Shack and Kraft Heinz in the United States—ever heard of them?
Their newest joint venture with Kraft Heinz (The Kraft Heinz Not Company LLC) may help NotCo advance its goal of reinventing global food production in a sustainable way.
As Matias reflects, “Using Giuseppe and Kraft’s portfolio and scale, the partnership can develop plant-based versions of co-branded products at a level of speed, taste, quality, and scale yet to be seen in the industry.”
Okay, now we know you’re wondering—how exactly does Giuseppe work to craft these tasty vegan products?
Well, Giuseppe takes the molecular composition of animal-based ingredients and searches a database of over 300,000 plants to find similar components to fool our tastebuds.
Matias explained to our team, “Giuseppe is our one-of-a-kind, artificial intelligence technology that creates true plant-based alternatives that replicate animal-based counterparts faster, better, and more accurately than anyone else in the industry.”
For example, pineapple, cabbage, and coconut have molecules equivalent to those in dairy milk, while cocoa and spinach are added to their not-burger to emulate meat.
But Giuseppe doesn’t always get it right, as seen when he added dill to one of their first iterations of not-milk that turned it green—right flavor molecule, wrong color!
As Matias told us about Giuseppe’s missteps and growth process, their team of scientists and culinary chefs from various countries “provides feedback to improve Giuseppe every day. As Giuseppe continues to develop, we’re able to cut down on the product development timeline as a result and make better-tasting products.”
And in case you’re wondering, his namesake is Giuseppe Archimboldo—a famous Italian artist who illustrated and painted human faces using plants, fruits, and vegetables.
Our NotCo Review
In this review, we’re looking at a handful of key factors that determine what makes a brand worth your while: overall quality, transparency, value, and brand value.
NotCo’s quality is backed by boasting a handful of certifications, mostly-healthy ingredients, and AI-crafted formulations in their vegan products.
Starting with the all-important issue of quality, we took a look at the ingredients, formulations, and certifications behind the products.
The main ingredient in the NotCo burgers and milk is textured pea protein, a regenerative product cultivated from peas to create high-protein, plant-based meat alternatives.
Compared to vegan products fortified with hemp or rice protein, pea protein contains a healthy balance of all nine essential amino acids.
And while animal proteins are generally more easily digested and absorbed than plant-based versions, pea protein is one of the better-digested plant proteins on the market.
We like the ingredients of the NotBurgers more than the NotChicken products, as the latter is made with the not-so-great canola oil—we’d prefer to see coconut or avocado oil instead.
Many of the other ingredients in the NotCo products are there to invoke the flavors of the animal product—like cocoa and spinach powder in the NotBurger and pineapple and cabbage juice in the NotMilk, for example.
The NotMilk also has added in some vitamins and minerals (calcium, potassium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12) to emulate the nutritional quality of milk and contains 4g of protein per serving—although this is lower than the protein content of cow’s milk, it’s higher than that of almond, rice, or oat milk.
Next on the list of quality is certifications, which NotCo has quite a few of, including Certified Vegan, Non-GMO Project Verified, and Kosher on all products, and the NotBurger and NotMilk are also Certified Gluten-Free.
Now, let’s take a look at the other two product categories that NotCo currently offers in the United States—NotChicken and NotMilk.
NotMilk is a pretty decent parallel to actual dairy milk (in our opinion) and it comes Whole, in 1% Reduced Fat, 2% Reduced Fat, and in Chocolate.
Water, Sunflower oil, Pea protein, Soluble corn fiber, Cane sugar, Pineapple juice concentrate, Gellan gum, Acacia gum, Salt, Cabbage juice concentrate, Natural flavor, Minerals and vitamins (dipotassium phosphate, calcium carbonate, vitamin D, vitamin B12).
Move over McNuggets—NotCo’s Chicken Nuggets are the new easy and plant-based way to get your fix of this kid-friendly food.
Plant-Based Nugget: Water, Canola oil, Textured soy protein, Soy protein isolate, Methylcellulose, Wheat protein, Bamboo fiber, Fava bean protein isolate, Salt, Corn powder, Peach powder, Natural flavor.
Plant-Based Breading: Enriched wheat flour, Water, Modified corn starch, Corn starch, Modified wheat starch, Sugars (sugar, dextrose, barley malt extract), Rice starch, Rice flour, Salt, Methylcellulose, Pea protein, Leavening agent, Paprika (color), Yeast, Spices.
Another all-star in the NotChicken category is their NotChicken Burger, a crispy vegan chicken patty with Guiseppe designating the flavor profiles to come from fava bean concentrate, corn powder, and peach powder.
Although the website is chock full of information about the founding story, product information, and the men behind the brand (Giuseppe included, of course), details about supply chains, manufacturing, and sourcing were lacking.
But some areas of transparency lacking to the public are where they are sourcing their ingredients from and where the products are being manufactured.
However, with their Chile-based headquarters and products going out to eight countries, it’s understandable that supply chains and manufacturing aren’t quite as simple as just pointing at one place on the map.
While it’s difficult to compare, NotCo is ahead of the pack in burger affordability and close to on-par with other vegan, pea-based milk.
Although there aren’t any brands doing it quite like NotCo, we included a comparison of a couple of other plant-based burgers and milk.
