Frenchman Romain Couderc calls Romania home and has launched a purpose-driven food company - Spinoa. The foods are innovative and nutrient-dense while also having a low carbon emission.
In this episode of Innovators Can Laugh, I sat down with Romain Couderc, founder of Spinoa. 5 years ago he traveled on bike, through Turkey, Iran, India, Indonesia, and Cambodia meeting people who are implementing innovative solutions when it comes to social challenges regarding food, energy, and ecology. Inspired, he's bringing that innovation to Romania.
Romain welcome to innovators. Can laugh, how are you doing? I'm doing good. Thanks. Absolutely. So let's get started off with doing what we call an ICL round, and these are just a few light quirky questions that reveal some interesting things about you, right?
Okay. Okay, starting off. What was your favorite toy or hobby growing up? I remember my uncle actually brought to me one day a bicycle, a small bicycle when I was around 11
so I would say that the small bicycle was my favorite and it's a hobby in the same time. Yeah. Yeah. Did he teach you how it's ride it or did you already know how to ride it? Okay. I knew actually I knew the right did,
I'm teaching my son how to ride his bicycle right now. He's four. And sometimes I take him to the park. Then when I also take my daughter who's 18 months. And so I'm trying to push the stroller in one hand and then hold his bike seat. On the other hand, it's really funny. I'm running at the same time and sometimes I just have to decide which one am I going to let go of it once my daughter was in the trees cause the stroller had steered off left and it was really funny.
Okay. Second question. What fictional character do you wish you could meet?
And it could be from a movie or a book. Yeah,
that's a good question. I didn't never thought about that. About that one. Let me see, let me think a bit. Okay, let's come back to that one. Okay. So the next question is if you could have someone like a person who assisted. Follow you around all day, what would you have them do? I think I would go for the, all the organization structuration of my agenda because it's, I'm very bad at it and all, what is it?
Hardware. It is it's about accounting and. All the paperwork and all this stuff during the working time, that would be it. And if we talk about like personal stuff, I would say that preparing all the day just to be, efficient in term of Good healthy stuff and repairing a fish that I'm happy to eat and know that I really feel good when I, when it did.
I think most of us do in our life. Okay. Okay. Now let's rewind a little bit, go back to your childhood. Where did you grow up and what was it like?
I was lucky. I grew up around marseille on the coast near by the sea, like literally 15 meters away from the seashore. And yeah, it was a small village close to marseille on the west and in the small neighborhood, it was surrounded by the beautiful environment and some Some box, her way too. I'm always comparing to what I see now in Romania. And I think yet the environment was really nice where I grew up. Great. Were you in a, friend's always going to the beach. Was that something you did often?
Yeah. Yeah. This is, this was in the summer, starting from may or June. We would go every day to the seaside. I heard so at the tennis. Like a place to, play Dennis and to play football. So I was doing a lot of sports at this time. Every day, it was a beautiful headshot.
It sounds really fun. And I'm sorry, by the way. I know France lost yesterday. Yeah. But nevertheless, it was a beautiful match, even if we lost, full of suspense and it there's, I think it's the good way to see it is to just enjoy it. Yeah. The Croatian Spain game was also very suspenseful.
Yeah. Yeah, exactly. I'm not even a football fan.
So you're in Marseille and my understanding that there's a big festival in the region. I think it's in the region called the flaw jazz festival. Is that near Marsay? Yeah, it's not far. It's 200 or 300 kilometers away plus to Spain in the middle of the mountains. Very remote. Oh wow.
And you've volunteered there for a number of years. Did you like the festival what brought. Yes. Yes. Actually the same ankle that I mentioned earlier was actually a friend with the guy, which is organizing the festival. And what's special about this festival is that it's it's in a very small town, which is around 11,000 people.
It's one of the smallest city hall in France, which is important the, in the region. But they have very quantitative people coming for jazz. And so this guy was organizing with taking all the year. I was trying to get some pensions from the region and from the city hall in order to get the money, to attract these people.
And since I think he was doing a good job and all the team, actually, the people that I was working with. Really passionate about these this jazz it book before, before the sixties, when it was still people just with Dylan new smoke Davies on the VDL John Coltrane. And we could attract a lot of people from especially in the us that were quite famous at that time.
