BEAUTY IN THE FRIDGE

This S’porean is betting big on keto and plant-based meals, his latest venture: Insane Meals

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In March last year, we covered Ketomei, Singapore’s first keto meal subscription service.

Ketomei was launched in December 2019 by Constant Tong. The 53-year-old is a veteran in tech, who started out as a software engineer for Singapore Airlines in 1992.

Over the years, he has clocked a wealth of experience leading product management at companies like Internet services firm EdgeMatrix and stock trading app TradeHero. He even co-founded a fintech startup in Shanghai.

Prior to Ketomei, he most recently served as the assistant vice president for Razer Pay.

Commenting on the growth of Ketomei for the past 19 months, Constant said that customer response has been overwhelming despite the Covid-19 pandemic and last year’s circuit breaker.

He added that it has crossed over seven-digit sales in the first 10 months of operation, and delivered over 200,000 keto meals to thousands of customers since inception.

They have also since moved into a 4,500-square feet central kitchen and beefed up their team with more talented chefs.

In addition to their weekly keto meals, Ketomei has also expanded into selling keto pastries, beverages and snacks, on top of hosting workshops and coaching to educate others on the science behind Keto diet.

Venturing into keto-based fine dining

gourmei keto fine dining
Gourmei’s curated keto-based fine dining dishes / Image Credit: Gourmei

Following Ketomei, Constant went on to launch Gourmei, a keto-based fine dining online restaurant amid the pandemic.

I wanted to create a fine dining concept that offers delicious meals with a more exquisite taste, yet remaining keto-compliant. Keto food is always seen as diet food but in fact, (it) is just (like any other) food that is nutritious and delicious.

While there are many fine dining restaurants in Singapore, there is a serious lack of keto or low-carb options. It inspired me to design a ‘space’ for people to enjoy delightful food while feeling great about their bodies after a meal.

– Constant Tong, founder of Ketomei, Gourmei and Insane Meals

Gourmei essentially fuses fine dining and healthy diets, enabling diet-conscious consumers to savour a fuss-free, high-end home dining experience without compromising on the enjoyment of the food.

Their curated menu include signature dishes like Côte de Boeuf, Octopus Salad, Gravlax Salmon and Duck Leg Confit.

In this pandemic period where dining out is still restricted and work from home is on the rise, Gourmei has seen an increase in orders who want to try out keto fine dining food.

Spurred by this gradual demand, Constant said that he is considering extending Gourmei’s presence with a physical restaurant once the effect of the pandemic is over.

Entering the plant-based arena with meal subscription

Now, Constant is deepening his foray into F&B with a new plant-based meal subscription service.

Called Insane Meals, it is collaborating with some of the region’s largest plant-based companies like Impossible Foods, TiNDLE, KARANA, abillion, OmniFoods and Innovate 360 to help spread the love for food sustainability.

insane meals plant-based
Insane Meals has collaborated with multiple plant-based brands / Image Credit: Insane Meals

“With the success of Ketomei, I realised I could change people lives by providing a very specific diet plan designed for special needs — and do it in an exciting and fun way,” said Constant.

He initially wanted to launch a brand that caters more to those who are fitness- and health-conscious that follow a high protein, balanced diet. However, there were already a few existing services in the market.

Since he was intrigued with the development of plant-based products, he felt that “the time is right” to offer a plant-based meal subscription that is both “kosher” for vegans and vegetarians, but also appeal to the palate of meat eaters.

“In fact, we want to target more towards the meat eater and get them to switch to eating less meat. It’s better for them, the planet and the animals, so why not?” remarked Constant.

Constant’s partnership with the various plant-based brands dates all the way back when he first introduced some plant-based options to the Ketomei menu.

So when he later revealed to them his intention of launching Insane Meals, he was glad to find that they were all supportive of his new venture.

Insane Meals’ menu is is curated and developed by head chef Justin Seah and team, guided alongside a certified dietitian. It is refreshed every week to keep it interesting and enjoyable for its subscribers, but the startup also makes it a point to bring back popular meals more often.

Its plan options include ‘Flexi’ at six meals a week from S$108, and ‘Everyday’ at 12 meals a week from S$204. This equates to S$17 or S$18 per meal, which actually sits on the higher side of the pricing scale.

Justifying the price, Constant reasoned that they use premium ingredients that are healthy and more expensive; and it also includes the delivery fee.

Alternative proteins like Impossible and TiNDLE also cost more than real meat at this point. With the growing market for alternative protein, the price for these “meat” will drop and we will revise our price accordingly.

We will also run promotions from time to time, so people can try out (Insane Meals) at a lower introductory cost. If they like what we are serving, they can sign up for a month-long subscription to enjoy lower prices.

– Constant Tong, founder of Ketomei, Gourmei and Insane Meals

As someone who has personally tried out some of Insane Meals’ meal boxes, it was indeed very fuss-free and convenient. I didn’t have to think about where to go for lunch or what to buy, and simply need to pop it into the microwave to heat it up.

