In September, Solar Foods struck an agreement with Nordic food company Fazer to develop products using Solein, which can be used in existing plant-based products or future offerings such as lab-grown meat.
Solein will cost about €5 per kilo ($2.50 a pound) to produce and will hit the market by 2021, Vainikka said.
“There’s a lot of climate anxiety,” he said. “And people are looking for hope and solutions and they’re happy to see companies like ours, so that’s encouraging.”
Fermentation, Fermentation, Fermentation
Another company tackling agriculture’s emissions through fermentation, Bangalore-based String Bio, is working to convert methane, a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide as it traps 28 times more heat, from waste and natural sources into protein powder – initially for animals.
“We said this is probably the best impact we humans can have in this world, where we take something that we don’t need for the environment and convert it into something we do need,” said Vinod Kumar, who with his wife Ezhil Subbian set up the company.
Such environmental considerations, along with concerns over animal welfare and human health, have driven both demand and supply of alternative proteins, said Dan Altschuler Malek, Managing Partner at investment firm Unovis Partners.
Just 10 years ago he said retailers saw alternative proteins as a risky bet, but “today they realise there is a huge demand for all these products.”
Unovis manages New Crop Capital, a fund that invests exclusively in start-ups developing meat, seafood and dairy replacements, including Beyond Meat.
New Crop has also invested in Nova Meats, a Spanish company that uses a special 3D printer to produce steak that can mimic the taste and texture of meat.
The printers produce three-dimensional vegan steaks using cartridge-style syringes which extrude plant-based proteins.
Volcanoes and Tiny Organisms
Some have criticized plant-based alternatives flooding store shelves as highly processed and high in sodium, and Harvard scientists recently questioned their role in a healthy diet.
Others such as the Center for Consumer Freedom, which is backed by the food and beverage industry, have launched campaigns decrying so-called “fake meat” as loaded with chemicals.
Proponents counter that burgers have always been laden with fat and sodium and were never exactly considered health food.
The new generation of proteins are also less processed, said Thomas Jonas, CEO of Sustainable Bioproducts whose protein is based on microbes found in volcanic hot springs at Yellowstone National Park.
In that barren, other-worldly and dangerous landscape, researchers “discovered a bunch of life forms that across millennia evolved to survive in this environment,” he said.
Having raised $33 million in February, the company plans to produce “a hamburger equivalent” next year through a “novel fermentation” of the microbes.
At full capacity its 35,000-square-feet (3,250 square metres) plant in Chicago could produce burgers equivalent to those made from cows grazing on 15,000 acres (6,100 hectares) of land, Jonas said.
For investors like Altschuler Malek, alternative proteins are all about options for consumers, with three essential caveats:
“It needs to taste great, it needs to meet certain price points and it needs to be able to be manufactured in large volume,” he said.
“There are amazing chefs all over the world that are doing plant-based products. But If you cannot convert that into mass manufacturing it’s really hard to see how that can actually make a change in the world.”
It is also an opportunity for a radical shift in agriculture which, despite incremental improvements, has remained much the same for centuries, Jonas said.
“Fundamentally we are surviving on this planet based on an agricultural system that has barely changed in the past 11,000 years . . . when we domesticated a handful of plants and animals.”