Every year, The Singapore Women’s Weekly shines a spotlight on inspiring women who are shaping our world. We call them the Great Women of Our Time. In 2022 the list includes food-tech innovator Vinita Choolani, founder and CEO of Float Foods. She’s on a mission to develop delicious and sustainable plant-based food – both to improve our health, and help Singapore produce 30 percent of its food by 2030.
Vinita Choolani is a passionate foodie, and a passionate food-tech entrepreneur. Although she graduated with a degree in Philosophy from NUS, until two years ago she ran a successful women’s biotech company that was valued at over US$72 million.
Now she’s Founder and CEO of foodtech startup Float Foods. The company has just launched Asia’s first plant-based whole egg, called OnlyEg®. This alternative protein is made of legumes, the same plant family as peas and beans. It’s high in protein, low in saturated fats and contains zero cholesterol or hormones.
WATCH OUR VIDEO:
Vinita Choolani of Float Foods talks with marine biologist Dr Siti Maryam Yaakub about the power of plants
OnlyEg® launches commercially in March 2022, in selected restaurants and cafes in Singapore, with a shredded egg food product that looks and tastes like omelette. The egg shreds can be used in Asian and Western foods such as fried rice, noodles, wraps or sandwiches.
It’s a launch of global significance, but Vinita’s not stopping. Her team of food scientists is already hard at work hatching more plant-based egg products, including high protein “egg white” omelettes that can be enjoyed in sandwiches, and plant-based “salted eggs”.
So why did Vinita, who’s in her 50s, move into food-tech? She says, “The pandemic was the catalyst for me. It shook me to the core. I thought, ‘’We really have to take more control of our health. We need to understand the benefits and the source of everything we eat. I believe plants are the key, because they’re nature’s whole foods. There’s tons of research to show that a predominantly plant-based diet reduces obesity, cancer, hypertension, and all sorts of chronic diseases.”
Along with her belief that food is the most natural medicine, Vinita believes food-tech can help ensure Singapore never runs out of safe and healthy food. She explains, “During the pandemic, I saw empty shelves in supermarkets. I realised how vulnerable we are to disruptions in the food chain. As a Singaporean, I thought, ‘What can we do to change this?”
She points out that Singaporeans eat two billion eggs a year, and 74 percent of those eggs are imported. “Having a plant-based alternative allows us to be less dependent on imports and less susceptible to supply disruptions,” says Vinita.
Vinita’s fully on board with the Singapore Food Agency’s plan to produce 30 percent of our own food here by 2030. But she realizes science and statistics alone won’t be enough to persuade food-loving Singaporeans to eat plant-based eggs. We want to know, how do they taste?
“I totally understand that! To me, food is all about enjoyment first. Then health,” says Vinita. “But they can coexist. What if I gave you two bowls of fried rice or nasi lemak? One served with chicken egg, and one with a plant-based egg. The plant-based egg has just as much protein, but no cholesterol, no antibiotics, no drugs, no hormones. And it tastes good. If it didn’t affect your enjoyment of the meal, you’d probably try it, right?”
Vinita is so convinced of the health value of plant-based foods, that her long term plans for Float Foods include developing functional foods to suit people with conditions like diabetes or high cholesterol.
Married to a doctor and with a grown son, Vinita says her large and extended family loves good food and eating together. “I have four brothers, plus in-laws, aunts and uncles. My mother loves to cook and our family celebrates every birthday and anniversary with a huge home-cooked meal.” She says her elderly father is still unsure about plant-based eggs but her nieces and nephews are happy to try – especially because they believe plant-based foods have the potential to improve the health of the planet, by reducing water and land use.
As Vinita explains, “We can’t ignore the carbon footprint of animal-based farming anymore. Compared to animals, plants are protein- and nutrient-packed powerhouses, and they cause less impact on the environment.
“Did you know it takes 53 gallons of water to make one chicken egg? Climate, streams, water, all of these things are interconnected. There are finite resources. We act as though we can take as much as we want, and everything’s going to remain the same. But we’ve seen with the climate crisis, it is not the case.”
Above all, Vinita believes in having the courage to try new things. She has a little ritual when she visits a new place or tries a new experience – she takes a “jump for joy” photo of herself, both to celebrate and to remind herself to stay open to new opportunities.
To give other women new opportunities, Vinita co-founded Project Smile, a not-for-profit initiative which offers financial help and skills training to women in Singapore. The goal is to impart self-confidence and usable skills, to build economic independence.
As she says. “Creativity is born out of freedom. To explore, be adventurous and not have any sort of limiting boxes. It’s the creative process of asking, “ Why can’t we do that?
“There are thousands of plants that have yet to be catalogued, in terms of their nutritional profile. We have just started to scratch the surface when it comes to understanding what plants can do for our health. So I’d like us to think differently about eating a plant-based diet. Enjoy it as a wonderful lifestyle choice that can bring you great health benefits, whilst at the same time reducing our impact on the planet. And enjoy your food, as well. I’m all about enjoying your food!”