The food supply chain is broken — startups are our only hope

Natalie Lung

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From farm to fork, a radical overhaul of the world’s food supply system needs to happen if it is to continue to be fit for purpose.

Why? Well, a combination of rapid population growth and ever-increasing life expectancies are placing our food supply chains under strain. According to the United Nations, there will be approximately 9.8 billion of us living on Earth by 2050, and many for longer periods than ever before. And this additional number of mouths to feed will only rise higher.

Experts predict that our current rates of food production will need to double if they are to match this extra demand.

To compound the mounting pressure on food manufacturers, one-third of all food supplied for consumption is either lost or wasted, amounting to an incredible 1.3 billion tonnes of unused produce every year.

In particular, scientists have highlighted the unsustainable nature of industrial animal agriculture, citing the greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation it creates. This all means that serious innovation in the food-supply-chain system is required to tackle these challenges head on.

We believe the redesign of our current food system in a sustainable way will only come from the most forward-thinking entrepreneurs and tech-savvy start-ups all searching for new ways of reimagining food production .

Here are some already working hard to revolutionize the way we feed ourselves:

 

Start-ups upcycling food surplus

As Nature Preserve puts it: ‘Every fruit deserves a second chance.’ This start-up explores ways for surplus or unwanted fruit to be recreated into healthy food products such as smoothies. We’ve always felt sad for those fruits or vegetables left on the shelf due to their supposed imperfections, so we should find a way to incorporate them back onto our diets. The business is building a mobile, compact food processing solution that can be inserted anywhere in the agri-food supply chain to ensure unwanted food does not have to travel hundreds of miles to a processing plant to be re-engineered.

Caskai manufactures drinks from cascara, the dried husk of the coffee cherry –previously regarded as an unwanted byproduct of the coffee-making process.

According to the firm’s research, the resulting product is a natural beverage packed with antioxidants that gives you a pick-me-up without the coffee jitters or artificial ingredients you find in regular energy drinks.

 

Alternative proteins and plant-based marketplace

The marketplace for alternative proteins aimed at reducing the consumption of animal-based or animal-derived products is now a fast-growing part of the mainstream food manufacturing industry.

Many of today’s consumers keenly follow the journey their food takes to their plates; they are concerned by the impact of their dietary decisions on both the environment it comes from and those who make it. The healthier, more environmentally friendly a food product, the more likely it is to sell, especially for a millennial generation concerned by the ongoing climate crisis.

Savvy businesses are tuning in to this cultural shift. Figures from The Good Food Institute and data provider PitchBook showed US-based companies working in alternatives to conventional animal-based foods raised $741 million in the first quarter of 2020.

 

Plant-based meats

Plant-based meats use plant-based ingredients to replicate the taste of meat.

Beyond Meat produces plant-based burgers, sausages and beef ‘crumbles’ and has evolved from a start-up into a public company worth an estimated $5 billion. Their products can be found in McDonalds in Canada, Carl’s Jr in the US and were even trialled in KFC for a limited period.

‘What makes meat taste like meat?’ is the question that kick-started the journey for the team behind Impossible Foods. Their beefy product has become a runaway success at Burger King with the 2019 launch of the Impossible Whopper one of the company’s most successful launches.

While these start-ups focus on approximating beef, Phuture Foods is a Malaysian firm looking to pioneer a plant-based pork substitute, a product which is in huge demand in the Asian market. It uses wheat, shiitake mushrooms and mung beans in its proprietary recipe, and comes in both a patty and minced form to cater for the Asian taste palette.

 

Plant-based drinks

The alternative dairy market is anticipated to be worth a staggering $41.1 billion by 2025, with drinks powering this growth. Here are some of the start-ups driving this cultural change.

Grounded is a London-based business that makes 100% natural plant-protei-based functional beverages. It uses a sunflower-seed protein from flowers grown in Europe. The seeds are cold pressed then minimally processed to protect the natural protein structures.

If coffee machines are your thing, Cerealthy offers you the world’s first plant-based milk in biodegradable coffee pods and single-serve sachets. If you’re lactose intolerant or concerned about the well-being of animals, this is the perfect addition to your morning brew.

 

Cultured Fish and Meats

Rather than harming animals, cultured meat products are grown in labs and have great potential to change the way meat is manufactured.

Supported by the likes of Bill Gates and Richard Branson, Memphis Meats is one of the leaders in the development of this new technology which uses lab-grown animal cells as the basis for its products. As a pioneer in this field, the company created the world’s first cell-based beef meatballs, chicken and duck.

Avant Meats offers a similar style of product, this time focusing on fish. The Hong Kong-based food-technology start-up is currently developing cell-based fish products including fish maw (swim bladder) and sea cucumber. Both are highly sought-after culinary delicacies in traditional Chinese cuisine.

As demand for food looks set to skyrocket in line with our rapidly accelerating population, resources around the manufacturing and supply of produce needs to be radically overhauled if it is to meet this demand. To match our increasing concerns around health, nutrition and the environment, it’s time for the world’s innovators to step forward and redefine our tastes — without any loss of flavour.

Natalie Lung

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