Generation Start-up: Switch Foods sinks its teeth into meat alternatives

Abu Dhabi FoodTech company offers products that may surpass animal protein in terms of health benefits and environmental impact

Switch Foods founder Edward Hamod says driving a shift towards more sustainable practices is reliant on the existence of viable alternatives. Photo: Switch Foods
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Initially considered a lifestyle choice, plant-based diets are gaining traction around the world as a way to reduce the environmental footprint of food, especially meat, at a time when consumers are becoming increasingly health-conscious.

To entrepreneur Edward Hamod, this shift in dietary habits led him to venture into the production of a novel alternative to meat sourced from animals.

Enriched with years of experience in the food technology industry in the UAE, as well as in his native country of Syria, Mr Hamod switched his focus to understanding the impact of food on human health.

In 2022, he launched his own company, Switch Foods, that produces meat derived from plants.

“Recognising a global trend towards sustainable food systems by local authorities, I educated myself on the intersection of food, health and sustainability,” says Mr Hamod, a science graduate from Ohio State University.

“Plant-based meat emerged as my answer to reducing the negative impact of animal meat in the food system.”

Before founding Switch Foods, Mr Hamod was chief operations officer at Abu Dhabi-based Emirates Food Industries.

He also served as a member of the Executive Committee for the Abu Dhabi Food Security Centre and offered his services to several committees advising the Minister of Food Security and the Abu Dhabi Agriculture and Food Safety Authority.

Plant-based meat products have the same consistency, flavour and fibrous texture that animal meat possesses.

Animal meat consists of protein, fat, vitamins, minerals and water. While plants lack muscles, they contain protein, fat, vitamins, minerals and water.

It is this biochemical similarity between plants and animals that is used to produce plant-based meat.

Substituting vegetables for meat reduces saturated fat content while increasing fibre and nutritional content.

“Our global food system, particularly focusing on beef, ranks as the second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, following oil and gas. This sector contributes a significant 30 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, indicating a considerable environmental concern,” says Mr Hamod.

“Consider this: A substantial 80 per cent of the crops we cultivate aren't directly consumed by humans but instead go into feeding animals. These animals provide a mere 17 per cent of our overall food supply, leading to considerable environmental consequences, including land degradation, deforestation and water pollution.”

Additionally, the Food and Agriculture Organisation classifies meat as a cancer-causing product, contributing to high obesity rates and cardiovascular diseases, “particularly in our region”, he adds.

Plant-based meat and alternative proteins have steadily gained traction in the Middle East and around the world, a trend accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a report by Euromonitor.

During the pandemic, meat and dairy production prices were affected as markets faced supply chain issues.

Concerns about sustainability, health, food security and environment further encouraged the production of plant-based meat.

World population growth and an increase in demand is on track to limit the supply of conventional meat. However, plant-based alternatives offer a sustainable solution, potentially feeding a larger population, says Mr Hamod.

“Looking at the bigger picture, there's a critical aspect of food security. Recent global challenges, whether the pandemic or disruptions in supply chains due to natural disasters, highlight our dependence on external sources. Producing locally is a strategic move to mitigate these risks,” he says.

“Amid the ongoing issues in the Red Sea, relying on imports through the Suez Canal and the Red Sea has already resulted in price hikes, container shortages and insurance difficulties.

“Local production significantly reduces these risks and fosters a more resilient and sustainable approach to our food supply chain.”

The global plant-based food market could exceed $162 billion by 2030, from $29.4 billion in 2020, according to Bloomberg Intelligence.

In the Middle East and Africa, the plant-based meat and dairy product market is projected to hit $412.96 million by 2029, from $302.26 million currently, growing at a cumulative rate of more than 6 per cent during the period, according to a report by Mordor Intelligence.

A growing consumer focus on health and sustainability is driving demand for plant-based products across the region.

Switch Foods was incorporated in 2022, and its first production site was inaugurated in April last year at the Khalifa Industrial Zone in Abu Dhabi.

To make plant-based meat, different producers use varying plant protein profiles as their base. Some use soya while others use wheat or even fava.

Switch Foods uses pea protein as its base because “peas are an excellent source of plant-based protein and boast a remarkable essential amino acid profile known for its protein quality and digestibility benefits”, Mr Hamod says.

