Many founders had an early start at entrepreneurship but Roman Bagiev pushes this stereotype to new levels, launching his first food business at age 15 out of school in Uzbekistan. With his latest venture, Revoltech, launched in 2021 in the UAE and part of Hub71, he aims to transform the food industry from A to Z.
What issues are you trying to solve with Revoltech?
I started a food production business in 2006 and realised there are many challenges with the food supply chain and the lack of information around food science. So, my brother and I started a food ingredient company and signed up top-tier global partners like Givaudan and Tetrapak that drive innovation in the food industry all around the world.
This led me to really see the global food industry’s inefficiencies; so much food is wasted across the farm-to-table chain and, at the end of the day, consumers pay for it all. Food waste and losses amount to $1 trillion every year. The product is picked from the farm, sprayed with chemicals for a longer shelf life, and sent to retail where it goes to the trash if it’s not sold. It loses up to half its nutritional value during this journey. Besides, most of the product is picked up green and reaps on the go, as they say; but in fact, it’s dying on the go. In that sense, fresh is trash.
So, the simplest way to change the whole game is freezing. A product frozen right from the farm and defrosted right before being eaten keeps most of its nutritional value. However, the blast-freezing technology available today for food creates crystals that break the cells and alter the product. The other technology available, used for egg freezing, preserves the tissues but is very expensive. I had two objectives with Revoltech: finding a simple solution that gives the same result as liquid nitrogen freezing but costs as cheap as blast freezing; and this solution had to build on the existing blast freezing infrastructure.
One of my co-founders, Oleg Igoshev, uncovered this technology which we call super freezing. It’s 100 times cheaper but as efficient as liquid nitrogen and twice faster than blast freezing. It had existed for many years without anyone trying to integrate it into a business process or even patenting it!
How does it work?
It’s a portable device that you can plug into any blast freezer. It creates electrostatic fields that vibrate the product during the freezing process, preventing crystallisation and keeping the cells intact. You cannot see or taste any difference before and after freezing.
What solution have you developed around this tech?
We’re building a complete end-to-end chain.
Take hotels, that lose a lot of money in F&B, throw away a lot of food, and have consistency issues with chefs. Our solution solves these three problems in one shot.
For example, our first product is a frozen pizza base. Dough is a living process; if you blast-freeze it, it immediately gets dry. That’s why even big companies like Pizza Hut always use fresh dough. So, as a hotel, you have to hire a skilled pizzaiolo chef who will prepare dough that will be thrown away if it’s not used, or will be cooked in the expensive pizza oven you had to install. All of this to sell maybe 70 or 80 pizzas a day if you’re a 300-room hotel with good occupancy. You lose on this operation, and what happens if your pizzaiolo leaves?
As a tech enabler, we provide our technology to manufacturers that produce the pizza dough and we supply hotels with our 70%-cooked-in-a-pizza-oven hyper-frozen pizza base, which can be kept in a regular freezer. You just need one person with no specific skillset to add garnish and cook this pizza in a regular oven. In a few minutes, you get a pizza 100% identical to a fresh one.
How is the market reacting?
Pizza was a test for us to prove that five-star hotels that had never accepted frozen pizza before could be converted.
We now supply all major hotels in town and the demand is so high that we’re facing supply issues. We want to make sure that we have the right infrastructure to handle growth, so we’re building the first fully automated pizza manufacturing facility, that will drive down costs dramatically. And soon, we’ll launch a pizza consumer brand, along with a 15-minute delivery service, that will be way more affordable than anybody else. Next, we’ll launch frozen sushi. And in the meantime, we have set up a team in Europe with one specific goal: to source seasonal products only available for a short time and with a limited shelf life, like Moroccan avocado and Tarifa red tuna.
We’re also licensing the technology; we’re in talks with the biggest blast freezer manufacturer to integrate it into its machines, with Häagen-Dazs for ice cream, and with Neom to preserve what they’ll grow there. We have a joint venture with a company in Switzerland to offer plant-based hyper-frozen consumer products in the US as well.
Lastly, our next big move is to open, in partnership with government stakeholders, what we call Net Zero Hub in Abu Dhabi – a kind of warehouse where all consumers will get access to products at a price maximum 5% more expensive than if they purchased them directly from the farm, regardless of where they’re coming from.
We need to change the way we move food, the way we store, the way we operate, and the way we eat. My big dream is to create a super-efficient process that cuts all the intermediate steps, so Revoltech’s strategy is to enable our partners with our technology to preserve superior products from the source and offer them to customers with the lowest cost and greatest nutritional value.