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Plant-Based Future: New Solutions for Tomorrow’s Nutrition

The market share of plant-based alternatives is estimated to increase five-fold, from around two percent in 2020 to a good ten percent in 2035. Thanks to new technologies and intensive research and development, the number of new products is increasing at a breathtaking pace.

Planteneers is also seeing this. This specialist for plant-based alternatives has become a key player in the rapidly expanding plant-based market in just three years. Its portfolio has multiplied quickly, from functional systems for sausage, cold cut, and ground meat alternatives at the start of the plant-based era to a diverse portfolio from which customers today can make entire product lines in various categories. The choices range from plant-based alternatives to meat, sausage, and fish products, to cheese, dairy products, and deli foods. “The challenge is that we are the pathfinders for the trends,” comments Dr. Dorotea Pein, Director Food Trends and Innovations at Planteneers. “Our customers expect us to have solutions for the trends of tomorrow, today. This means we are constantly working with new ingredients and applications to develop these innovations and be able to respond early in all cases.”

One example is functional systems for fish alternatives. “These alternatives have just recently made enormous strides in appearance and flavor,” notes Dr. Pein. “With our fiildFish compounds, we cover the gamut, from classics like smoked salmon alternatives for eating cold, to hot foods like salmon filet and shrimp alternatives.” According to Dr. Pein, one highlight in the meat category is the development of products traditionally associated with haute cuisine, like alternatives to beef tartare and carpaccio. “These two examples alone show the direction the market is taking. Diversification is advancing farther and farther.” The cheese category confirms this. Using the numerous functional systems in Planteneers’ fiildDairy series, customers can develop a wide range of plant-based cheese alternatives, with systems for plant-based alternatives to cream cheese, feta, pizza cheese, block cheese in slices and blocks, and processed cheese preparations. Among the latest developments are plant-based alternatives to high-sales classics like cheddar and parmesan.

New Ingredients as Growth Engine

Alongside new products, new ingredients also offer growth potential, especially mycoproteins and cellular agriculture. According to the world nutrition organization FAO, the worldwide meat market volume of 360 million tons in 2022 will rise to 455 million tons by 2050. In this scenario, alternative products are more and more important. Mycoprotein plays an important role for several different reasons. It has many advantages, from the production process to health to sustainability and zero waste. “Mycoprotein already has a certain structure, but the flavor and color are neutral,” says Dr. Pein. “Health benefits are another aspect. For example, it has been scientifically demonstrated that mycoprotein has a high satiating effect, and furthermore boosts muscle growth, which is very important in senior nutrition.” Cholesterol and blood sugar regulating effects have likewise been proven. Mycoprotein also has a very good nutritional profile, being high in fiber and low in carbohydrates and fat.

Another plus point is its sustainable, environment-friendly production by means of fermentation, which is done in a nutrient medium with a raw material containing carbon, for example leftovers from sugar beet processing. These plant residues are inoculated with a mycelium culture and fermented. This is a great way to make use of waste streams. “In recent months we did our first application tests of mycoprotein in plant-based alternatives to meat, fish, and dairy products,” reports Dr. Pein. “The results were impressive.” Based on this experience, Planteneers is currently making prototypes of the various final products in order to present them to interested customers.

“Cultivated Meat Has Disruptive Potential”

Alongside plant-based alternatives and proteins made through fermentation, there is also an increased focus on cultured meat, also known as in-vitro meat. The main drivers here are the challenge of feeding a growing world population, climate and environmental protection, and animal welfare. “Both vegan meat substitutes and cultured meat have disruptive potential,” explains Katharina Schäfer, Team Lead Product Management at Planteneers’ sister company Hydrosol. For her dissertation, she is studying the opportunities for meat from cultured cells as well as the challenges this new protein generation must overcome. “It’s easy to get the texture, fibrousness, frying behavior, and mouthfeel close to conventional meat products,” says Schäfer. “For cost reasons, most companies will start by taking hybrid products to market, i.e. combinations of cultured and plant-based proteins. That will make it possible to improve the nutritional profiles of these foods.” The composition of cultured products can be adjusted flexibly. “For example, it might be possible to configure the production of cultured fat in such a way that it contains omega-3 fatty acids, to create a healthier product,” explains Schäfer.

The Plantbaser: Develop Plant-Based Foods in 20 Minutes

With the Plantbaser Planteneers offers product development of a different kind. This digital product configurator provides users with new inspirations at a completely new rate of speed. From idea to finished product takes just two weeks. Users can put together their desired product in 15 to 20 minutes, with no dedicated plant-based knowledge needed. Whether alternatives to fermented milk products, fish, meat, or cheese products, in two weeks test samples are ready to taste. With over 1300 recipes, the Plantbaser offers the world’s largest selection of plant-based products in multiple categories. The next category, baked goods, will be ready soon.

Networked Collaboration Creates Added Value for Customers

Whether plant-based alternatives, new protein sources, or innovative technologies, the Plant Based Competence Center is a seedbed for future-forward food concepts.  Here, the Stern-Wywiol Gruppe bundles the assembled knowledge of its various subsidiaries in a creative pool. With Planteneers, SternEnzym, Sternchemie, SternVitamin, and OlbrichtArom, customers get complete plant-based solutions for every requirement and every market. Product managers, nutritionists, food technologists, and marketing specialists from all these companies develop creative concepts aligned with the trends on international markets.