When it came to taste, it tastes decent (you honestly can’t tell that it consists of plant-based meat) and it’s great that each box is labelled with the necessary dietary information label so you know what exactly you’re eating, making you feel healthier.

The price however, is admittedly an off-putting factor. I’m not willing to spend over S$15 on healthy bento meals. If I wanted convenience, I’m sure I can find a similarly healthy option on food delivery platforms and spend the same amount, if not lesser.

The needle will only turn for me when it gets cheaper — and this will only happen when the price of alternative protein drops.

Business challenges faced

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Constant Tong, founder of Insane Meals / Image Credit: Insane Meals

When he first started up Insane Meals, Constant recounted how he had to juggle multiple hats — from packing meals, delivering them, and handling online marketing.

“Having to manage a business that involves digital marketing, production kitchen and delivery team is not easy. It’s a bit like running a SaaS, a catering business and logistic business concurrently. As a tech entrepreneur, I have strong experience in certain areas so I have to hire to augment our core capabilities in other areas.”

Now, he has a team of about 30 staff that he can depend on to help meet these challenges. The startup had tapped on various government schemes such as Jobs Support Scheme, Jobs Growth Incentive and SG United traineeship to help support their headcount growth.

Like any other growing startup, another challenge that he faced was cashflow.

Being 100 per cent self-funded, this is a constant struggle. With the initial success and strong sales, I managed to raise a small round of funds from a seed investors and secure some bank loan.

– Constant Tong, founder of Ketomei, Gourmei and Insane Meals

So far, slightly over S$30,000 has been invested in the business to fund the renovation of new kitchen, purchase of more equipments, as well as to ramp up headcount in marketing and production.

While some might think that Covid-19 would give them with another set of business challenges, it has actually presented them with an opportunity to create a fully online and digital subscription-based business model.

“We leverage technology not just in the ordering and subscription of our meals, but also in our operations such as routing and tracking of our deliveries. To some extent, our business is Covid-proof and our sales grew when people are working from home and became more health conscious, or want to lose some weight.”

Acknowledging that Covid-19 has dramatically impacted the F&B landscape, Constant believes that the way forward is to go digital.

According to him, this transcends beyond getting onboarded on food delivery platforms which is not cost-effective due to high commission rates, but rather, there needs to be a “shift in paradigm (to) try something new that no one has done before.”

Particularly, there are opportunities in niche healthy food trends that F&B companies can leverage and try to capture.

From there, they have to think deeper and create new business models, user experiences, and build digital capabilities to excel in the new era of social commerce. Once they have built enough order volume, they will be able to have better control over the delivery cost.

“The war is fought on the digital front these days. Merely being digital ready is not enough; successful F&B businesses need to be a master in using tech and digital marketing.”

Plant-based is not a fad, and will be the future of food

In Singapore, many plant-based startups are emerging, signalling the rise of sustainable businesses.

At the back of this trend, Constant observed that sustainability has become a major theme for many venture capitalists, and the government too has goals to turn Singapore into a global food tech hub.

But with no livestocks or land for large-scale agriculture, we have to focus on investment in alternative protein and various new deep technologies to disrupt the global food manufacturing ecosystem. … I foresee more investment and funds focusing on this space as a form of impact investment.

As a 100 per cent plant-based meal subscription service that is heavy on alternative protein, Insane Meals is positioned to take advantage of these opportunities. … As the number of plant-based eaters grow, so will Insane Meals’ subscriber base, therefore opening options for even more plant-based products.

– Constant Tong, founder of Ketomei, Gourmei and Insane Meals

Plant-based food / Image Credit: Insane Meals

According to a ResearchandMarkets report, the plant-based meat market was worth US$5.6 billion in 2020, and is expected to reach US$14.9 billion by 2027.

While it is still a relatively small number compared to the global meat market, Constant pointed out that it is growing rapidly and expressed confidence that “it may turn the tide against animal meat” at some point.

When asked what will it take for consumers to permanently switch to plant-based alternatives, he listed out three factors that are currently preventing mass adoption: marketing (most people think it’s reserved for vegans), high cost (meat is much cheaper than alternative protein), and the perception of taste (many prefer to eat the ‘real deal’).

The way to market plant-based meat/meals is important. Rather than market it as a vegan product, we are seeing and using a more diverse and inclusive messaging so as to generate demand from health-conscious consumers, flexitarians, omnitarians and vegans alike.

I (also) believe plant-based meat can taste as good as meat if prepared properly. (However), price is key. For the world to eat plant-based, the price must drop. This is a chicken and egg issue: once there is volume, plant-based meat will keep dropping in price, while the price of beef and seafood will only go up.

– Constant Tong, founder of Ketomei, Gourmei and Insane Meals

Summing it up, he believes that the plant-based trend will persist and is confident that it will become the norm in the future.

Sharing future business plans, Constant shared that they are looking to launch plant-based dessert and beverages next, and potentially their own brand of alternative protein product for less available options like mutton.

Beyond Insane Meals, he is also looking to grow the other two brands — Ketomei and Gourmei — and is eyeing to launch them outside of Singapore.

Featured Image Credit: Insane Meals

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