Better Progress: Food for The Planet

I’ve been spending time researching the food industry of late and attended a few events over the last few months on the future of food, including The Food Funded event in San Francisco on May 24 and the Future Food Institute (Italy) session as part of San Francisco Design Week. The events reminded me that there’s a wonderful community of food enthusiasts, innovators, and investors seeking to make a positive impact on the food industry, our communities, and the planet.

And, their efforts are needed. Did you know that the UN estimates there are currently 7.3 billion people on the planet and the number is expected to grow by almost 35 percent by 2050, reaching 9.7 billion people? In turn, our global food production levels need to almost double, according to the FAO of the United Nations, not just because of population growth, but also due to the rising middle class in developing countries, their changing eating habits, and the amount of food waste in our system. This growth in the food supply will need to be achieved while we’re also dealing with climate change impacts, which make food production more unpredictable. What’s more, Paul Hawken wrote Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, and according to the organization’s research Food is one of the biggest areas we can focus on to address climate change.

Luckily, many of the food trends we’re seeing take these truths into account:

To start, there’s a lot of attention being paid to food waste. We wrote about this at the beginning of the year. These are some additional companies we didn’t feature in our last post:

  • Regrained makes snacks with the nutritious grain left over from the brewing of beer
  • Forager Project makes chips out of rehydrated pomace (i.e., the skin, the seeds, and the pulp of vegetables) from its juice making
  • Toast Ale makes beers with the usual hops, yeast, malted barley, and water, but also with surplus bread from bakeries
  • Snact from the UK is making snacks (as one might suspect from its name!) from surplus fruits
  • Coffee Flour “pioneered a process that converts [the coffee byproduct – coffeefruit] into a nutrient-dense new super-ingredient we call Coffee Flour”
  • Ugly Juice is using “ugly” fruit to make its juices

Climate positive agriculture and foods are growing.

There are many companies that are focused on more sustainable ingredient sourcing. Two examples:

  • Some manufacturers are working with communities to sell the fruit or growth of a plant instead of cutting down trees themselves. Kuli Kuli brought attention to the moringa plant and is focused on helping communities build sustainable livelihoods and sustainable environments through growth of the trees and the selling of the leaves for income.
  • Akua is a company that makes products with sustainably harvested and abundant kelp.

Alternative proteins have been all the rage, even beyond plant-based milks.

  • Climate impacts will be reduced if consumers eat more non-meat alternatives. If consumers replace between 10-15 percent of the meat they eat with alternative proteins by 2030, the World Economic Forum has estimated that: “total greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture could drop by between 5-8%, freshwater withdrawals for agriculture could be reduced by between 7%-12%, and between 5%-10% of the total land used for agriculture could be freed up for other uses.”
  • Already on the market are products like Chirps cricket chips that are made from insect protein. IKEA’s Space10 has experimented with a new Swedish meatball made with insects, algae, and lab-grown meat.
  • There are also realistic plant-based meat analogs like Beyond Meat (made from pea protein isolate, coconut oil and sunflower oil) and the Impossible Burger. In fact, of the fifteen most well-funded CPG startups of late, five focus on replacing animal proteins with plants (Hampton Creek, Impossible Foods, Califia Farms, Ripple Foods, and Beyond Meat).
  • Cell-cultured meats and fish are in-development, such as by Finless Foods that is making a cell-cultured Bluefin tuna. Beef is also in development.

Farming in and around cities and vertical farming is attracting a lot of investment with companies such as Plenty and Infarm in Germany. These practices would bring food production closer to where population growth will continue to reside around the world. Organizations are also working to either protect or reclaim land close to cities. While cities need to expand and increase housing supply, they also need to protect farmland to feed the population. Vertical farming isn’t ideal for all types of foods, so there needs to be thoughtful planning for our food supply around metropolitan areas.

The Industry Forecast: Help us reinvent our food supply to ensure we can both feed the world and protect our planet.


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