For the North American market, Planteneers is investing in closer customer proximity with the opening of a new office in Aurora, Illinois. Here Gretchen Moon, Vice President of Commercial Operations for North America, and her team focus on American customers’ special wishes and expectations. In September, companies met the team and checked out their product highlights in person at the Plant Based World Expo in New York City. Planteneers presented popular products from its line-up, including functional systems for making plant-based alternatives to steak, salmon, chicken, salami, mortadella, snack sticks, parmesan, feta, and cheddar.

As a global sponsor of Plant Based World Expo, Planteneers also offered other platforms for discussion and new ideas at the show, like the Culinary Experience Show in the Culinary Theatre and a Plant-Based Foods Association afterparty.

The next stops in Europe are the Plant Based World Expo in London and the FIE in Frankfurt in November. Show visitors are heartily invited to these events and to tastings at the Planteneers Booth.

Plant-Based Labeling Globally: Where Consumers and Companies Currently Stand

Selfish Cow

Plant-based food labeling is a hot topic worldwide, not least because there is no singular approach. With a myriad of different guidelines in place, informing the consumer and allowing manufacturers to aptly demonstrate what their products are comparable to has become confusing, and, increasingly, a legal matter.

Seemingly, the central issue is not the use of terms such as ‘plant-based’ and ‘vegan,’ but, moreover, the adoption of monikers and adjectives more commonly attributed to the meat and dairy sectors. Specific examples of ire-inducing labeling include plant milk brands using terms such as ‘creamy’ and plant-based meat outfits calling their products ‘sausages,’ ‘burgers,’ and ‘steak.’

While there is no universal labeling rule in place, individual countries and regions have sought to impose varying degrees of censorship on the plant-based food sector. Though some have–arguably–been high profile in their approach, success has been limited as the global plant-based collective has actively fought back.

Plant-Based Labeling in The United States

Currently, the U.S. has no federal regulation of plant-based food labeling. In short, this means that domestic products and imported goods alike can be labeled as they wish, with no limitations on terms traditionally attributed to the meat and dairy industries, but this only applies at a federal level.

Confusingly, U.S. states can impose their own mandates. As such, regions that rely on the meat and dairy industries have been keen to ban plant-based manufacturers from using ‘meaty’ terminology to promote their goods. Texas provides a clear example of this in practice.

Holding the largest number of cattle in the entire US.., Texas is a meat and dairy-centric state. With this in mind, and as plant-based alternatives began to enjoy searing popularity, back in 2021 the House Bill 316 was given the green light by Texas lawmakers. The bill aimed to prevent meat-free manufacturers from using ‘beef’ and ‘meat’ on their packaging.

More recently, Texas’ Republican Governor–Greg Abbott–signed into law a bill that now legally requires all plant-based products to be clearly labeled as such, using pre-approved words. In addition, such signposting now needs to be as large as product names, to avoid “consumer confusion.”

Texas is not the only state to have taken apparent umbrage at the plant-based sector taking market share away from conventional meat and dairy companies. Arkansas, Missouri, Wyoming, and others have all attempted to censor meat-free manufacturers, though many face or have faced lawsuits from plant-based companies.

How Europe is Tackling Plant-Based Labeling

Unlike the U.S., Europe has a number of stringent regulations in place for plant-based food labeling. The European Union placed itself at the center of the issue by drawing up a list of terms that can be used to describe plant-based foods.

At present, companies are unable to label their products as ‘milk’ or yogurt,’ for example, even if they are qualified as being vegan or plant-based. However, manufacturers are able to market their foods as being an ‘alternative to yogurt.’ Similarly, descriptive terms have not been banned, allowing plant-based dairy firms to use words such as ‘creamy’ and ‘buttery.’

In 2020, the EU considered taking plant-based labeling censorship up a notch when plans to impose a blanket ban on terms such as ‘burger’ and ‘sausage’ being used by anyone other than conventional meat product producers were floated. This resulted in a coalition of plant-based companies–led by the Good Food Institute Europe (GFI Europe) and ProVeg International joining forces to oppose the move. A majority of just 48 votes eventually defeated the ban.

However, just as a ban on ‘meaty’ terminology was rejected, the EU voted in favor of similarly restrictive legislation, this time aimed squarely at the alternative dairy market. Had the legal changes gone through, plant-based companies would no longer have been able to package their products in cartons or use recognizable descriptors such as ‘creamy.’

Again, the GFI Europe team launched an awareness campaign to block the censorship. This time drawing the support of high-profile celebrities, including Greta Thunberg, which helped to overturn the proposal in 2021.

Despite such defeats, some EU member countries have sought to impose their own rules. France and Italy, in particular, have taken steps to implement meat-specific terminology bans, though the former was halted by a high court order in 2022.

As in the US, potential consumer confusion is frequently cited as a reason for attempts to censor plant-based manufacturers in the EU.

Sitting within Europe but outside of the EU regulations, the UK is in a unique situation. As one of the largest consumers and manufacturers of plant-based products in the world, it makes little sense to impose costly legislative changes to domestic and imported goods, but the current Conservative government appears to be considering exactly this.

Guidance is currently being drafted that would see tighter rules surrounding the use of dairy-centric words such as ‘cheese’ and ‘butter.’ They could be removed from the permitted plant-based lexicon altogether, even when accompanied by further descriptors such as ‘vegan’ or ‘plant-based.’ Even more concerning is that words spelt to demonstrate their dairy-free but comparable status could also be at risk, meaning that companies which have sought to use terms such as ‘mylk’ could be facing expensive rebranding.

South Africa’s Censorship Swing and Miss

One of the most notorious attempts to block the progress of the plant-based sector came from South Africa, in 2022.