And so it was a very unique possibility to get In depth with the, the artist. I was actually driving the artist from the airport or from the train station to the festival.
Okay. So after you volunteered there, correct me if I'm wrong, but you also did some work as a volunteer. Yes, that's true. I went to a Madagascar for a month and a half. I was just finishing my, second year of study.
And we went 14 students by autonomies. So only us without any teacher. And actually we were working all the year in order to gather some funds and to, Had this association in the east of Madagascar, which is reconstructing a house where young people with go and practice some arts sports.
And the issue there was that there was a tornado that destroyed the building and we had to reconstruct the whole thing, especially the rules. And to, make it look bitter and attractive for all the young people of the city. It was a very smart city in the close to the coast on the ocean, Indian, Indiana Shan.
And, yeah, so we had two people. How did the people welcome you? How did think. Very well. Maybe, that used to be a French school. But so they have their own language, but they still learn French at school. And they, it's funny because they speak very well. French, they don't make shock at, or just very little French and and Papa French better than earth actually.
And they were really welcoming. I remember one of the things that shocked me the most was that. When it came from Marseille from the city, people are looking down or walking on the street and very pretty stressed going a bit fast, and everywhere there they had an, the thing literally there were having no position that almost just to, Rochelle Delta state was a very poor country and bore region, but everyone was smiling.
Quite easy going, not so much stress. It seems. So that was one of the theme. Yeah. That, was very impressive when I came and then the duration she breathed is that people that's thing. There was a, was already strong because, we were walking together all the time and, There were very open-minded and letting us in during, the life of their day-to-day life.
And yes. Yeah. At the end of the trip, we were actually, saying goodbye and half of the board were just crying. We just, we had some very tight connection with them. So very nice. Did you explore some of the island or did you mostly stay in this area? No, actually we were a group of four, four or five people that were a bit more supportive and we were every weekend we were going out of the city to explore Madagascar the island.
So we had some interesting trips in the forest, the middle of the jungle to get lost or Aren't most actually, we, I remember this time where we were rocking for six hours and crossing different landscape in the forest. It was a really amazing, a little bit like in a lot of friends when you come from a very dense and, , wide, a jingle to ah, hate and dried environment.
And then we came, we arrive on the beach we were finally, ready. And we were almost there at the base where we were going to stay. And so we went to just swimming the beach and we were able to go very far because the level of the water was not going down so fast.
So we went like a hundred meters away. And then we came back on the beach where it was the birthday of my, one of my friend. And then we celebrate a little bit. We come back to, we go to the hotel finally. And the first thing that the guy from the hotel tell us is that we shouldn't go to the, to this inside the sea because there are crocodiles there.
Yes, something like one hour. Very good. Yeah. The smaller monkeys like the Lemurian I don't know how you say that in English. It's these type cause Madagascar so specific of up, it was a, never really, it was separate from Africa very long time ago. So the species. From the animals and the plants are different from the continent.
So you have this specific limit here, which is this monkey, and they were very friendly to us while we were walking in the west thing on our shoulders.
Yes. Exactly. Exactly. It's this the one from the movie and the animate animation. Yeah. Yeah. Of course, at least he's friendly and the cartoon, they make them very friendly. So it's good to hear in real life that they weren't dangerous or aggressive. Yeah. So after Madagascar, what was the next big decision in your life?
I went to one year in Norway and that was very different because it was the complete opposite from Madagascar. I know very well organized, very cold and well-organized and the CB visitation, the best , it was a completely different experience, but also very, I could learn a lot from that.
I remember one of the gay there we were staying into, it has, confuse, let's say so a lot of students were there and we had, I wa I was lucky because there was in the apartment where all the party was going on, so everyone would come to our apartment and one of the guy was, handicapped from the, his right part of the buddy.
So he had a. Initially we could not move very well is, right bots. And I was impressed how well it was, integrated into the student society I remember he had a good friend. He was looking all the time with everyone making jokes, and not, Be behaving like a, someone that has it.
