Taste, Texture and Culture: The Novel Protein Revolution Continues 🍗

See how enterprising startups are tackling the challenges of consumer preferences, sustainability and food safety concerns.

Good Monday, fellow nerds! ☕ Hope you’re staying warm and well wherever you are in the world. As those of us in the Northeast wonder what the heck happened to summer, 🥶 the future food space is buzzing with consumer trends, investor interests and new insights into the impact of indoor farming. 👨🏻‍🌾 Take a look while I go dig out a few more blankets…

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Consumers Want to Sink Their Teeth into Taste, Texture and Health

It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a big impact on consumers’ food habits. The International Food Information Council’s annual Food & Health Survey revealed 85% of people were changing something about the way that they ate in response to the pandemic, including 60% who started doing more cooking at home.

These changes have, at least in part, fueled the growth in plant-based meat sales. 📈💲 With about one and five consumers seeking to make healthier choices, many are reducing meat intake — and turning to alt proteins.

But it’s not all about the health benefits. Meat's characteristic texture and taste is often inextricably linked to iconic cultural experiences. 🍗🥩 For plant meats to maintain market momentum, products must fit the expectations consumers have for their own lifestyles and stand up to scrutiny when consumed in traditional cultural contexts.

Because people are seeking an experience and not just a health boost, alt protein companies need to look to functional ingredients as solutions to the challenges of texture and flavor. By modifying textures to meet regional and cultural preferences, plant-based brands are more likely to maintain a foothold in the market as consumers consider a return to meat.

Photo by ThisIsEngineering from Pexels

But if You Follow the Money, it Leads to a Different Kind of Culture…

…cultured meat. 🧪

In 2016, only two companies were working on cell-based meat alternatives; today, there are 80. These startups seek to circumnavigate animal agriculture through a variety of production methods involving actual animal cells but no factory farms. 🐄

Investors are pouring money into the sector, funding businesses all along the spectrum—from those making new culture mediums and “bioscaffolds” to the cell-based meat companies themselves. Even the National Science Foundation is getting in on the game with a $3.5 million five-year grant to the University of California Davis specifically dedicated to research in this area.

While mainstream cultured meat maybe a ways off yet, companies are reducing costs by streamlining their processes and experimenting with culture growth with the goal of enabling high-scale manufacturing in the future.

Meanwhile, Vertical Farming is Channeling Captain Planet

They may not be ready to “take pollution down to zero,” but resource reduction is one of the main claims to fame for vertical farming companies. 🌱

Researchers at Purdue University decided to put this claim to the test. The aquaponic system in their study did, in fact, have a 45% lower environmental impact compared to traditional farming. (This included fuel use, waste, emissions and overall carbon footprint.) They noted reductions could be even greater if more renewable energy sources were used.

Growing produce indoors also has implications for food safety. The controlled environment is almost completely sheltered from outside influences, which reduces the risk of contamination from animal waste and tainted water sources. Farming models that incorporate robotics 🤖 for plant maintenance further reduce potential contamination by minimizing the need for human contact.


That’s all the news that is the news for this week! 📰 I’ve got my eye on the vertical farming trend, especially as an adjunct to the regenerative farming movement and as a way to bring fresh, healthy food into areas were traditional farming is difficult or impossible. 🥗

To hear more about some of the movers, shakers and innovators behind these trends, I invite you to check out the new companion podcast to this newsletter! Available on Anchor.fm, Spotify, Apple Podcasts and Overcast.