It’s difficult to compare non-dairy milk with NotMilk, as the latter is not made from nuts or seeds and is uniquely “one of the only milk alternatives that delivers on taste and functionality,” as Matias puts it.
But, while NotMilk is more pricey than the ubiquitous Almond Breeze, it’s relatively on par with Ripple, a pea-protein-based milk.
And the NotBurger is the most affordable in this trio of vegan burgers—with their four-packs, they are beating out the competition by a buck.
|NotBurger||$9.99 for 4, 4oz burgers ($2.50 per burger)|
|Impossible Burger||$6.99 for 2, 4oz burgers ($3.50 per burger)|
|Dr. Praeger’s||$5.49 for 2, 4oz burgers ($2.75 per burger)|
|NotMilk||$4.29 for 32 fl oz ($0.13/oz)|
|Ripple Milk||$5.49 for 48 fl oz ($0.11/oz)|
|Almond Breeze||$3.99 for 64 fl oz ($0.06/oz)|
NotCo has innovation in spades, a commitment to the environment, and is without a doubt disrupting the plant-based food industry.
Last but not least, we looked at how NotCo stacks up with brand value—our criteria include innovation, industry disruption, sustainability, philanthropy, and impact on public nutrition.
When it comes to innovation and industry disruption, there’s no question—NotCo is doing something entirely different than the food world has ever seen.
And as NotCo is constantly innovating, we wondered if they’d have some new products in the works—and news of what’s coming in the pipeline did not disappoint.
According to Matias, NotCo was recently granted a set of patents for a new technology that allows them to develop scents and aromas to conjure human emotions and memories.
While this definitely sounds like it’s venturing into the sci-fi realm, Matis explained more about the technology, stating that it “constructs flavors that evoke nostalgic feelings like falling in love for the first time or the smell of childhood, so this invites tremendous opportunity and new innovation.”
We can’t wait to see what they (and Guiseppe, of course) will come up with next.
They’re also no stranger to the sustainability movement—in fact, it’s one of the main reasons they founded their company.
Global food production is a leading cause of greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, and environmental destruction—and industrially farmed animals are a significant part of these issues.
According to NotCo’s website, switching to NotMilk could lead to 74% less energy used, 92% less water used, and 74% less CO2 generated compared to regular milk production.
The numbers are even greater when it comes to NotBurgers: 89% less energy, 87% less water, and 88% less CO2.
They also have a fun interactive section—who doesn’t love a game?—where you can play around with how much energy and resources you can save when making the switch to plant-based—take a look:
As Matias states about their commitment to sustainability, “We believe that replicating the animal products we all love to eat, but using plants, gives us all an opportunity to reduce our environmental impact without even realizing it. We are here to create a different food system – reinvent it, actually – without animals and for everyone, everywhere.”
However, while NotCo is certainly into sustainability and helping the planet—which is undeniably worthwhile—we didn’t see any evidence of philanthropic efforts or charities they’re involved with at this time.
Lastly, let’s take a look at the potential public nutrition impact of NotCo and their “not” products.
While most people recognize that factory-farmed and industrial meat is not good for us, the animals, or the planet, it can be argued that high-quality, humanely raised animals eating the food they are meant to consume (grass for cows, bugs and plants for chickens, for example) benefit human and environmental health more than eating vegan.
However, until the entire world gets behind regenerative, pasture-raised, and humane farming, vegan options are a plus for people who don’t have access to these higher-quality animal products—whether due to lack of proximity or resources.
We believe that replicating the animal products we all love to eat, but using plants, gives us all an opportunity to reduce our environmental impact without even realizing it. We are here to create a different food system – reinvent it, actually – without animals and for everyone, everywhere.
Matias Muchnick, co-founder of NotCo
And as a last vote for NotCo’s stellar brand value, a common question that vegans get from die-hard carnivores is, “If you’re vegan, why would you want to eat something that looks/tastes like meat?!”
And the answer is that many vegans, vegetarians, or plant-forward eaters don’t always nix meat because of its taste.
They go veg for a myriad of reasons ranging from environmental to health to ethical concerns—and NotCo can help bridge the gap between not wanting to eat animal products and missing the taste of them.
Our Experience with NotCo
At the NotCo booth at Expo East 2022, we sampled not-chocolate milk (no, it didn’t taste like cabbage), not-burgers, and not-chicken nuggets, all of which were tasty alternatives to the real thing.
Although the burger didn’t fool the most meat-loving members of our bunch, we’d bet that any vegan who misses a classic-style beefy burger would be impressed.
Overall, we were impressed with the mission behind NotCo and how they are changing the plant-based game.
By far, the most innovative thing about NotCo is Chef Giuseppe—without his unique flavor combinations that definitely don’t sound like they belong in burgers and milk, NotCo would just be added to the list of regular ol’ plant-based milk and patties.
But with their industry disruption and commitment to sustainability, we can’t wait to see where NotCo goes next and how the future of food will alter from here.
As Matias eloquently concluded, “It’s been a belief from consumers that to switch to plant-based, you have to make sacrifices—including taste and texture of products. We’re creating products that won’t require consumers to choose. We know this is only the beginning of what we, as an industry, can do. We also know it’s about more than NotCo, but about the future of the food industry. We’re excited to be a part of this much-needed transformation of the food industry.”