Innovation within the food industry is at an all-time high, fueled by the pressure to find more eco-friendly agricultural practices and the growing popularity of plant-based diets. Companies such as Beyond Meat, Phytophonics and Chirps are supplying services and products with to an ever-growing market of climate and health-conscious consumers, thus changing the traditional landscape of the food market as we know it.
How are these and other innovative food tech startups are influencing the food market? What impact are they having on us as consumers, and what types of challenges and backlash have they experienced?
The Search For Green Agriculture
It is clear that the current practices of industrial agriculture are unsustainable and are directly impacting our planet and our health. Farming animals on an industrial scale is one of the leading causes of climate change. Moreover, the most widely used weedkiller is a product called Roundup manufactured by Monsanto; its main ingredient, glyphosate, is fiercely contested within the European Union. While considered “dangerous for the environment” by many activists, farmers in France and around the world argue they need products like glyphosate to feed a growing global population.
Earlier this week, Monsanto was ordered to pay $2 billion in punitive damages to a California couple who claimed Roundup caused them to develop cancer. The Californian couple are the first of 13,000 plaintiffs who have pending lawsuits against Monsanto, and this is just in the United States. There is clearly a need for a change in agricultural practices to reduce pesticide use and minimise the damage industrial agriculture can inflict on our planet and our health.
There are many startups innovating in agriculture such as Peas and Love, a French startup which offers customers their own organic garden within their farms. The Peas and Love service comes with an onsite farmer to maintain the plot for only €8.99 a month. Ecorobotix, a Swiss startup, invented a solar-powered robot capable of detecting and removing weeds, allowing farmers to reduce their pesticide usage by up to 90%.
Other startups are aiming for a future that does away with pesticides entirely. Firms like Aerofarms are innovating in the field of aeroponic farming to provide pesticide-free and environmentally friendly grown foods on an industrial scale. There is also Brooklyn-based Edenworks, who uses machine learning to optimise fish and vegetable farming using aquaponic ecosystems. Their fish and vegetables can be grown organically on a large scale without the use of harmful pesticides or chemicals.
Startups like these are the future of agriculture, and will help us eat healthier without causing as much damage to our environment.
The Rise of Alternative Foods
A United Nations report has found the average citizen needs to cut out 75% of their beef consumption, 90% of pork consumption, and 50% of eggs consumed in order to preserve the environment. These type of statistics, along with footage leaks of how animals are treated in industrial farming, has undeniably given rise to a plant-based food revolution.
Both consumers and food startups are more open to experimenting with meat-free alternatives. Key players in this food revolution include Beyond Meat, who created a plant-based “bleeding” burger and made history last week by becoming the first ever plant-based food company to IPO. Impossible Foods have raised over $300m in funding and partnered up with fast food giant Burger King to supply the patties to their vegetarian burger.
A new breed of entrepreneurs called “Entopreneurs” even specialise in creating foods out of insects, while startups like Chirps make cricket based snacks. Beetles, a Belgian startup, make insect-based Beer. Farming insects requires less water, and they provide more protein than traditional meat.
This is only the beginning of our shift towards more sustainable farming practices as well as a healthier diet. In the past four years, venture capitalists have invested $7.2 billion into challenger food brands. Expect to see much more food tech innovation over the next couple of years, as a growing number of consumers become ever so conscious of the unsustainability of our current diets and farming practices.