KANSAS CITY — An exciting array of novel ingredients are in development that may one day deliver benefits that allow food manufacturers to further improve their environmental footprint as well as the functional and sensory benefits of products. The potential advancements align with consumer concern about climate change and interest in sustainability.
Consumer research conducted by the NYU Stern Center for Sustainable Business found consumers view sustainability as encompassing both environmental and social factors. Issues consumers listed as most important include minimizing environmental impact, renewable energy, reducing waste, minimizing exploitation of natural resources, reducing carbon footprint, coming together as a community for the greater good, working in ways that benefit society at large, protecting human rights and reducing poverty.
Companies are investing in technologies that address some of the concerns. Unilever PLC, for example, is partnering with Algenuity, a startup, to research the viability of microalgae as an ingredient in food and beverages. Microalgae are microscopic plants, and Algenuity believes its ingredients could serve as a source for plant-based protein in the marketplace. If successful, the endeavor may have a positive environmental impact through reduced use of fertilizers, water and energy.
Calyxt, Inc. plans to license its Talen gene-editing technology. Gene editing gives developers the ability to make precise changes in the DNA of living organisms by removing, introducing or substituting nucleotides at specific sites within the genome. The company is in discussions on the development of wellness and sustainability traits for a variety of plants, including high-fiber wheat, low THC hemp for fiber, food and CBD, and cold tolerant oats and pulses with improved flavor and protein profile.
“Discussions with potential partners have focused on our development of plant-based input solutions for specific downstream issues, including regulatory compliance, sustainability goals, consumer preferences, cost and quality,” said James A. Blome, chief executive officer.
Motif FoodWorks uses biotechnology to replicate proteins from dairy products, eggs and meat for use in the formulation of plant-based meat alternatives. Supported by over $100 million in funding, the startup, among other initiatives, is creating a plant-based fat that performs in a similar fashion to animal-based fat. Success has the potential to improve product quality and accelerate the development of plant-based meat alternatives.
Then there is the potential of cultured animal proteins generated from animal cells to displace meat production. After years of research and development, product has not yet reached the market. But cultured animal protein companies continue to attract investment funding — more than $77 million in 2019, 63% more than what was raised in 2018. In the first quarter of 2020, the companies raised $189 million, more than the amount invested in the category’s prior history. At scale, the technology could cut into the market share of the animal agriculture industry and reduce meat’s impact on the environment.
Each one of these ingredient technologies stands out for its potential as an innovative and entrepreneurial achievement. As with all startups, success is not assured, but the fact such technologies are advancing with a sustainability component built into their mission highlights how the issue has grown from a topic of consumer interest to a promising market ingredient suppliers appear determined to satisfy.