WhatIf Foods, based in Singapore, processes the Bambara groundnut into its signature “BamNut” flour which it uses in instant noodles, soups and shakes. Langwallner hopes to create a new market for the crop, and “make the Bambara groundnut part of the system.”
WhatIf launched its noodles in Singapore in 2020, replacing the deep frying process used in conventional instant noodle production with a healthier method similar to air frying.
That’s because the Bambara groundnut is not grown as a primary crop says Victoria Jideani, a food science professor at Cape Peninsula University of Technology in South Africa. Farmers grow it to help fertilize the soil, and the resulting produce is eaten and sold locally, she says.
Companies like WhatIf could create global demand for this “underutilized” crop, says Jideani. “The interaction we have had with (the farmers) indicates that they are looking for a market,” she says.
Jideani says she would like to see governments incentivize Bambara groundnut production. “Any crop that presents itself as a solution for the future should be grabbed with two hands,” she says.
“A totally different approach”
So far, Langwallner and co-founder Peter Cheetham, a biochemical engineer, have put in their own money to run the company, as well as raising funds from friends and private investors. Langwallner says they are now looking for institutional investors to help the company scale.
The company is working towards its first milestone: sourcing 1,000 metric tons of Bambara groundnuts from West Africa, which Langwallner says would restore up to 1,000 hectares of land, by the end of 2023. It is working directly with 1,600 farmers in Ghana, and building relationships with farmers in Nigeria and Malaysia, as it prepares for future expansion. Langwallner declined to share the sales numbers with CNN Business.
WhatIf’s products are made in its factories in Malaysia and Australia, and sold in Singapore, Malaysia and Australia. This month, they are being rolled out in the US in online stores. The company is also working through regulatory approval in the EU, which it expects to complete later this year.
By taking a “totally different approach,” Langwallner hopes that Bambara groundnuts will help farmers around the world revitalize degraded lands, and diversify our nutrition for a more secure future.