It's something different. Yeah. Yeah. So that's something that I really appreciated in, into, in Norway. I was thinking that if that was in Masa, it wouldn't be the same because people are in a bit more judgmental sometime and not some so open-minded and yeah, so that's part of the Norwegian society.
Integration was really nice. This is something, a good level. Good to hear. Now, when did you decide to move to Romania? Then that's that was the very end of my studies when I had the opportunity to come for franchisee company and to make a first study, to see if that was a good place for that it French company to make a subsidiary Of deaf company and whoever like an antenna in, in, because, and that at the end of the three months of study, the result was because Romania has a lot of, I didn't adjust for France, because there is a strong link. In some ways, people, a lot of people are actually speaking French. We, we don't feel so, so far away from that good job, especially for Marseille.
I think the culture from Romania and Maseo are very similar and this is in 2010, right? Yes, exactly. 2010 era in Armenia. Okay. And was there anything that surprised you about that? It was funny because when I came, it was maybe the, one of the worst moment.
It was 30 centimeters of snow in, in the winter, very cold. And when I arrived to the Benares side was at this time interested Venice airport I took the burst in the wrong way. So I arrived in the middle of what was called windowpane or afterward open, very far away in the middle of nowhere.
And it was supposed to be Bucharest, so I arrived in the, yeah, in the middle of nowhere with a lot of dogs at this time, it was still a lot of dogs and overs thinking like, oh, it's this really Bucharest? And actually, no, sir. I went I went on the other side and yeah, I found out that I was living in milita and , which is a quite communist neighborhood.
And I still have a lot of blocks, big blocks and. The atmosphere is a bit special, I had some very good interaction with people,
and that was a really very nice when you come to a country and that people have a genuine interest for interacting with, So this was helping a lot. Yeah. And on the other side, there were also people that were too ashamed to speak another language. So they would be very cold and no, I don't want to speech and just to say the both sides.
Okay. So let's jump to 2016 because you and a friend decided to travel the world, meet people who are implementing innovative solutions when it comes to , social challenges regarding food. Energy and ecology. And you both are traveling mostly on bike through Turkey. I ran India, Indonesia and Cambodia.
Okay. What was this periods like? I know there's not enough time in this show to talk about everything, but when you go back five years ago, what do you remember about that trip? The most? What comes to you? Yeah, that's a you're right. That's there was a lot of experiences in one year. It was one year and one month.
So really a large ballad of experiences, but maybe one thing is that when we were leaving, a lot of people say, oh, but it's going to be dangerous. And especially when you are going to cross the middle east and it's going to be danger. And, I run and jockey was one of the safest place we've ever been.
And, actually more than safe. People extremely welcoming, especially in Iran and Kurdistan, the region of Kurdistan, the people were, excessively welcoming and nice weavers. When we arrived on the basic girl in the middle of a small town, close to in the Kurdistan from Iran.
The literally all the villages came around us and were starting to proposing for us to stay at their place. Yeah. All the older people were like fighting. It'd be good TV or you have internet in my place, come to me. So everyone was really welcoming. How did you, your friend with Brian?
I bet you're looking at each other.
Yeah. So we went to a small restaurant and the guy from the restaurant actually finished to convince us and because he was really nice to us. Just, he said, you just gave us food for free and then. Yeah, send these bros out to, to bring us some other extra food. And we were like, we cannot, it's obligated now.
Yeah. But it says all the time in Iran and Turkey has a really amazing for the connection that we had with the people. This is something we couldn't do so much in India and Cambodia is to stay at peace. It was not so easy as in Iran, in Chucky, but that was the most powerful moment I would say, because we were really living the same way there, they, the people live and, eating on the ground or sleeping on small mattress on the ground as well.
And sharing moments with the. We read them in a way that you don't really do when you just go to the hotel and visit a nice landscape. So there is this this part of the trip that was about meeting and connecting with people. That was one of the most interesting, I think for us, where did you have a tough time leaving?
