Traditionally, humans have exploited biology to produce appealing foods via selective breeding of livestock and crops. Yet there remains an unmet demand for sustainably sourced, optimally nutritious foods–a demand that can only be met with biotechnology. Food biotechnology unites the best of what biotech has to offer by providing solutions for both human and planetary health, so it’s no wonder that the food sector, of all sectors of biotech, has taken off.
At Unexpected Biotech, IndieBio SF Managing Director Po Bronson sat down with 2 well-established innovators (and IndieBio alumni!) to discuss what makes biotechnology uniquely suited to satiate current and future consumers appetites.
Watch the recording or read our summary to find out:
Biotechnology removes inefficiency
Most of the energy that we invest into livestock is lost as heat, leaving only a small fraction in the meat, eggs, and dairy products that we consume. “When you use inefficient machines, you get the consequences [of inefficiencies]: deforestation, water scarcity, loss of species, etc. All of those consequences are coming because of the middleman,” says Mattais Muchnick, CEO of NotCo. At NotCo, scientists created an algorithm that learns what combination of plants can replicate animal products, thereby removing middlemen (animals) from food production.
Similar to Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, NotCo is not inventing entirely new foods, but they are creating alternatives. The success of these companies lies in the fact that they do not ask consumers to change their tastes, but rather they ask only that consumers embrace a sustainable replacement for foods they already love.
“To this new generation of products, plant-based cannot be the value proposition, it has to be the taste. Otherwise, we won’t ever get to the mass market,” says Muchnick. With this in mind, NotCo produced NOTMILK, a sustainable plant-based milk alternative that delivers the rich taste and creamy texture of cow’s milk. NOTMILK is currently available on shelves and in coffee shops across the United States and South America, making it easy for consumers to make the switch to plant-based foods and support planetary health.
Food tech products are more sustainable… and better for you?
Consumers are not only looking for products that deliver the taste and texture of traditional foods; they also demand products that provide the same, or better, nutritional value as animal products. Namely, consumers look at protein content. Protein content to date has been limited to those derived from livestock animals in order to facilitate large-scale production.
Now that we’re not limited to what you can take from a cow, a pig, a chicken, or fish, you can actually find the active component that confers some of these health benefitsAlex Lorestani, Geltor CEO
“What if we weren’t beholden to these sources of protein we have today,” asks Alex Lorestani, CEO and cofounder of Geltor, “but instead we go out and find the best proteins for the job that the consumers [need]?” In his quest for precision nutrition, Lorestani discovered that the best proteins were most often not those served up by industrially farmed animals.
For example, collagen protein is well known for its benefits to skin, hair, and gut health. “Now that we’re not limited to what you can take from a cow, a pig, a chicken, or fish, you can actually find the active component that confers some of these health benefits.” says Lorestani.
Once these bioactive compounds are identified, Geltor unites biological insight and animal-free fermentation processes to create their sustainable, functionally-optimized protein products. Removing the animal from production thus not only supports planetary health, but also increases food functionality to support human health.
What space for future innovation in food tech?
Animal-free food products are already in our homes, our grocery stores, and our favorite restaurants, in part thanks to IndieBio companies like Geltor and NotCo. In the shadows of well-established food biotech companies, what space is left for new startups?
Just like the biotechnology that supports food products, consumer tastes are dynamic and constantly searching for what’s next. Consumers make the decision to support new products at every meal, three times a day, 365 days of the year, so a small shift in consumer behavior can have a big effect on product success.
With consideration of consumer palettes in mind, Muchnick imparts to future entrepreneurs: “If you execute better than the rest, you will become a good contender. At the end of the day, it’s not going to be a game of winner takes all.” Food is subjective and people prefer options. There’s more than one option for animal-based products, so why shouldn’t there be more than one option for the alternatives?
“We’re in the very early phases of biology continuing to transform industries globally,” says Lorestani. “The way that your idea gets expressed and ultimately molded into an amazing company is going to change in ways that you might not be able to anticipate—so go for it!”