It was announced in June last year that South Africa’s Department of Agriculture, Land Reform, and Rural Development (DALRRD) had implemented an immediate ban on the use of ‘meaty’ words on plant-based products. As such, it was reportedly preparing to seize all plant-based products that did not align with the new ruling, with shelves expected to empty at the end of August.

Plans were halted when the Johannesburg High Court stepped in and granted a reprieve that allowed manufacturers to sell their products, unchanged, until at least May 8th 2023. At the time of going to press, no announcements have been made to suggest the bans or seizures will be revived in South Africa.

If the issue is raised again, it is likely that the South African Meat Processors Association will once again be a staunch supporter. In 2022, it publicly backed the proposed ban and seizures, claiming that the use of meat-centric terms is “misleading for consumers.”

How Confused Are Consumers?

Given the apparent prolific global concern surrounding consumer awareness, ProVeg International commissioned a survey in 2022 to identify the impact of plant-based and vegan food labeling.

In addition to revealing that a majority of buyers prefer the term ‘plant-based’ to more vegan-specific or ‘meat-free’ jargon, the research found that very few individuals consider themselves at risk of buying the wrong food.

Tellingly, 94% of those surveyed said that they are not confused by plant-based chicken items being labeled as ‘nuggets.’ Moreover, more than 80% stated that anything labeled as ‘vegan,’ ‘vegetarian,’ or ‘plant-based’ is obviously free from animal meat. Just over two-thirds (76%) revealed that labels actively help them to make informed purchases.

Speaking at the time about the findings, Stephanie Jaczniakowska-McGirr, director of corporate engagement at ProVeg, noted: “We hope these results will contribute towards creating a favorable regulatory and labeling landscape for plant-based products, particularly when we’re seeing uncertainty around such topics in Europe.”

Mycelium Dream: How Fungus Roots Have Captivated Every Sector From Fashion to Food

As the world scrambles to find sustainable food options and materials, one natural entity can, seemingly, do it all: mycelium.

The root structure of fungus, mycelium resembles a network of encroaching branches and is viewed as a highly efficient ingredient with infinite possibilities. This applies particularly to the plant-based world, where the root is already used to develop nutritious alternative protein products, high-end leather substitutes, and more.

A Sustainability Heavy Hitter

What makes mycelium the environmentally conscious source ingredient of the moment? First and foremost, it is an entirely natural product, found on forest floors the world over. Made from infinitely renewable sources and with no need for external energy to be diverted for its production, the root system grows quickly and efficiently, earning it the title of most abundant organism on earth. Aside from this, it is a powerhouse of regeneration, dispensing vital nutrients into soil as it breaks down and reforms.

In nature, mycelium carries out vital functions, including improving water efficiency and nutrient acceptance of many plants. It is also a valuable food source for a plethora of animals, but it is in the commercial sphere that its full potential is beginning to come into focus.

Thanks to the robust nutritional values of fungus roots structures, including high protein and fiber levels, they are increasingly used in sustainable food production, apparently focusing on creating meat alternatives. But this is not the only sector to have uncovered the vast potential of ‘mushrooms.’

Alongside animal meat, mycelium is being used to replace several other conventional products. So far, these include–but are not limited to–leather, single-use plastic packaging, insulation, and bricks (yes, really), all of which have been created using fermentation.

Though researchers have yet to unlock mycelium’s full potential, some products are already commercially available.

Mycelium ‘Meat’ as The New Alternative Protein

Arguably, mycelium’s most voracious step forward into the consumer sphere is through its fermentation to produce viable meat alternatives.

The newest development in the mycoprotein (a term coined by Quorn in the 1980s) sector, mycelium allows manufacturers to tap into its natural umami taste to create a variety of meat-like products. These can include chicken, beef, and fish, all of which can be made as ‘whole cuts,’ in a step away from more traditional nuggets or pieces. This represents a major milestone for alternative protein and can entice more omnivore consumers to try plant-based steaks and cutlets.

While mimicking the texture and flavor of animal protein, mycelium meat contains zero trans fat and cholesterol and significantly less saturated fat, making it a healthier option. It is also a far more sustainable alternative that carries no animal welfare concerns, both of which are serious considerations for today’s consumers.

As a result, mycelium meat manufacturers are increasing in number and enjoying significant success with their proprietary launches. US-based Meati is a prime example of what is possible with mycelium and consumer openness to a sustainable alternative to animal protein.

In 2022, the company announced pre-orders for its highly anticipated whole-cut chicken-style cutlets. It was the first direct-to-consumer offering, with every product selling out in under 24 hours. Reportedly, 1,116 cutlets were claimed in the first hour alone. Since then, Meati has continued to grow, committing to an 80,000 square foot production facility called the ‘Mega Ranch’ that–when fully operational– will have gargantuan capacity. Meati president Scott Tassani claimed that the site will be able to produce the equivalent amount of meat to 4,500 cows, every 24 hours.

Mycelium Fermentation Technology Moves Forward

While mycelium appears to offer enormous potential for a drastic food system shake-up, investing in the necessary industrial fermentation equipment and expertise is costly. This maintains the ongoing niche factor of the mycoprotein sector. However, in a bid to remove cost and experience barriers, one former mycoprotein manufacturer has turned its attention to providing equipment to other manufacturers.

Kynda, formerly Keen 4 Greens, believes in the power of mycelium to change the current unsustainable food system so much that it has moved away from proprietary production of mycelium meat alternatives. It has now developed plug & play fermentation technology that will allow other manufacturers to tap into the market quickly and with cost-efficiency as a priority.

