- Hugo Walker
Six start-ups that are revolutionising the sustainable proteins industry
From 3D-printed steak to lab-grown meat cells, these six start-ups are on a mission to create sustainable and cruelty-free protein sources
Consciousness about the unsustainable nature of the meat industry has rocketed in recent years, marking consumer habits and tastes. According to Statista, 7 per cent of the UK population is vegetarian, with growing interest in vegetarian and vegan diets among the younger generation. In fact, over a quarter of Generation Z stated that they do not eat meat in a 2021 poll.
Meat alternatives have been around for a long time. Veteran vegetarians will recall a time when the only alternatives were bean burgers and Glamorgan sausages that laid no claim on the taste or texture of meat. In recent years, this has changed, with meat substitutes tasting and feeling closer and closer to the real thing. Redefine Meat is the pinnacle of ultra-realistic meat alternatives, with its flagship 3D-printed steak which closely mimics the flavours, fibres and mouthfeel of a real steak. Since its inauguration in 2018, Redefine Meat has taken the market by storm. In fact, Marco Pierre White has just introduced the vegetarian steak to his steakhouses across the UK.
Seafood-alternative products have yet to catch on in mainstream supermarkets, with the unique texture and taste of fish more difficult to replicate than processed meats. Good Catch is trying to crack this market with its new range of plant-based tuna, fish cakes and crab cakes that have recently launched at Tesco. Good Catch is headed up by brothers Derek and Chad Sarno, who also founded the vegan brand Wicked Kitchen. With more dialogue around the pressing issues of overfishing and marine pollution, but with an ever-growing demand for seafood, the market is ripe for vegetarian substitutes for fish.
Aqua Cultured Foods
Chicago-based Aqua Cultured Foods uses novel fermentation technology to create whole cut replicas of seafood that could be used as a vegan alternative for sushi and fillet dishes. The start-up has found a strain of fungi that is naturally fibrous and high in protein, so there is no genetic modification in Aqua’s process, unlike many fungi-based food products. With its high protein content, but with no sodium or saturated fats, Aqua calls its products “nutritionally superior” to real fish. In late 2021, Aqua raised $2.1 million in a pre-seed funding round, as well as securing a deal with Switzerland’s retail giant Migros to suss out the European market. Aqua’s technology may well be what cracks the untapped alternative whole-cut fish industry.
Cultivated Biosciences aims to bring creaminess to dairy-free products using yeast fermentation. The non-GMO yeast fermentation technique creates plant-based fats that more closely mimic the textures and consistency of dairy products while producing up to 80 per cent fewer emissions than dairy cream. Founded in 2021, the future looks promising for the start-up, which has a foothold in a growing market. The success of brands such as Oatly over the past few years, even among non-vegan customers, has shown the promise of dairy alternatives. Cultivated Biosciences aims to be selling its products on the business to business market by 2024.
Mosa Meat goes a step beyond hyper-realistic meat alternatives and offers real beef without the slaughter or emissions - “the world’s kindest beef burger”. By extracting cells from cows and replicating the natural muscle growth process in a lab, cultured beef can be produced in the lab. One sample of cells, which is extracted harmlessly from a cow, can produce 80,000 burgers.
Famously backed by Leonardo DiCaprio, who is a member of the board of advisers, the Dutch company consists of a team of scientists and engineers to help them take food technology and cellular production to the next level. The firm recently received €2 million from the REACT-EU to help them get their products onto the European market in partnership with food producer Nutreco. Mosa Meat was founded by Professor Mark Post and Peter Verstrate in 2016, three years after their first cultured beef burger was eaten at a news conference in London.
Parisian startup Gourmey is currently working on perfecting cultivated foie-gras - the first French company to specialise in poultry cellular production. Gourmey timed their emergence in 2019 perfectly, as the controversy around the delicacy’s cruel production methods came to a head. In the UK, the new Animals Abroad bill is set to ban the import of foie-gras on the basis of cruelty. Even in its country of origin, French ministers are moving away from its consumption, with Lyon, Grenoble and Strasbourg stopping serving it at official events. Gourmey is taking the reins on what they call “marrying innovation and heritage”, keeping French food traditions intact while removing the cruelty from the production process. They expect to have cell-based foie gras on the market by 2022.
Cutting edge fermentation, 3D printing and cellular production techniques are creating alternative proteins that may significantly change our consumption patterns in the future. While the food industry has mostly cracked vegetarian alternatives to processed meats (think the flagship Beyond Burger and the success of Richmond’s new vegan sausages), startups like Redefine Meat and Aqua Cultured Foods show the possibility of mimicking unprocessed whole-cut meat and fish.
Meanwhile, cellular production opens up realms of possibilities of eating meat without the cruelty and environmental damage. These promising developments could take the food industry by storm.