The pea protein is then extruded and blended with vegetable fats, flavourings and colours to create a product that emulates traditional animal meat's taste, texture and appearance.

“At Switch Foods, we start by carefully selecting our source or protein. We make sure it’s a natural, non-GMO [genetically modified organism] and high-quality protein,” says Mr Hamod.

“We then mix the protein with the other elements available in our products such as wholefoods [tomatoes, parsley, onions, etc], add the vegetable fats, fibre, natural plant-based flavour. All of this is done in different steps and with particular attention to dosages and methods.

“After that, we let the mix hydrate, then we pass [it] through a portioning machine, then forming and then freezing before packing.”

Currently, Switch Foods supplies its products across various retail chains in the UAE, including Spinneys, Carrefour, Lulu, Geant, Almaya, Union Co-op, Sharjah Co-op and others.

It also has an online presence, being available on platforms like Talabat, Careem and Kibsons.

Beyond retail, the company's products have recently been found across several restaurants in the UAE, including Al Safadi, The Coffee Club, all establishments within The First Group hotels, and all Millennium Hotels restaurants.

The company is looking for collaborations with Burger Fuel restaurant.


Company name: Switch Foods
Started: 2022
Founder: Edward Hamod
Based: Abu Dhabi, UAE
Industry: Plant-based meat production
Number of employees: 34
Funding: $6.5 million
Funding round: Seed
Investors: Based in US and across Middle East

Mr Hamod says the company’s reach is not confined to the Emirates as it has “expanded to neighbouring countries, exporting products to Lebanon, Kuwait and Qatar”.

The company has so far raised about $6.5 million from a seed funding round and is in the process of closing another round of $7 million.

Since June 2023, Switch Foods has experienced consistent monthly growth, with a cumulative aggregate growth rate of about 20 per cent a month.

“Examining our current trajectory and growth pattern, we anticipate the 2024 revenue to be around Dh10 million [$2.72 million] from the UAE alone,” Mr Hamod says.

“In the previous year, with only half a year of operation, we closed with a revenue of about Dh2 million in the UAE.”

One of the biggest growth drivers of his business lies in increasing the number of consumers familiar with the brand over time, according to Mr Hamod.

“We're actively engaging in sampling activations and participating in events to build brand awareness. Positive consumer responses during our product trials are translating into actual purchases. It's promising to see the same consumers making repeat purchases, incorporating Switch Foods into their regular shopping routines,” he says.

“As we continue with sampling and awareness initiatives, there's a noticeable uptick in consumer adoption and consumption.”

Q&A with Edward Hamod, chief executive and founder of Switch Foods

What successful start-up do you wish you had started?

If I were to choose one, it would undoubtedly be Tesla. Tesla was a game changer in the automotive industry by leading the global electric vehicle market, a venture that involved substantial risks.

Tesla not only took on formidable competitors head on but emerged victorious, compelling transformative changes in some of the largest global companies. The combination of innovation, risk-taking and a commitment to sustainability makes Tesla a standout success story.

What new skills have you learnt from launching your venture?

The process of launching my venture has been a masterclass in elevating my entrepreneurial skills.

From establishing effective governance structures and securing strategic funding to recruiting and motivating a dynamic start-up team, I have also cultivated the flexibility, agility and mental resilience necessary for navigating the unpredictable nature of the business landscape.

These skills not only contribute to the current success of our venture but also lay the groundwork for future endeavours.

If you could start all over again, what would you do differently?

I would prioritise finding a co-founder of exceptional calibre who shares not only the risks but also the vision for our venture. Having a reliable sounding board who can consistently add value, provide constructive challenges and actively participate in the day-to-day operations is crucial.

I would seek a co-founder who, like me, is fully committed to the venture, willing to share both the triumphs and challenges, and dedicated to being a steadfast support system through the highs and lows of entrepreneurship. Together, we would create a partnership that fosters collaboration, innovation and resilience, enhancing the overall success and longevity of the venture.

What is your next big dream?

My next big dream is to successfully secure a substantial series A funding round for Switch Foods in order to further expand the brand and enter new markets.

Updated: April 04, 2024, 10:08 AM

Company name: Switch Foods
Started: 2022
Founder: Edward Hamod
Based: Abu Dhabi, UAE
Industry: Plant-based meat production
Number of employees: 34
Funding: $6.5 million
Funding round: Seed
Investors: Based in US and across Middle East