Last week, I shared my review of a week of meals from Faba, a brand new startup in Singapore that specialises in flash-frozen, vegan meals. I enjoyed my time with Faba and appreciate what Sean and Alex, Faba's co-founders, are trying to do with the brand, so I was curious to find out more about their experience, how Faba started and the philosophy behind the business.
I reached out to them and they kindly agreed to take time out of their busy schedules to answer a few of my questions. So, without further ado, let's learn more about this exciting new brand and its passionate co-founders.
About Sean and Alex
Sean Hyatt was born and bred in Australia and has spent much of his professional career in China working for multinational food companies. Sean speaks fluent Mandarin and now lives in Singapore, where he co-founded Faba after meeting Alex.
Alex Sheldon studied in both the United Kingdom and Singapore and also worked in multinational supply-chain companies, primarily in Europe and Singapore. Alex is a capable cook and did most of the research and development for the meals that would eventually populate Faba's plant-powered bundle.
With the introductions out of the way, I'll hand this over to Sean and Alex to tell you more about Faba in their own words.
How it started
"Before either of us knew each other, we both joined Antler, an incubator that helps people build startups. You have to have a level of experience to join and you become part of a community of like-minded people that helps each other out and pitches for funding for business ideas.
"During the first week of the programme, Alex and I started talking as we were both jaded by 'tech bros' and we identified that both of us had previous experience in the food industry. We quickly started thinking about how we could make an impact in Singapore's food sector that would be both successful and, importantly, scalable.
"We started to brainstorm ideas for brands – one of our earliest was an allergen-based food business – but one day, while walking around Fort Canning, we both started to talk about how we'd both tried to 'go vegan' but had failed. If you've never tried veganism and were not raised to eat that way, it can be quite hard to start and, if you're food fanatics like us, the idea of giving up foods we love sounded daunting. We asked ourselves: can we make going vegan easier and less of a sacrifice and compromise?
"We concluded that we could and this is when we decided to do something with our combined experience to help people like us eat more sustainably and positively change their diets."
It's all in the name
"Once we'd settled on a concept and had sketched out our initial plans, we started thinking about what we wanted to call our new business. At the very least we knew we wanted it to be unique so that it stood out and we knew that we didn't want to pigeonhole ourselves with a name that specifically tied us to food or nutrition – we have big plans for the future.
"The final name, Faba, ended up coming from one of our meals. In an early iteration of our Chipotle Burrito Bowl, we used mashed-up fava beans to create guacamole instead of avocado. During the dish's development, someone told us that in their country they call fava beans 'faba beans' and we liked how that sounded, so we went with that. To us, Faba means plant-based and it means sustainability – it isn't a vegan brand for vegans, it's a tasty brand that happens to make food for vegans. We've also been told that Faba is an auspicious-sounding name in Mandarin, which is a bonus!"
Creating the plant-powered bundle
"We knew early on that we were entering into a competitive sector, food-delivery companies and meal-plan providers have exploded in recent years, especially since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. We aimed to provide flavourful vegan meals that would last longer than fresh deliveries and didn't come with the hefty price tag of other food-delivery companies that can easily come to S$30+ per meal.
"Alex is a great cook and he did much of the research and development alongside local chefs in Singapore to test our meals and make them scalable. During development, we decided that we wouldn't chase the calories and macros in each recipe – it just didn't make sense when we wanted to focus on making them taste fantastic. It would have meant sacrificing certain aspects of each recipe to 'fit the numbers' and it would have led to some illogical decisions, for example, switching out pasta for string beans in our bolognese – no thanks!"
[Fun fact: one of those local chefs Sean and Alex refer to was Max Mepham, the head chef of Green Kitchen, read my interview with Max here.]
Not a meal-plan provider
"When you think of meal plans, you think of diets, calories, and restrictive eating, and that's why we don't describe ourselves as a meal-plan provider. We focus on sustainable and tasty food that is healthy and minimally processed. We are transparent regarding the ingredients we use and list the nutritional information for all our meals on our website and packaging, but we don't want to give the impression that we create fitness-nutrition products. We create meals that are balanced for the averagely active person, not athletes.
"We use the weight of raw ingredients to calculate nutritional information based on data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) website. Eventually, we plan to take our meals to a lab and get the macros redone based on the cooked ingredients to ensure our customers know exactly what they're eating.
