With the constant breaking of records for the hottest year in the headlines, climate change is one of the direst crises facing the world. Low-lying coastal regions are in danger because of rising sea levels. However, an even more threatening issue is a drastic decline in crop yields which will affect us all sooner than we think.
The future does look bleak. Our excessive consumption has been depleting the Earth’s resources as well as polluting air, water and soil at an alarming rate. Some environmentalists advocate minimizing carbon footprint by eliminating most kinds of consumption. Such an approach is idealistic yet impractical in developed nations. As Naomi Klein, author of This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate, puts it, “climate change pits what the planet needs to maintain stability against what our economic model needs to sustain itself.” She believes the current economic model, which prioritizes monetary gains over the environment, should be reformed. “This reality [climate change] should be filling progressive sails with conviction, lending new confidence to the demands for a more just economic model.” Meanwhile, visionary entrepreneurs, impact investors and sustainability thought leaders see opportunities in a new form of consumerism. The key is whether businesses produce responsibly and whether people consume consciously. It gives rise to a reformed economy model called green economy – balancing environmental impact and economic growth.
The green economy model coincides with the ideals of the millennials who are witnessing and even experiencing some of the adverse effects of climate change. Millennials have made the connection that our consumption pattern is one of the culprits of the global crisis. According to Jeremy Rifkin, President of the Foundation on Economic Trends, there has been the rise of “a new biosphere consciousness, as the human race begins to perceive the Earth as its invisible community. We are each beginning to take on our responsibilities as stewards of the planetary ecosystems that sustain all of life.” Such awareness allows us to reclaim our individual power, knowing that every time we spend money, we are in fact casting a vote for the kind of world we want.
Many tech start-ups have capitalized on the paradigm shift. The food industry is brimming with potential and opportunities since the demand for plant-based meat alternative is exploding. Lux Research, a strategic advisory firm for emerging technologies, projects that “by 2054, meat alternatives will comprise 33 per cent of the overall protein market.” The USDA figures show that there has been a steady decline in red meat consumption since 2007. In 2013, per capita meat consumption in the US dropped below 200 lbs, the same level as in 1990.
With cutting-edge technologies at their disposal, food tech start-ups want to change how people eat and how resources are utilized, pioneering the groundbreaking “Food 2.0” movement and development. Hampton Creek, best known for its vegan mayonnaise, has been taking the food industry by storm. Beyond Meat, selected by CNN as one of the top 10 start-ups to watch, can create products that replicate the fibrous muscle tissues of meat. Impossible Foods analyzes animal products at the molecular level and selects certain proteins and nutrients from plants, creating hamburger patties that mimic meat in taste and nutritional value. These Food 2.0 companies are re-defining our foodscape – using advanced technologies, food can be made more nutritious and healthier without compromising the taste.
Their approach transcends vegetarianism or veganism. They do not only target customers on a plant-based diet, but also meat-eating consumers. “We are not trying to make a meat alternative. We are making meat a better way,” says Pat Brown, CEO of Impossible Foods. Such plant-based meat has more protein than meat and is free from all the nasties, such as antibiotics, hormones or cholesterol. These products come at an opportune time when consumers take a more active and informed approach to food purchase. According to a poll conducted by Fortune and SurveyMonkey, 64.2% of food shoppers are “very” or “extremely” concerned about pesticides; 56.5% about hormones; 52.2% about antibiotics and 45.9% about GMOs.
Visionary innovators in the food industry are backed by iconic moguls such as Bill Gates, Li Ka-Shing and Jerry Yang. Hampton Creek started out as a small startup with US$500,000 in seed capital from Khosla Ventures and has evolved to become the world’s fastest growing food company. Beyond Meat has received funding from Bill Gates, Biz Stone, Ev Williams (co-founders of Twitter) and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, one of the largest and most successful venture capital firms. Google allegedly offered US$200-300 million to acquire Impossible Foods but was rejected. Last October, Impossible Foods raised a staggering US$108 million funding.
The list of tech start-ups infusing innovation into the plant-based world keeps expanding. Memphis Meats has been trying to grow real meat using animal cells and has recently revealed its first product – a meatball made with cultured meat – and they aim to release animal-free products in 3 to 4 years. Daiya Foods and Miyoko’s Creamery have made a name for themselves by offering dairy-free products. Meanwhile, plant-based food services have emerged. For example, Lighter Culture offers customized vegan food delivery, based on the user’s cooking skills, health conditions and goals.
“If you had any remaining doubts about the popularity of organic and so-called natural foods, a visit to the Anaheim Convention Center here last week would have dispelled them,” that’s how the New York Times sums up the booming natural food market. Steve Hughes, co-founder of natural food company Boulder Brands, reaffirms, “This is the most dynamic, disruptive, and transformational time that I’ve seen in my career.” The food industry has come to a tipping point when consumers favor natural and wholesome food over what they have been accustomed to eating. The steady growth of the plant-based food industry shows that consumers and businesses can be unified in achieving common good and creating a brighter future for all.