Plant-based proteins as a future nutrition and opportunities for food startups

This year's conferences on nutrition are often discussed about a future diet through plant-based proteins. Investors have discovered the issue and are taking part in food startups in California with large sums. Investment funds from the established food groups are also following this trend, as the example of Kellogg's and Bright Green shows. A total of $ 1 billion was invested in 2016 in food startups in the US. At the moment, 7.35 billion people live on earth. If the average protein requirement of an adult per day is approximately 50g, this value is exceeded in almost every continent in daily consumption. In the US, for example, the daily per capita consumption of proteins at 90g, with a clearly dominant proportion of animal proteins compared to plant proteins. As predicted by the United Nations, the world population will develop by 2100 to 11.21 billion people. The disposable income in the emerging markets will also grow. If nothing changes in today's tendencies of the world's dietary habits, an even greater need arises, especially for meat and dairy products as protein sources. The diet of China, with a population of 1.4 billion people, will in future meet the nutritional needs of the average American diet in many areas. This will provide China with the available opportunities for its food production areas to face major challenges for a sufficient supply of the people living there with regard to the future diet. Due to the projected population development in Africa and the rest of Asia, the future high demand for proteins will play an even greater role for global nutrition.

From the formerly precious and rarely consumed product meat, for example pigs, has become a mass product, especially in the USA and Asia, with enormous negative ecological and socio-economic effects. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that by 2050 global demand for animal products will increase by as much as 70%. The rearing of animals as a source of protein for humans consumes vast amounts of land, water and other resources. A future global diet dominated by meat as the source of protein is harmful to the entire eco-system of the earth. The negative influence on the climate change by factory farming will have to lead to a reversal view in our daily meat consumption. In many countries of the world, an awareness for factory farming is developing, in which animals are reared on the least possible area under the most adverse conditions. In addition, there is a growing worldwide uncertainty about the health-damaging effects of meat consumption due to the numerous reports on animal diseases (for example, the so-called bird flu) and the massive use of antibiotics in the breeding of animals for humans.

The present findings on global population development and the human habit of continuing to use meat as a source of protein have evoked two research and marketing directions for future meat production. In one movement, food startups research and develop meat in the context of cellular "agriculture". The term „clean-meat“ is used here. Products such as poultry and pork are produced from animal cell cultures in the laboratory. The problems with the factory farming for the animals and the ecological impact of today's animal husbandry can be reduced by these methods. An intensive research on this area has been developed around the world. Investors in the US have invested in food startups that are developing new meat products in this field. In addition to the attempts to develop egg and milk products from cells, the development of chicken meat in Israel is particularly interesting. Memphis Meats, a company from San Francisco, also develops from animal cells chicken meat in the laboratory. Impossible Foods from California goes a different way. The team develops meatless patties for burgers made of wheat, coconut oil and potatoes, with the addition of herbal hemoglobin. Beyond Meat is another example of a company that specializes in plant-based burgers, an alternative protein source. Last October, one of the leading American meat producers, Tyson Food, invested in Beyond Meat. Should meat and animal proteins be completely eliminated in the global diet in the future in order to achieve the necessary socio-ecological changes? What are the chances for food startups?

The global market for herbal beverages that do not contain animal milk is estimated by the market research company Innova for 2018 to 16.2 billion dollars. Regardless of whether there is actually a lactose intolerance among consumers, consumers increasingly resort to alternative herbal products in the cold store of their supermarket in the product categories milk drinks, yoghurts, desserts and cheese. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has announced in a recent ruling that pure herbal products may not be offered under the name milk. There is a list of exceptions (e.g., coconut milk) which may continue to lead the existing label.


Another alternative source of protein has been used by millions of people for many years in many parts of the world and has become more prominent in recent years in Western countries. In Europe and Israel, insects are offered as an alternative source of protein for startups in various products. An example of protein-containing bars from insect repellent is the French start-up Jimini. The Israeli startup Hargol Food Tech breeds grasshoppers in large quantities, to sell them in powder form as a source of protein to supplement the daily diet. Products from algae and seaweed as protein sources and nutrient suppliers have also become established in the market as herbal alternatives to animal products. In the USA, for example, the company offers Ocean's Halo and in Europe the German Startup Evergreen Food products from this area. Snack products made from coconut, mushrooms, chick peas, bananas and sauerkraut have existed for a long time in the market. The Startup Veggie Noodles has established a herbal alternative to conventional noodles with animal eggs.


Only 1% of the agricultural area in the USA is managed according to ecologically certified guidelines. This shows the enormous need for a rethinking in one of the world's largest industrializations. Through the work of innovative food startups, new, purely herbal foods are being developed in the context of global population development, animal welfare and the protection of the planet. What is not new worldwide for people with vegan and vegetarian diet will require much research and education to explain a necessary change in human nutrition for the whole population. All mentioned examples of alternative protein sources show which extensive changes in the food sector can occur in the coming years. Food startups offer tremendous opportunities to determine the global food supply and bring about an ecologically sensible change.


Author: Jens Köster 

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