"Of course, we are flexible and we do have broad plans to create more bundles and add more dishes to our range that will fill the macronutrient requirements of some of our customers. We certainly want to build more optionality into what is available from Faba and we plan to start doing that by offering more cuisines to our menu."
Sustainability at its core
"Veganism is inherently sustainable, however, we both care about the environment and want to focus on sustainability in as many aspects of the business as possible.
"Frozen-food delivery is largely unexplored in Asia and we see it as a great way to provide a tasty and sustainable product. From our perspective, there are 3 big benefits: we put less demand on our supply chain since we can work with a more stable and consistent supply of ingredients; our meals have a longer shelf life, which means we only have to deliver bundles once per week (a lower carbon footprint); and customers can eat meals when it's convenient for them, which means less food waste.
"We also feel that flash-frozen meals allow us to achieve the scale we mentioned earlier since we can avoid the inherent fatigue that comes with operating a fresh-food-delivery model. Fresh food is great, we've enjoyed fresh-food meal plans in Singapore ourselves, however, we feel they can be quite limiting since lunches and dinners must be pre-defined so that the cooks can prepare the meals each morning. Frozen meals give customers more flexibility, for example, when we eventually have 30 meals that customers can choose from, they can do so in any combination they want and keep them for longer once they've received them – that's a level of diversity and flexibility that the 'fresh guys' simply cannot replicate."
[It's here that Sean shared his "Fabacado" story as an analogy for food sustainability. This is a little out of continuity for this interview, but I had to include it since I enjoyed hearing it so much.]
"We wanted to create vegan versions of meals we love and both of us love Mexican cuisine, especially burritos. An essential part of Mexican cuisine is guacamole, which is made from avocados, a fruit that is held up as a beacon of good health when in actuality they are quite bad for the environment. Avocados are grown in the desert and require a lot of water to grow and ripen before they are transported for long periods all over the world. While in transit, many of these avocados will rot. Let's be honest, we've all had a bad-avocado experience, they taste great when you get a ripe one but it's super frustrating when you don't.
"Any restaurant that makes avocado-based guacamole inevitably throws away a lot of it at the end of the day if it hasn't been consumed, which creates avoidable food waste. We don't want that to be the case at Faba, so we make our guacamole with mashed edamame beans, which provides a similar experience, with comparable health benefits and lasts a lot longer (plus it freezes well!)"
Mission not Impossible
"We decided not to use any plant-based meats in our recipes. While we don't have any issues with plant-based meats – we have tried them – we just don't feel that it's necessary to use them to create our indulgent meals. We are also aware that many perceive plant-based meats as highly processed, which is an association we want to avoid.
"When customers see our meals, such as the 'Smoky Chili Bowl' or 'Chipotle Burrito Bowl', they may assume that we use plant-based meats; we relish the challenge of using non-meat ingredients to create similar (and in our opinion better) flavours and textures. A great example of this is our 'Rigatoni Bolognese', which emulates a meat-based bolognese using lentils, mushrooms and walnuts. These are ingredients that you may not associate with a bolognese texture or flavour, but it tastes great."
[I can attest to this, Faba's Bolognese is one of the best meals I received all week when I ordered from them.]
It's not a vegan club
"We know all too well how difficult it can be to go vegan and we want to help those that are starting or are currently on that journey. We're aware of misconceptions about veganism, such as the inability to get enough protein in your diet, but with good meal planning you can consistently eat enough or greater than the amount of protein an averagely active person requires."
[If you need more vegan-friendly protein to hit your daily macros, you can turn to plant-based protein supplements, such as Myprotein's Pea Protein Isolate.]
"Ultimately, the whole purpose of Faba is to get people on any type of diet to eat more vegan food. It's not about our bottom line and we're not here to tell you to become a lifelong member of a 'vegan club', but we do want to make the prospect attractive enough that people give it a try – you might be surprised by how much you enjoy it ... who knows?"
A big thank you
My thanks to Sean and Alex for taking time out to talk to me. I respect their passion and commend them for what they're doing with Faba – their meals taste good too, so I recommend giving it a go. If you want to learn more about what's included in Faba's plant-powered bundle, you can read my full review here.
If you are the owner of one of Singapore's meal-plan providers or have an opinion on any of the topics raised in this interview, please reach out to me – I'd love to talk online or in person. Meanwhile, if you'd like to keep up to date on the workouts I do and the meals I receive, you can follow me on Instagram.