“We started with mycelium fermentation technology since it offers various product and cost advantages,” Daniel MacGowan-von Holstein, Kynda’s CEO, explained. “Not only is it high in protein and fiber, comes with a meat-like texture and umami flavor, it is clean label and contains all 9 essential amino acids. It also offers consistent quality and security of supply and increased resource and price efficiency (e.g. by-product utilization).”

From Forest Floor to Fashion Catwalks

Mycelium as a meat alternative is an exciting and ongoing development but it is also making waves with its fashion credentials. Thanks to a number of brands including Adidas and Lululemon, plus luxury designer Stella McCartney, mycelium-based leather alternatives are gaining traction and taking opportunities away from conventional leather suppliers.

Selfish Cow

At the center of the development is San Francisco-based biotech company Bolt Threads. Claiming to be on a mission to create “sustainable versions of the materials people already know and love,” it has enjoyed success with its ‘Mylo Unleather’ line, which is promoted as a mycelium-based alternative to animal and synthetic leathers. Created in under two weeks, using fermentation processes powered by renewable energy sources and vertical farming techniques that minimize land use, Bolt Threads claims to have landed on a truly comparable material to animal skin that treads far more gently on the earth.

Buttery-soft Mylo Is now being used across a vast spectrum of consumer products, from designer handbags to sneakers, and even luxury cars. As the material filters down into varying price points, the ‘leather as default’ consumer mindset will naturally shift to accept sustainable options.

Mycelium Market Predictions

In 2021 the global mycelium market was valued at $2.65 billion. This is expected to grow significantly–at a compound annual rate of 7.80%–to reach $5.21 billion by 2030.

The sector is expected to be largely bolstered by food manufacturing growth, alongside new innovations still in their infancy, such as building materials, skincare products, and more.

Analyzing How Plant-Based Businesses Can Help To Feed 10 billion People by 2050

By 2050 the global population is set to reach 10 billion people; there is a significant shortfall between the amount of food available today and the amount needed to feed that many people in the future. A plant-based food system has frequently been suggested as a less taxing solution for the planet as it requires fewer resources compared to raising and feeding livestock.

Population growth is not a new phenomenon or problem; however, due to the unsustainable nature of animal agriculture, it is becoming increasingly difficult to sustain a population that continues to grow. The animal agricultural industry is inefficient regarding land usage and requires substantial government bailouts to stay financially afloat.

A Plant-Based Food System

In 2018, The World Resources Institute created a five-step plan to address the issue of feeding the population. The first two points directly engage with the benefits of plant-based eating. The institute suggests that the demand for food should be reduced by managing waste and consuming a more sustainable diet. Secondly, food production should be increased without expanding agricultural land. This would lead to a sustainable food future.

Although the institute champions reducing the consumption of animal products on environmental grounds, unfortunately, it does not recognize that an entirely plant-based food system is the future. This is problematic, especially when considering the levels of waste and inefficiency involved in the animal agriculture industry. George Monbiot, however, takes a much more direct approach when discussing the issue; he uses data to highlight just how many people could be fed on a new system.

Monbiot calculates in his article for the Guardian that Britain alone could feed 200 million people on an entirely plant-based diet, which is over three times its current population. To achieve this, a more efficient system needs to be adopted, one that would see the consumers eat the grains and pulses themselves rather than feed them to livestock. This would free up large amounts of land for nature and allow the growing population in Britain to be accommodated. Simply put, more land would be available because fewer crops would need to be grown if they were eaten directly. A plant-based system is undoubtedly the solution to feeding a growing population.

Feeding The Population

This also applies to a global population that exceeded 8 billion people in 2022 and shows no signs of slowing down as it is estimated to reach 10 billion by 2050. Monbiot argues that there are enough calories to feed everybody on Earth, despite chronic hunger and poverty in parts of the world.

In his article, Monbiot writes that “almost half these calories are lost, mainly through feeding the food to farm animals, but also through using it for other purposes (such as biofuels) and through waste. Even so, in principle, there is more than enough for everyone, if it were affordable and well distributed.”

And this is the crux: it needs to be well distributed. Half the calories that are grown are fed to livestock. Rich nations claim to produce large quantities of meat themselves, but they only do so by importing huge quantities of grain. This is primarily soya from South America, which devastates the rainforest because of the huge quantities needed. This results in nations requiring vast amounts of land to grow crops for their food. This land requirement can be drastically reduced through plant-based eating.

What Can Businesses Do?

If the global population shifted to a plant-based diet, the global land use for agriculture would be reduced by 75%, according to Our World in Data. Because of this, we could sustain a much larger population and free up vast stretches of land that could be used for re-wilding. But how can plant-based businesses help with this switch? It is very clear from the data that they could feed a growing population with ease if they replaced the animal agricultural industry, but how can they establish that they must be the leading food supplier?

The value of the plant-based food industry will double to $92 billion by 2027, according to one report. The report also suggests that this increase is driven by heightened levels of food awareness, with environmental arguments at the front of consumers’ minds. The report states that new developments in the sector “emerge every year, paving the way for a global transition to a much more just, safe and sustainable food system.” This growth is expected to continue with a significant profit expected for the sector.

Plant-based businesses should actively lobby the government for change. They can highlight the humanitarian benefits of their products, along with the key fact that they do not need government bailouts to make a profit. Businesses can come together to form collectives; such was the case with the Plant Based Food Alliance in 2021. The alliance is a coalition of organizations in the UK that seek to place plant-based food alternatives at the center of a transition towards a sustainable food system. Similar alliances exist in Europe and America. Businesses should become active in such networks and work to create more change collectively, directly demonstrating to the government that they are the future.

