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MATAHI: An economic, social, eco-responsible and human project

With INRA's support, MATAHI, a young, innovative company, has developed its 100%, baobab energy juice.  Raphaël Girardin, one of its co-founders, looks back at the recipe for the success of this project and the values that underpin the company.

MATAHI  ©: Un projet économique, social, éco-responsable et humain. © INRA, MATAHI ©
By Anne Perraut
Updated on 02/07/2014
Published on 02/07/2014

Anne Perraut: Could you tell us about your company in a few words?

Raphaël Girardin: MATAHI is a very young start-up that has been incubated on the INRA campus in Montpellier by AgroValoMediterrannée.  We specialise in manufacturing a 100% natural, baobab-based energy drink. 

 

AP: Why baobab?

RG: Alexandre Giora (the co-founder of MATAHI) and I did not feel at ease with the products available on the market and wanted to design one that reflected our values: natural, eco-responsible and full of energy!  Baobab was an obvious candidate: known locally as the "pharmacy tree", Alexandre had come across it while living in Africa, and I had also had an opportunity to study its fruits during an attachment with IRD.  We reviewed all the scientific literature in order to learn as much as we could about this "magic fruit", which is in fact a super source of energy, containing seven times more antioxidants than pomegranates, 20 times more vitamin C than oranges, four times more calcium than milk and twice as much iron as red meat!  The problem is that its flesh is very dry and fibrous, so bottling the juice constituted a major technical challenge!

 

AP: And that was where INRA came in?

RG: Yes, INRA and also AgroParisTech.  We activated our networks of alumni from various engineering schools and it was in this way that I renewed my contact with Bernard Cuq, one of my lecturers at Montpellier Supagro, and a specialist in food technology and powders who works in the Joint Research Unit for Agropolymer Engineering and Emerging Technologies (IATE) (see insert).  He provided support and valuable advice regarding characterisation of the product and the development of processes to solubilise the flesh.  After a series of formulation tests, we obtained our 100% natural recipe, which contains no colouring agents or preservatives.  From a sensory point of view, our drink is very sweet and mildly astringent, with fruity notes of lychee and pear with hints of apricot. 

 

AP: Is it easy to source baobab fruits?

RG: A collaboration with Benin Agricultural University has enabled us to organise harvesting of the fruits, under  a cooperative agreement.  Three hundred families are now living off this harvest, and we are very proud of this achievement, because Matahi is also a social and eco-responsible project.  The baobab fruits are shipped to France just once a year, thus reducing the environmental impact of their transport.  We have also preferred packaging in glass bottles, which as well as being totally inert offer an opportunity for complete recycling.

 

 

AP: So where do you stand at the moment?

RG: Our energy juice has been on the market since last March.  A processing plant near Montpellier has been able produce 100,000 bottles (the estimate for 2013), but this should triple next year, the target being a million bottles a year in three years' time.  In parallel, we are looking at the development of a second product, but for the moment, that is top secret!

 

AP: You make it all sound so simple! Any advice for future entrepreneurs?

RG: Look at creating a company like a game! Fix yourself clear objectives, find the right people to work with, and go! France is an excellent terrain for innovation and one of the best to be enterprising, because the support structures for company creation are numerous and highly professional.  French universities, schools and research organisations such as INRA are a source of multiple and accessible scientific skills, if you only know how to identify them.  You need to know how to cultivate these networks.  Ultimately, the support services available here are as dynamic as those offered by Silicon Valley, which is often cited as a benchmark!!!

Contact(s)
contact MATAHI:
Raphael Girardin – MATAHI - http://www.matahidrink.com

The skills developed by the Joint Research Unit for Agropolymer Engineering and Emerging Technologies (IATE)

This Joint Research Unit involves teams from INRA, CIRAD, Université Montpellier II and Montpellier SupAgro.  Its overall objective is to contribute to improving knowledge on the functionalities of plant products and their constituents with a view to enhancing their performance in both food and non-food uses.

Five complementary research areas structure the activities of this Unit:

  •           Fractionation of agro-resources: structural and physicochemical bases; grinding, extraction and separation processes.
  •           Structuring under constraint of agropolymers and the reactivity of powders.
  •           Transmat: transfers of matter and reactions in food/packaging systems.
  •           Microbial and enzymatic biotechnology of lipids and agropolymers.
  •           Engineering of knowledge to improve the use of agro-resources.

For more information on the Unit: http://umr-iate.cirad.fr/

Support from AgroValo Méditerranée

As early as 2001, Montpellier SupAgro (and particularly its Innovation and Transfer Division) joined with INRA and INRA Transfert (INRA's innovation subsidiary) to form a joint platform for the development and support of innovative projects: AgroValoMéditerranée.

This single, local and regional platform is designed to simplify valorisation procedures so as to ensure the emergence of more projects, while at the same time developing links with the regional or national actors concerned.

Objectives:

  •           To supply support for the development of collaborative projects,
  •           To support all projects that exploit research results and respond to questions concerning any transfer issues (intellectual property, partnerships, etc.),
  •           To provide support and advice to those trying to set up companies, and support incubation,
  •           To respond to the needs and demands of companies (innovation strategies, R&D, training, etc.).

 

Thematic areas:  integrative biology of plants / developmental biology / biodiversity / agroecological engineering / sustainable development / territorial management / Viticulture and wine-making / integrated food sciences and technologies /  Mediterranean areas and products.

 

Contact: Gaspard Lépine - Valorisation Manager - AgroValo Méditerranée - Montpellier INRA Research Centre - Gaspard.Lepine@supagro.inra.fr

> For more information: http://www.supagro.fr