Because you didn't want to leave. You weren't, you were having a really good time. You run with one of them Definitively. And in the north of India was also a very specific atmosphere because it's in the middle of and we were starting to be introduced to yoga in the cause when you reach in India, we were actually starting to get To this practice and and seeing the way they see health is is quite different from the west and
quite complimentary, actually, I would say because they don't separate so much the, being in a good health and and recovering, so they would just stay, ah, try to stay healthy. Bye. Eating healthy or having habits that would keep your body flexible along the way along the time. So yoga is more like a daily practice for some of them.
It's definitely not all of them that are practicing, but yeah, they have your daily practices now or do you do it every every few days. Yes. Yes. Yoga is the, don't make it like a religion, but when it's really helping for keeping the body flexible and at least the sun salutation that quite complete and you could get many feed from all the different parts of your body, stretching or it's a very good exercise to do.
I definitely need to do that as I get older. I'm more flexible. Yeah. Okay. So let's talk a little bit too about spinoa. What happened you during the past few years, that sparked the idea of creating spinoa and if you could tell the listeners, a little bit about what it is, and then also how you got it off.
Okay. So how it happened? I think I should go back to around seven years ago when I started to understand that what I eat as an influence on my, how I feel. And that was one of the discovery in the last 10 years is that the makeup yet the microbiome is quite important.
Not only for health in the term, but also on to our daily disposition, how we feel in the day. And I noticed that when I was 25 I starting to be, a little bit more slow to think after a big, big meal of pastas and meats or something heavy to digest, I started.
Yes, exactly. Maybe this was one of the things, because I was eating colleagues from Armenia and we were like eating a lot and in the afternoon, I really yeah, I got to click, when you start to notice that the food really affect your concentration and I want it to be efficient in the afternoon.
I started to be more and more careful about what I was eating and slowly modifying my diet. And one day I just tried to to not eat meat for one month and to see how it was, how I felt and I really fit better actually. My decided to change my diet slowly and to be more aware, and I was looking for alternatives to, to when you reduce the meat consumption, you need also some protein Iran and so look nuts and almonds and milk or something to supplement it.
Yeah. Yeah, definitely. And that was looking at the, what was the highest point in a food and a Sperry now was 60%. I discovered that yeah, that my call LG was really good for that. And so that's how I get an interest into that. And initially I found it on the, as a powder and pills and coming from Asia, not always very easy to To find where the traceability, it was not easy to figure out where it was grown in the whole was the method to produce it.
And then I was happy to show price to see that in France, there are around 200 producers that are doing artists in Hansberry now. So I, I was very curious about that algae, because it seems to everyone was saying that it was, a miracle of the food because even the United nations declared it, it was the food of the future.
Nisa use it for the astronaut that are going into space it's a lot of Cuddy because this super food trends could be sometime deceiving because the marketing is pushing a lot on some of the food data, actually just, just good food, but not necessarily exceptional, but yeah, spinoa that has a lot of credit from different sources.
So I dig a little bit more on that. My car. And, I was quite impressed that it was only in France that we could find it in this artist and out of shape and that these artists know that shit makes actually a lot of difference because you can eat it into your daily life.
It doesn't have that strong taste that you are repeating taste and and also it keeps better than each. When you observe the them on the microscope disparity now usually has a spiral shape when it's alive. And then when it's dried in a low temperature, you can find the spiral again on the microscope when it's made into powder.
It's th the cells of the spirulina are completely destroyed. So that's one of the indicator of the. Lots of quality of nutrients. I always tell it's a much better when you take it home versus in the powder format then is in a way you're starting to get. Yeah. It's when it's a dried on a low temperature, it's actually a, it makes a big difference in terms of taste and also nutrition and profile is with that.
Wonderful. Wonderful. So how did you get it off the ground? How did you launch here? It was so during the trip, during the bicycle trip I came across a, a company in Bangkok that was producing Sperry now on the rooftop of the novel, then it was quite innovative company and I was very impressed.
I discussed with the guy, the CEO, and he told me that He made us study in Europe to see how much people were in Europe. What was the country that was looking for spiraling up on Google the most? And it was actually a Romania. So at this time I got a. Yeah. A sign that it could be something to bring this type of Newsbury into Romania.
That's where you got really excited. You're like, okay, I know that country I'm living there right now. Yeah, exactly. And so I discussed with a friend when I came back a friend, which is walking into the, you used to be walking for 10 years into the alcohol sector in, for big companies. So it was used to food stuff.
