From Lab to Commercial Production: Lessons Learned by CHKP
Updated: Apr 26
Interview with Noam Sharon of Israeli food tech startup CHKP
The Food tech sector promises innovative solutions that will pave our global food ecosystem for a cleaner, healthier future. Startups in this emerging biotechnological space face the challenge of working in a lab to produce incredible results that can then be replicated at a commercial production scale. With the first hurdle being perfecting the product, how do startups in this space tackle the transition?
CHKP, formerly known as Planterra, was founded in 2019, and is using chickpea protein isolate to craft exceptional alternative dairy products, including yogurt, cream cheese, milk, creamer, and pudding. Innovating with chickpea- rich in unsaturated fatty acids and a great vitamin source -it competes with dairy substitutes like soy, almond, and oat, without the common allergens.
We interviewed Noam Sharon, the CEO and Co-founder of CHKP, to see how some of these scaling challenges are being met.
When did you realize you had achieved product-market fit?
Noam: I beg to challenge the concept of being able to achieve pre-launch knowledge of product-market fit. If such a concept existed in real-life, then no company, however big or small, would experience a failed launch. Unfortunately, many companies do, so this is evidence of its unattainability.
At CHKP, we are building our market-fit slowly and gradually by constantly improving our understanding and knowledge of the market and consumers’ desires. Additionally, we continuously critique our product and improve consumer appeal and efficiency by testing and tasting. Our approach is that the product should sell itself and the developers’ role is to create and inspire the emotional engagement and the messaging around the product. The ultimate test, however, is on the shelf.
We can launch two identical products in which one fails and the other succeeds. Does this mean the former did not have product-market fit? I don’t think so. I believe our product-market fit always exists and it is just a matter of constant evolution. This is our job, and it continues way after the product is launched.
What have been some unexpected hurdles from taking your innovation to a production stage?
Noam: Definitely finding the right partner to work with you as your contract manufacturer is the most critical issue. We have been searching for a contract manufacturer for months and months. You are actually looking for a partner that is one hundred percent reliable, because the relationship is not symmetrical nor equal. As a startup brand, you need to feel totally comfortable to be dependent on your partner’s integrity and reliability. This is a very long, frustrating and complex search.
If you were starting over, what would you change in your approach to finding production partners?
Noam: There is no point in starting the search earlier as your journey may take all kinds of unexpected turns and changes. Meeting with potential contract manufacturers at a premature stage may backfire. In my experience, there are quite a few potential partners who are interested in engaging in a steady, long-term business relationship. The challenge for a startup is to sell your idea and future capabilities; demonstrate that you’re properly funded, backed by serious investors, staffed with a professionally experienced team, and that you have a good product with a competitive edge. In other words, approaching a potential co-manufacturer is a regular pitch session, it must follow the rules you memorized by-heart before meetings with potential investors.
What advice can you give to food tech entrepreneurs who are just starting out?
Noam: Work hard to create and improve your product, as well as your story-telling capabilities. As an entrepreneur-to-be, you are expected to conduct substantial market research, invest endless time and money in designing your products, recruit and assemble the perfect team, receive sufficient funding from investors, build relationships with strategic partners, and so on. What you will really be doing all this time is telling stories. First and foremost to yourself, then to your co-founders, existing and future employees, investors, retailers, brokers, your social ecosystem… the whole world and wife (yes, her too, but you’re probably used to it by now…). It’s never the best story that wins, it’s the storyteller.
How did you fund your company’s journey so far and how different are the funding challenges towards commercialization?
Noam: Since forming the company, we were preoccupied with our research and development assignments, which we funded, at first, from local Israeli angel investors and from angel investors outside Israel at a later stage. Recently, we got an investment from an international Singapore-based investment group that specializes in plant-based food. These investments were sufficient to support our R&D stage, so currently we are working to fund our actual go to market. With industrial trial runs scheduled for the next weeks, and initial launch scheduled for September, the cash needs are several times higher than those required at the development stage so, naturally, much of our time is devoted to creating the right investor base and for making sure we are adequately funded to meet our goals in time.