Naturally businesses that are not already plant-based, as do farmers, need to make the switch. The campaigning group Viva! has several resources to help farmers make this switch themselves. Already plant-based businesses should carry on promoting their products in the global food market. Plant-based businesses must continue to grow and flood the market with their products. Only through this market’s continued growth can a growing population be sustained.

The Rise of Alt Seafood and How It Is Widening It’s Net

While the burgeoning discussion surrounds the (supposedly ill-fated) future of the plant-based food sector, one niche remains demonstrably buoyant: alternative seafood.

Promoted as cruelty-free, environmentally superior, and healthier options than traditional seafood, plant-based alternatives have grown in popularity. Moreover, as their potential in the market comes into sharp focus, they are becoming more interesting to entrepreneurs and investors alike. As a result, more startups than ever before are entering the sector, with significant financial backing also following.

Consumer Awareness

One of the main operational motivations cited by alternative seafood manufacturers is their desire to contribute meaningfully to a reduction in commercial fishing, something that has become a major consumer consideration in recent years.

Experts have debated the issue of overfishing for years. Back in 2019 National Geographic revealed that, despite the seas “running out of fish,” large countries were failing to make good on their promises to eradicate government fishing subsidies. In fact, it was discovered that in some cases, financial support had increased, thereby encouraging overfishing to continue.

The debate simmered for another two years before commercial fishing and its environmental impact was thrust into the mainstream spotlight with the March 2021 release of Seaspiracy.

A documentary created specifically for Netflix, by British filmmaker Ali Tabrizi, Seaspiracy shone a light on the true impact of commercial fishing. As a result of the shocking content, the film quickly ranked in the Top 10 most-watched titles on the streaming platform and soon, the media reported on its wider impact.

Less than one month after the film’s release, Metro reported that almost half (42.4%) of those who viewed it considered removing fish from their diet. However, plant-based protein manufacturers spotted an opportunity to replace instead of removing seafood from diets and so, a fast-growing sub-niche of the meat-free market began to gather pace.

Image: Aqua Cultured Press Kit

The Many Faces of Alt-Seafood

Seeking to offer consumers the seafood taste and mouthfeel that they enjoy, minus animal deaths and environmental impact, plant-based manufacturers are seemingly experimenting with a variety of production techniques and ingredient combinations.

Current Foods is one such company, operating out of the US to fulfill its mission of “pioneering the transition to a sustainable food system, starting with the ocean.” It creates sushi-grade fish-free tuna and salmon, using surprising ingredients that include bamboo, radish, and algae. The result, it claims, is a hyper-realistic seafood alternative suitable for all diners.

Over in Chile, ‘unicorn’ startup NotCo is taking a tech-forward approach to removing seafood from the food system. The manufacturer is considered a pioneer in the use of AI to create food products that look, feel, and taste identical to meat, using only plant-based ingredients. Its in-house AI technology, dubbed ‘Giuseppe’ analyzes existing foods down to a molecular level, before developing a recipe to recreate them without the use of any animal products. Having already mastered chicken, milk, and burgers, NotCo has revealed plans to take on salmon and tuna in the near future.

Precision fermentation is one of the most exciting manufacturing methodologies. Offering the potential for significant sustainability improvements, companies effectively ‘grow’ their products in commercial vats, using microbial cells as hosts. The resulting seafood is considered ‘clean’ (thanks to the highly regulated conditions), scalable, and comparable to conventional items. San Francisco-based Aqua Cultured appears to be one of the front-runners of the sector, having showcased whole muscle-cut seafood analogues back in 2021.

Though not plant-based, it should be noted that lab-grown seafood is also witnessing significant progress. A number of cultivated seafood alternatives have been developed, notably in South Korea, and though regulatory approval has not been granted for the products to be sold anywhere yet, investors note the potential of the sector. Just this month, CellMeat, a South Korean startup that showcased cultivated shrimp, secured $13 million in a Series A fundraising round to bring its products to market.

Startups are Growing in Number

Regardless of production methodologies, one fact remains: alt-seafood startups are springing up in their droves. The Good Food Institute’s 2021 Alternative Seafood Industry Update revealed just how impressive the upward trajectory of the sector is.

In 2021, 120 companies globally were producing fish-free products. This is 21 more than in 2020, with plant-based and cultivated enterprises pulling ahead as the most popular incarnations. Moreover, more countries than ever before are participating in the sector, with Austria, Thailand, and South Africa, amongst others, gaining their first domestic alt-seafood companies.

Growth is being driven by one thing: consumer demand. With more knowledge surrounding the unethical and environmentally damaging practices associated with commercial fishing, shoppers are looking to satisfy their taste buds and consciences in new ways. In the US alone, retail plant-based seafood sales grew by 42% between 2019 and 202. Additionally, a 25% increase in the number of plant-based seafood products being sold through retail outlets was also confirmed.

Arguably the most impressive stats, however, are those relating to investment in the market. Between 2020 and 2021, invested capital in alternative seafood grew by a staggering 92% to reach $175 million, up from $91 million. This represented 24 new investment deals and 108 new-to-the-market investors in 2021. Such trends are not expected to slow.

In 2021, the alternative seafood market was valued at $42.1 million. It is predicted to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 42.3% until it reaches $1.3 billion, by 2031.

“The growing awareness regarding the health benefits of consuming plant-based protein, the welfare of animals, and rising concerns over the environment and sustainability are the key factors that are boosting the growth of the market across the globe,” a report by Allied Market Research notes.

