Yamo's partners: Cairo Carvalho, Paula Máximo, Fábio Neto and Ricardo Rocha. Photo: Yamo/Courtesy.

Brazilian food tech firm Yamo creates yam-based ice cream

The startup founded last year raised a BRL 4.5 million Series A round and is using the new funds to, among other things, create an AI capable of producing other dairy products based on the tuber

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Fábio Neto was a retail executive for 20 years and spent the last decade as marketing director of brMalls, Latin America’s largest shopping center company. In search of innovation for the sector, one of the most affected in recent times by new consumption habits, now accelerated by the pandemic, he and his wife Paula Máximo, a financial market executive who led the commercial area of banks such as Banespa, Bank of Boston, Santander, Itaú, and Safra, went to the Silicon Valley region in the United States in 2019. 

At Singularity University, a California company that offers executive education programs, company acceleration, and innovation consulting services, the couple learned about the future of several sectors, including food. As an Endeavor mentor and partner in the urban farm startup BeGreen, Fábio had already had contact with the area. “The immersion in the Valley showed us that there would not be food for everyone by 2050. There is no productive capacity in the world for that. There are two major alternatives: producing food in laboratories or plant-based food, that is, taking the animal out of the chain,” he told LABS in an interview. 

Paula Máximo, co-founder at Yamo. Photo: Yamo/Courtesy.

In fact, while the global population has more than doubled in the last 50 years, the amount of meat produced has more than quadrupled, to 335 million tons, according to 2018 data from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, FAO. The organization predicts that demand for meat will reach 455 million tons by 2050.

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This gigantic breeding of animals for consumption involves resources such as water, land, and the emission of gases that intensify the greenhouse effect. Seeking to solve these problems, companies such as Beyond Meats, Impossible Foods, and Fazenda Futuro have stood out in the plant-based meat market. Chilean company NotCo works with dairy products, producing milk, ice cream, and mayonnaise, among other products, based on plants, through Giuseppe, an algorithm capable of replicating the molecular pattern of animal-based foods and recreating them on a vegetable basis.

Inspired by NotCo, Fábio and Paula founded Yamo last year. The name comes from English (Yam) – and, coincidentally, is the same as that of a German food tech firm specialized in food for children. 

The two entrepreneurs decided to start the plant-based production with ice cream because a committee of nutritionists consulted by the food tech startup elected the combination of milk, fat and sugar in ice cream as the great “villain” of healthiness. 

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Fábio and Paula then sought an ice cream specialist. Cairo Carvalho, the owner of an ice cream chain called BonaFruta became a partner. The yam ice cream was tested by a group of 250 families before reaching the retail market. 

Yamo’s sales began in May of this year, in some locations in Belo Horizonte and São Paulo, and also through delivery applications such as iFood and Rappi.

Currently, Yamo produces yam-based ice cream in chocolate, paçoca (Brazilian candy originally made out of ground peanuts, cassava flour, sugar and salt), berries, açaí with banana, passion fruit, coconut and avocado flavors. All the ingredients come from Yamo’s own farm in Uberlândia, a city of 800,000 inhabitants in the country side of Minas Gerais.

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To start operations, Yamo received a Series A investment of BRL 4.5 million from angel investors and family offices, led by Ricardo Rocha, CEO of Softbox |LuizaLabs, Magazine Luiza’s technology and innovation lab. 

Yamo wants to patent an algorithm capable of creating yam-based foods

“I always had a marketing inclination. Ricardo brought the technology one and started to provoke us to create an artificial intelligence, which is still under development”, says Fábio. According to him, two food engineers are working on the algorithm, which should be baptized Yana. “Our great differential is that we want to transform yam into a patented raw material”, he says.

Today, Yamo’s products are made with machines that peel the yam and extract vegetable milk from the root of the tuber. But the plan is that this artificial intelligence will be able to make yam the raw material for powdered milk and ready-made drinks as well.

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“Yam is the new tapioca. Fifteen years ago, nobody ate tapioca. Today it is one of Brazil’s most exported products. The yam is a superfood that Brazilians have not yet discovered en masse and we want to explore its nutritional benefits.”

By the end of the year, the startup seeks to reach BRL 2.5 million in sales. But Fábio believes it is possible to reach BRL 4 million. “Our team is growing exponentially in Belo Horizonte and São Paulo, and in the summer [this year] we are going to Rio de Janeiro. We want to conquer the three big capitals in the Southeast by the end of the year.”