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Start-up of the month: Foreverland
FoodBev Media

FoodBev Media

24 January 2024

Start-up of the month: Foreverland

It’s easy to get swept up in the news and activities of the industry’s global titans, but what about the smaller firms that are out there flexing their creative muscles? In this instalment of ‘Start-up of the month’ – which celebrates the lesser-known companies and their innovations – we speak to Massimo Sabatini, co-founder and CEO of Foreverland, an Italian company producing a sustainable alternative to chocolate without the cocoa, called Freecao. Could you provide an overview of Foreverland and its mission? The journey of Foreverland is led by four young innovators: Massimo Brochetta, Riccardo Bottiroli, Massimo Sabatini and Giuseppe D'Alessandro. Pooling their extensive experiences from multinational corporations, they united with a common purpose to collectively make a positive impact on the world. Sabatini left the oil and gas sector after realising that the food industry was the second-largest contributor to CO2 emissions. This motivated him to seek innovative solutions alongside his friend D'Alessandro, a marketing expert with experience in the chocolate industry. The team was completed with Bottiroli, a researcher at world-renowned Wageningen University with a background in the food sector, and Brochetta, his friend and collaborator on innovative food product development. From that point on, the four of them embarked on a shared mission: realise the next generation of chocolate sustainably and healthily, without cocoa.

Our mission is to free the world from the issues of conventional chocolate Taking part in the FoodSeed acceleration programme has been crucial, as it focuses on food-tech with an international vision and spirit. With the support of Eatable Adventure, a dynamic partner in the startup landscape, we've laid the groundwork for an ambitious goal. Our mission is to free the world from the issues of conventional chocolate. D'Alessandro: "We began thinking about an alternative to chocolate, and carob emerged as an interesting possibility. I remember my grandparents in Puglia consuming it, calling it – the chocolate of the poor – due to its resemblance in terms of colour and consistency." Bottiroli: "We've used a combination of traditional and patented innovative technologies to achieve the taste and texture of chocolate without cocoa."

What are the major challenges facing cocoa production right now? Chocolate, one of the world's most beloved treats, often conceals a darker side to its production. The cocoa industry is responsible for almost half of deforestation in Ivory Coast and Ghana, the sources of two-thirds of the world's cocoa. Additionally, over 1.5 million children are exploited in its harvesting. Furthermore, chocolate ranks as the top water-intensive ingredient, requiring approximately 24,000 litres of water per kilogram, while contributing significantly to carbon emissions, ranking second among CO2 emitters, primarily due to logistics and land exploitation. Traditional chocolate faces two economic challenges: a price increase of over 60% compared to last year and the potential disappearance of 90% of plantations in Ghana and Ivory Coast by 2050 due to climate change. Foreverland aims to address environmental and social issues related to cocoa cultivation. Can you provide specific details on how Freecao achieves this? How does it impact the environment? Sustainability profile:

  1. 90% less water: using local ingredients with incredible resistance to drought.

  2. 80% CO2 emission: with local production, no pesticides and no deforestation.Can you share more about the ingredients of Freecao? Our Freecao (the commercial name we gave to our cocoa-free chocolate) contains carob as the main ingredient, together with a blend of different grains, sugar and label-friendly vegetable fats (palm-free, no trans); Fat source: a blend of vegetable fats made of more sustainable cocoa butter alternatives, including shea butter, which is palm-free and clean label (not hydrogenated, not trans-esterified) What sets Freecao apart from other players in the cacao-free market?

  3. Focus on forgotten crops, by-products and local ingredients.

  4. Go beyond sustainability, including the wellbeing of people in our value proposition, proposing products that are also naturally vegan and top nine allergen-free. We do believe that for being future-proofing, chocolate should be not only good in taste but also for the planet and the future.

Can you elaborate on the R&D process behind creating Freecao? What specific considerations were taken into account to ensure the quality and taste of the final product? Chocolate is a comforting indulgence, so our journey began with a commitment to crafting something delicious. Beyond taste, sustainability was also an important pillar for us. Thus, besides carob, our R&D team meticulously scouted and selected Mediterranean ingredients and forgotten crops that could match our product needs, creating an alt-choc aligning indulgence with environmental responsibility. Then, we applied proprietary label-friendly processes relying on fermentation, biocatalysis and roasting to recreate the same chemical reaction responsible for the desired flavour profile of cocoa and chocolate. In the context of health and wellness, how does Freecao address nutritional aspects? Are there any specific health benefits associated with this cacao-free product? Nutritional profile:

  1. Allergen-free: free from gluten, caffeine and the top nine allergen-free; naturally vegan

  2. Nickel-free

  3. No artificial: clean label and no artificial ingredients with up to 50% less added sugar

  4. Health benefits: we are studying with the University of Bari the health benefits of our Freecao, which stem from the absence of theobromine and caffeine in our products, making it more digestible and suitable for a broader audienceWhat advice do you have for other start-ups in the food and beverage and sustainability industry? Start-ups are the primary means to bring innovation and change to an industrial system, simultaneously creating new opportunities. In the food-tech sector, we believe there are excellent prospects for development and transformation, driven by sustainability principles and the global growth in food demand. What's next for Foreverland? We aim to create the biggest impact possible. For the next year, we plan to launch new products and develop new partnerships to promote and explore various uses of our Freecao. Horizontal product portfolio that goes behind chocolate, by the beginning of the year, we will also have our MVP of the Freecao spread ready: product without cacao and free from allergens, including hazelnut paste, but still with comparable sensory properties.

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