Buy-Outs That Point to Alt-Seafood Supremacy

It’s not just those who are new to the alternative protein scene that are recognizing the opportunity that alternative seafood presents. A number of high-profile acquisitions in recent years prove that the potential for alt-seafood success is no longer a secret, and everybody wants a piece of the action.

Most notably, UK-founded plant-based food brand Wicked Kitchen has bought two alternative seafood operations in less than a year. It first acquired Good Catch in September 2022 and most recently bought Current Foods. Together, the two brands will allow Wicked Kitchen to infiltrate retail and foodservice channels respectively.

Wicked Kitchen already enjoys global success with its consumer-facing plant-based products but is doubling down on its belief that alternative seafood represents a growth sector.

Elsewhere, UPSIDE Foods, a US-based cultivated meat operation, bought Cultured Decadence, a lab-grown seafood enterprise, in January 2022.


“Seafood has a rich and delicious culinary tradition that makes it a favorite across the globe. Cultivated seafood also has a tremendous potential to benefit the world,” Dr. Uma Valeti, Founder and CEO of UPSIDE Foods, said at the time of the purchase. “Cultured Decadence’s technology is incredibly promising, and their team is filled with passionate, smart individuals who want to make our favorite food a force for good.”


Beyond Soy, Pea, and Wheat. The Five Innovative Plant Proteins To Watch in 2023 and Beyond

The search for sustainable plant-based protein sources has accelerated in recent years. Concerns about global emissions, human health and animal welfare have driven food-tech scientists to seek protein beyond the more common sources such as soy, pea, and wheat. There have been some notable successes that are gaining investment and interest from manufacturers and retailers.  

Investment is split across different categories of innovations: cultivated meat, precision fermentation and plant-based protein. While cultivated meat and precision fermentation promise to replicate animal-origin food identically, plant-based protein offers something different for consumers: nutritious plant ingredients. The applications include ready meals, curries, chunks, nuggets, cuts, cookies, bars, and powders.  

We look at five proteins beyond soy, pea, and wheat that are driving innovation in plant-based.  


Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, describe microalgae as a new sustainable superfood. It contains between 27% and 70% protein, which is higher than eggs or meat, with essential amino acids, vitamins, minerals, and Omega 3 fatty acids. It grows naturally in ponds but is now grown commercially in tanks. The Danish government is investing heavily in microalgae, focusing on Chlorella vulgaris. And Israel-based start-up SimpliiGood is developing plant-based smoked salmon with another microalga, spirulina. 

Fava Beans 

Fava beans (known in the UK as broad beans) have a higher protein content than most pulses. Protein powder from fava beans is already used in sports nutrition drinks and bars. Fava beans are now being made into plant-based meat substitutes such as Beyond chicken tenders, chosen for its poultry-like texture. Fava bean is the main ingredient in Finish company Muu’s plant-based ready meals. It can also be used in gluten-free baking.  


With nine grams of protein per 100 grams, lentils are already a good source of nutrition, as fans of dhal and lentil soup will attest. Now scientists are finding new ways to reinvent this traditional store cupboard staple. UK Food-Tech company SPG Innovation, together with Baker Perkins and the University of Leeds have made New-fu, a tofu-like substance which can be moulded into cubes from locally grown lentils under the brand Rootiful.  


It could soon be humans rather than animals grazing. Scientists at the Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark, have extracted the protein from grass. They successfully removed the grass flavour and produced a protein bar containing 10% grass protein.  

Grass produces more than double the amount of protein per hectare as soy. Dutch company Grassa is processing grass as an ingredient in animal food and has plans to use it in plant-based meat for humans.  


A UK farm has developed a method for extracting protein from cabbages and other brassicas. Naylors Farms in the East Midlands is building a $40 million factory funded by Dutch state-funded investor Invest International. Naylor Farms worked with Dutch scientists to develop a cold press system for extracting protein from the outer leaves that are usually wasted when coleslaw is made. The protein fibre can be used in plant-based meats, drinks and baking. Production is due to start in 2024.  


While not technically plants, fungi are a great crop from a sustainability point of view. They don’t need agricultural land, can happily grow in a cave or factory, and use minimal water. Loved by chefs and foodies, mushrooms offer a strong umami flavour and meaty texture. But they don’t generally contain much protein. The key to extracting protein is the mycelium – the roots below the surface. The UK brand Quorn has processed mycelium into nutritious meat substitutes since 1985. Newer entrants are now scaling fermentation techniques to drive an expansion of fungi protein. Swedish company Mycorena recently announced a partnership with Revo Foods to make mycoprotein seafood using 3D technology.  

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Vegan Pet Food: The Financial Opportunity

It’s not just humans driving veganism forward – plant-based food is an ever-growing presence in pet diets. Globally, the vegan pet food sector is set to more than double in the next decade, swelling from $26bn in 2022 to $57.4bn in 2032. This growth is faster than that of conventional pet food.

Investment in this sector is at an all-time high, with start-ups across the globe raising sums to further product development and spur innovation in the sector. Here are some of the most notable recent funding stories in the plant-based pet food market:


Launched in 2020, UK vet-founded startup has been making waves in this space with its plant-based dog food. The brand’s name is a pushback to the perception that canines are carnivores.

In January, Omni launched a record-breaking crowdfunding campaign on Seedrs, smashing its £400,000 target within 15 minutes of going live on the platform. This came a year after it raised £1.1 million in funding, with investors including ProVeg International, Trellis Road, Kale United, Purple Orange Ventures and Shiocap. The brand has seen a 30% monthly revenue growth since May 2021 and sold half a billion meals in 2022.

