“The Science Behind Alternative Proteins Has Startups, Investors Digging In“ quoting Amy Huang of the Good Food Institute, whose research conforms with our own on the explosive growth of this global alternative food sector, in our “Transitioning to Science-Based Investing“ (2020). We also draw attention to yet another largely overlooked group of nutritious foods, most overlooked: halophytes, e.g., salt-loving quinoa, Salicornia, salt-tolerant rice and many others, which still thrive in 22 countries without fertilizers or pesticides on unused, degraded scrublands and whose long roots sequester ambient CO2 more efficiently than forests, since they grow much faster.
Saltwater agriculture at scale,was invented by the late Dr. Carl Hodges, a systems-focused scientist, engineer, agronomist, inventor and tireless innovator, co-founder of the Seawater Foundation, with his partner, Elizabeth Hodges. We are honored that Dr. Carl Hodges also served on our global Advisory Board. Watch our TV programs “Investing in Seawater Agriculture: The Next Big Thing” with NASA Chief Scientist Bushnell and “Investing in Desert Greening“ with Dr. Carl Hodges, free on demand at www.ethicalmarkets.tv. The reason that saltwater agriculture must now be scaled globally is to relieve the perilous dependence of our current food system on the planet’s 3% of dwindling freshwater, see my “EARTH: The Water Planet”.
~Dr. Hazel Henderson, Editor“
April 27, 2021
“Alternative proteins, which include plant-based foods, used to attract only vegetarians and vegans. But as technology advances in the space, experts say there will be tasty options for everyone, even die-hard meat eaters, and that opens up a massive market for investment.
“The field is only seven to 10 years into its existence, but we have seen leaps and bounds of progress in the past few years,” said Amy Huang, university innovation manager at nonprofit think tank Good Food Institute, which supports the development of safe and sustainable alternative proteins.
“And, now it is targeted at the 97 percent of meat eaters,” she added. “As a result, there is ample room for additional innovation.”
Consumers concerned about current meat-producing processes, as well as the trend of eating healthier, are already asking for alternative proteins. This is despite a lingering negative perception of their taste and texture, experts say. The market for alternative meat, eggs, dairy and seafood products is predicted to reach at least $290 billion by 2035, according to research by Boston Consulting Group and Blue Horizon Corp.
While it may seem like alternative proteins are suddenly all the rage, Decker Walker, Boston Consulting Group’s head of agribusiness, isn’t ready to call it a bubble just yet.
“It is in some areas because some of the technology is decades away,” Walker said. “Investment-wise, it is also hard to say because it was a very sleepy industry up until five years ago. However, the trend is very clear that our future will have more alternative protein.”
Inside alternative proteins
Huang defines alternative proteins as direct replacements for meat, eggs and dairy that are derived in one of three ways: plant-based, cell-cultured or fermentation.
She predicts the future success of these proteins will depend on which of those methods becomes most viable. She expects that first it will be plant-based proteins that lead, and then those created by microbial fermentation — the newest platform. Third will be proteins created by cell culture, a more advanced technology, she said.
“There is also a ton of research whitespace,” she added. “If you look at the broad landscape, there are lots of foundational questions to still answer: What are the right raw materials? Soy, wheat and peas are dominant in plant proteins, but soy and wheat are byproducts and not optimized for human consumption. Can we diversify plant proteins to look beyond these three?”
Fermentation uses intact live microorganisms to process plant ingredients, while cultured meat grows from animal cells obtained from animals in a process that advocates say doesn’t hurt the animals. The cells are then warmed and given nutrients to grow muscle and fat.
The results of microbial fermentation are already seen in the form of Impossible Foods’ flagship burger, and products from rival Beyond Meat, as well as faux ground-meat products that are designed to closely mimic animal meat in terms of texture, smell and taste, Huang said. In addition, there is academic research and startups working on sophisticated cuts of meat and chicken alternatives, as well as fish substitutes.
For the sector to advance, some of the technology still has to be advanced, including in the manufacturing processes for texturizing and extruding proteins, but there are also other promising methods. Redefine Meat, for example, uses 3D printing technology, while Rival Foods is experimenting with shear-cell technology to generate whole cuts of meat from plant-based proteins, she added.
Despite growth in the competitive landscape for cultured meat and the food supply chain, industrial-scale facilities and lower pricing for these technologies is likely still 10 to 15 years out, Huang said.
“Progress is being made, and there is early evidence that these are tractable areas,” she added.
Many investors are eager to grab a forkful of alternative protein startups. Since 2016, venture capitalists infused about $4.2 billion into 363 known global investments within this space, according to Crunchbase data.
In 2020, just under $2 billion was invested in global venture-backed startups in the space, dominated by Impossible Foods’ total raise of $700 million in Series F and Series G rounds last year. That was a 101 percent jump in funding from 2019 to 2020, according to the database.
Although big players received large chunks of capital, Sean O’Sullivan, managing general partner at early-stage investment firm SOSV, said 2020 was a good year for companies raising funding in those nascent stages, including for startups that haven’t even hit the market with products yet. There are also a number of $100 million deals on tap for this year, he added.
Cellular meat is still in the “birthing stage,” he said, but other alternative protein options are already commercially viable.
“Plant-based is already here and in your refrigerator, as are foods created around a certain protein, such as dairy protein,” he said. “With cell-based meat products, Memphis Meats is going for the whole burger and would be selling in restaurants and stores, except for regulatory issues.”