And, discussing together. We decided that he was a good time for him also to live, big companies and start to, move away from corporation to make his own business in order to be, to get more freedom. Decided together to launch the spinoff company. Initially the objective was to make a farm.
So it's still the one I fell off objective to make a farm, a local farm in order to have a local product. And a two day we decided actually to start to commercialize this type of sparing, that to, to check if the market was positively answering positively. And now we start to have the answers to that.
There is an interest for it to a growing interest, so we are actively looking for making a farm in the region. Great. And most of your customers, are they both individual people who can order from your website as well as restaurants? Or is it strictly just to individual people right now?
It's actually both of them actually. So we have let's say 60% of a B2C, so direct to customers and a 40% of B2B. So restaurant shops that are also distributing or Sperry now, or coffee shops, and then, and some of the buyers or so people that would use them use the spirulina into the, on product, like chocolate with sparing that countries.
Yeah. How are the cafes? You said coffee houses. How are they using it? They had the pouch this small pouch that could be attractive for the customers on the shelves, and as a way is also to distribute some of our products that are more like snacks. We have relate to spirit.
And the two-by-two Sperry night is is 35 grams extrapolate that contains three grams as Berry now, which is the daily dose that you is recommended. And it's a with no sugar and, also contains different type of superfoods. So we it's something that works well into coffee shops. I'm eating it when I just sprinkle it over my vegetables or on some rice.
And that's how I tend to like it the best. But I'd be very curious how other people are eating it. As well. What do you hear from customers? How do they, what are they doing to take it? Yeah, so it's very diverse. We are lucky to have a good community on the, on social media. And every week we actually post one of the recipes that is sent to us by one of the customer or influencer.
And so we see a lot of people use them into, as a smoothie, they just put it into the blender and mix it and make us more serious now. But what's new with this type of spiral. Nice that you could actually sprinkle it onto who moves guacamole this type of base that would make it an interesting texture because the aspiring is very crunchy.
So it's adding something more than the taste. Some people use it into yogurt in the morning. Yeah, that's a good it was a study that shows that there are a beneficial effect between spirulina and a micro organisms that are into the yogurts. All these lactobacillus that are making you having a good health for your gut that sparing to improve the effect of this Next to the messages.
Okay. I'm definitely going to try that one with a yogurt. Cause that sounds pretty good. I can't believe, I didn't think of that now. What is your long-term vision for first? It's also about long-term vision now because the world is changing so fast that in three years you really have no clue about what is going to be the world.
What is going to look. But if I try to imagine a little bit, what we would like to do is to be able to produce ballerina in the region and to make, like a model of farm that could be replicated easily by different farmers. And with that, We would have an impact on the ecology because the product would be local and distributed locally.
We also have an impact on the people health so that people would eat something that would bring them some micronutrients that are necessary and for the body and also to the overall economy, because I really believe that spiraling up production could be. A good asset for because the product really needs fewer resources to grow very few water electricity.
So it's really cheap to produce it, but in the same time, the added value of the product is very high. The it's still, 100 grand, which is around. We sell around 55. So around Tokyo and and the production cost is not so high. The investment cost is not so high and on the same way that it was what was done in France.
A lot of small producers producing locally I would be happy to see that we could do the same in Armenian, but Gaia actually is really good. Yeah. That's exciting. That's exciting. Romano. Okay. Last question for you. If you could travel the world again on a bicycle, where would you go?
That's a very good question. I have a lot of countries on that list. Definitely Mia now would be one of them, because I haven't had the chance to go. And I I heard the very good things about it. It's one of the country that spiritually is very attracting because it has a lot of history and the culture seems to be very nice, but also one of the things that haven't done that would really like to do is the south area.
Especially Columbia, Brazil, or Divia I quite all these countries yeah. Would be beautiful countries. Yeah, I don't know if the monkeys are as nice as the one who found him at madagascar, but very okay. Okay. Remind, thanks so much for being on innovators com. Absolutely. It was a pleasure.
And for everyone listening until next week, this is Eric, you're saying goodbye and