The Pack

Another UK dog food brand, The Pack closed its seed funding round in January with £835,000 ($1.01 million), held through global investment platform Vevolution. The startup plans to use the funds to launch a nutritionally complete, oven-baked dog food offering.

This investment round received participation from the likes of Scelta Products, Veg Capital, Kale United, Leap Ventures and the Mars Petcare Companion Fund (among others), as well as angel investors like Simon Day, Alicia Robb, Victoria Betoeski and Simon Newstead. The Pack was also one of the two pet nutrition startups to be selected for Leap Venture Studio’s 2021 accelerator programme.

Good Dog Food

A joint venture by the UK’s Roslin Technologies and cellular agriculture firm Agronomics, Good Dog Food is a cultivated pet food company launched in 2022. Earlier this month, it raised £3.6 million in a seed funding round, with Agronomics participating with a £1 million investment.

Jim Mellon, executive director of Agronomics, also financed £300,000, along with pet food investor Siddhi Capital and other private individuals.


Munich-based dog food startup Vegdog secured €3.5 million in Series A funding last November. Founded in 2016, the brand reported revenue of €2.4 million in 2021 and expected its turnover to cross €4 million last year.

Green Generation Fund led the financing round, while Startup Family Office and previous seed investor Katjes Greenfood also participated. The brand plans to use the funds to develop new products, expand into European markets, optimise sales channels and hire more staff.

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While not an exclusively vegan company, UK startup Scrumbles offers a line of plant-based dog food. In March, it received £6 million ($7.3 million) in funding from UK private equity firm BGF (backed by banks like Barclays and HSBC).

Founded in 2016 by a husband-and-wife duo, the brand received B Corp recertification last year (after initially having it in 2018), and its revenues have tripled since its launch.

Heads Up for Tails

Heads Up for Tails is an Indian pet product retailer (with both brick-and-mortar and online presence). It’s expecting to raise $25 million from investment firm KKR, with an additional $10-15 million from existing investors, including Sequoia Capital and Verlinvest SA.

The retailer, which has 65 stores and 35 pet spas across 12 Indian cities, previously raised $37 million through Series A funding in 2021 and reported operating revenue of $15.1 million in 2022 (an 86% year-on-year growth).

While Heads Up for Tails isn’t an all-vegan platform, it’s a key player in the pet food market and is looking to diversify the segment by exclusively launching Canadian plant-based pet food brand Nature’s Hug in India – signalling a truly cross-continent trajectory for this sector.

The Future of Vegan Pet Food

The market opportunity is ripe with so much investment activity happening in this space. Manufacturers are urged to invest in ethical feeding trials and peer-reviewed studies to validate this sector further. Even among consumers, interest is rising: in 2022, a third of Brits said they’d be looking to invest in vegan pet food as long as it was healthy, according to a study by The Vegan Society.

It cited research by the Pet Food Manufacturers Association, which found that 59% of UK households shared their home with a companion animal in 2021, with 33% living with cats and 27% with dogs.

In The Vegan Society’s survey, 20% of respondents with cats said they had purchased vegan cat food in the past, with 49% saying they’d be interested in buying it again. Likewise, 24% of those with dogs had bought plant-based canine food in the past, and 45% were looking to do so again.

With consumers more attuned to the environmental cost of the products they consume and the growing trend of humanising pets, the financial opportunity for vegan pet products is massive.

The industry has been around for a while, and trailblazers like V-Dog, Benevo and Wild Earth have been leading this movement. But newcomers are furthering this trend and increased investment is pushing the vegan pet food market to new, unprecedented heights.

Health Conscious Consumers and Significant Innovation Fuels Vegan Protein Powder Sales

Sales of vegan protein powder have grown significantly in recent years. Future Marketing Insights (FMI) reports that the market reached $4,326 million in 2022 and predicts an annual growth of 7.2% for the 2022 to 2032 period. The biggest market is North America, followed by Europe, with Asia Pacific as the fastest-growing region. Major players in the US include Archon Vitamin, Sequel Natural, Hormel Foods Corporation, Vital Amine, and NOW Health Group. Despite competition from corporations, a growing number of start-ups are producing smaller batches of artisanal blends and gathering loyal followers. And despite the sometimes macho image, there is an increasing number of vegan protein powders aimed at women at different life stages such as motherhood, menopause and ageing.  

According to a recent Allied Market Research (AMR) report on vegan protein powder, millennials are the largest age group, but sales from Generation X and Baby Boomers are strong and predicted to account for nearly half of all sales by 2031. The report says health-conscious consumers are mainly responsible for driving demand for all plant-based protein, including meat substitutes and protein powder. Other factors are consumers seeking to reduce their impact on animals and the environment and customers with dairy allergies and intolerances.  

The growth of plant-based protein powder follows a more general increase in demand for plant-based food. In 2021 plant-based food dollar sales in the US grew by 6%, three times faster than overall food sales. Ethical, environmental and health reasons drive this shift. People eating plant-based are more likely to consume supplements than the general population. A National Institute of Health survey  found that 66% of vegans consume vitamin supplements compared to 25% of vegetarians and 30% of omnivores. The Vegan Society recommends supplementation to achieve a balanced diet. So those trending towards plant-based eating are a natural target market for protein powder.  

Vegan protein powder is also benefitting from significant innovations, such as developing animal-free whey powder made using precision fermentation. Two North American brands are making protein powder with Perfect Day whey protein, which is also used in ice cream and cheese. Canadian company Natreve is launching its animal-free brand Mooless, and Perfect Day is launching its powder under the California Performance Co brand. They will be bioidentical to animal whey protein and deliver the same functional and nutritional benefits. 

