The world is bearing witness to a green revolution in which more and more tech startups with a twist are springing up across Silicon Valley with innovative plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy.As the planet becomes more and more aware of its own deterioration, the tech sector is beginning to wade into the food industry and offer exciting new plant-based meat and dairy alternative products.
The increasing consumer awareness of polluting, inhumane and irresponsible aspects concerning the food production chain has inspired a wave of companies such as Impossible Food. The Silicon Valley-based startup sells itself as the producer of a burger “made entirely from plants for people who love meat.”
This alternative is indicative of a wave of products that seek to innovate in their precise emulation of meat and dairy products.
We are witnessing mayonnaise alternatives emerge with the same viscosity and texture but are crucially dairy-free; strips made form plants that have the same feel as chicken and so on…
Entrepreneurs and venture-capitalists have subsequently invaded, seeing a gap present between the current information-driven consumer demand and delayed adaptation to current trends by the food industry.
Ali Partovi, an entrepreneur who invests in tech startups and sustainable-food companies, explains:
“Anytime you can find a way to use plant protein instead of animal protein there’s an enormous efficiency in terms of the energy, water and all sorts of other inputs involved—which translates at the end of the day to saving money.”
In short, it costs a lot less to produce plant-based alternatives, they are considered healthier and more environmentally-friendly.
The entire philosophy behind this Silicon Valley trend is to accept the current consumer preference for meat, in that many still choose it over fruit and vegetables, and simple try and recreate the taste and texture of meat but without using meat.
These startups are not aiming necessarily to encroach upon the vegan and vegetarian market in which many, if not all, of the major players offer their own products. Silicon Valley aims instead to attract the meat-consuming masses and thus seek to replicate meat products.
A difficult invasion
The meat and dairy industries are monumentally significant to the global economy. In the US, the beef industry is worth $88 billion and condiments market alone totals roughly $2 billion.
The task for the startups will not be an easy one. Meat consumption is so ingrained within North American and European culture that the shift will be gradual if it even takes off. Many of the startups such as Impossible Foods have assembled armies of scientists comparable to biotech companies with many of these experts boasting no experience in the food industry. Their approach is explicitly scientific, laboratory based and seeks to understand the science behind our ongoing fascination with meat and dairy. The products for example seek to mimic the tissue quality inherent in the muscle of beef, for example, as opposed to working on the taste aspect of replacing a meat lasagna with a vegetarian one.
The task of convincing meat and dairy consumers to eradicate meat and dairy from their diets is a difficult one. Hampton Creek however, is one of many examples of success stories. The San Francisco-based company that specialises in egg-free alternatives can now be found in Walmart and Kroger stores, almost indicative in itself of a mainstream success.
While no one expects an overnight global transition to meat and dairy alternatives, the plant-based consumer trend is very real and everywhere to be seen in 2017 and it seems Silicon Valley and its tech startups are taking an overtly scientific-based approach to convincing the mass market.
Will this be overly ambitious or will we sooner-than-expected see the rise of plant-based alternatives to everything meat and dairy?
It’s difficult to say, but the rate of success in the States is remarkable and the market is growing fast. US sales of plant-based meats were $553 million in 2012 according to Mintel and the global market is projected to reach $5 billion by 2020, according to Markets and Markets.
Perhaps it’s not so radical to suggest that even the future of meat is green.