The optimistic outlook for vegan protein powder is supported by anecdotal evidence. UK brand Nasty Vegan sells a mix of pea, brown rice and pumpkin seed protein, in three flavours, via its website and health food shops. The business was founded in 2019 by friends Rob Henson and Alix Wallace using their savings and is now scaling up. Despite the challenges of Covid, cash flow and a very competitive market, Rob Henson agrees that interest in vegan protein powder is growing: “The vegan movement is expanding year on year, which is brilliant. We’ve found interest in the brand has been strong. We’re getting more repeat customers and bigger order values. Each month orders are growing. People are coming back and buying more each time. We are building on that and expanding as we grow.” 

Nasty Vegan perfected its packaging, designed to appeal to today’s consumers. Each flavour is represented by a rich colour with botanical illustrations of its plant ingredients. Rob Henson explains: “We had a clear brief to engage with particular audiences. Around 80% of our customers are women. We don’t promote our product as a muscle-builder but as an everyday drink that boosts the nutrients in your system. It’s got 26 vitamins and minerals as well as protein. We’ve positioned it as suitable for anyone, not just for gym goers or bodybuilders.”  

The company’s biggest marketing platform is Instagram, where they post customer-generated content – often recipes: “People create their dishes with our product and share them online. We created it as a drink, but many of our customers use it in food like pancakes, waffles, protein bowls, cookies, brownies, and many different things. It’s very versatile and works in lots of different ways.” 

Six Food Processing Methods Driving Plant-Based Innovation

One of the key drivers impacting the growth of the plant-based market has been the new processes that have enabled more complex and realistic structures that mimic animal protein. The technology used to make plant meat and seafood is becoming cheaper and more inventive, resulting in a vast range of realistic dishes for consumers.

Plant-based meat is generally made from a protein-rich plant source such as soy, peas, or wheat. The processing transforms vegetable protein into fibrous layers that match the appearance and texture of meat or fish.

Below are some of the processes helping companies produce realistic plant-forward products to meet the growing consumer demand. 


Extrusion is the most common method for making plant-based meat. It involves kneading and compressing plant-based protein, adding water and oil and pushing it through a small hole, while applying heat, pressure and moisture. The resulting semi-solid output is cut into lengths, marinated, and cooled. It can then be dried into TVP or remain wet and get coated with seasonings to give it a meat-like flavour. The extrusion process can be adjusted for different textures, such as ground meat, sausages or nuggets.  

High Moisture Extrusion  

The high moisture process makes the appearance and texture of plant-based meat even more realistic. The process is currently used in around 20% of global plant-based meat products. Described as a cook-and-stir process, the meaty texture is gained by adjusting the size of the extrusion gap, mixing in water and protein under pressure and changing the cooling process.  

Directional Freezing  

In this process, liquid plant-based protein is frozen to produce ice crystals. In the freezing process, heat is removed from one side so the crystals align in one direction. The frozen product is dried without melting the ice, leaving a porous, fibrous structure with overlapping layers that resemble animal muscle fibres. This process has been widely used to make flaky fish-like structures from plant protein. New School Foods uses directional freezing to create its plant-based whole-cut salmon filet. The company says the process enabled it to make plant fibres that replicate the size and structure of fish muscle and give the same texture and mouth feel.  

Process-Controlled Microstructure Design

Spanish plant-based meat company Heura says it uses new patented technology to make its new range of high-protein plant-meat, including frankfurters, ham and fish. Known as process-controlled microstructure design, it alters the structure of proteins at micro-scale, creating new protein structures for its plant-based products. The technology allows Huera to refine the texture to match the meat it is mimicking. Heura uses a thermo-mechanical technique to shape the protein, applying heat and mechanical energy to change its structure.  

3D Printed Meat  

3D printing offers the chance to make large steaks or carvable slabs that cannot be achieved with other methods. With brands now wanting to produce whole cuts 3D printing is gaining traction. To make the meat, viscous plant protein such as soy or pea is fed into a 3D printer and emerges with a meat-like structure and shape. The process can be used with an extruded product or cell-based meat. Viennese plant-based seafood maker Revo Foods uses 3D printing to make salmon filets by building layers of pea protein, algal extracts and omega-3 fatty acids. Israeli company Redefine Meat also uses the process to make their ultra-realistic steaks.  


Fermentation is old-school technology but is increasingly being used in a new way – to make plant-based meat. Nature’s Fynd uses fermentation to create protein from fungus from a volcanic spring in Yellowstone National Park. Swedish company Millow is making an alternative protein from oats and mycelium using a novel fermentation process. The company describes the resulting product as juicy, bouncy and meat-like. And Quorn, the original fermented mycoprotein meat-substitute, is set for expansion as parent company Marlow Foods is making it available to other manufacturers.  

Novel Foods – How Plant-Based Business Can Navigate Regulations

With so many new and exciting plant-based foods being created by food tech scientists and entrepreneurs, complying with novel food regulations is essential to getting products to market. For non-lawyers, this can be a daunting task, and specialist help is usually needed to get through the process.  

We spoke to food law consultant and founder of Vegan Food Law, Mathilde Do Chi, who advises plant-based businesses to navigate the regulations. She has worked extensively on the legal challenges of alternative proteins, as the VP of Regulatory Affairs (Vegan World Alliance and Vegan Society of Canada) and as an advisor to various companies and NGOs.  

Do Chi explained that novel food is a special category which requires special consideration: “It is food where there is no history of consumption in the country where it is to be sold. In the E.U., it includes anything that was not eaten before 1997. Similar rules exist in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the US. To sell novel foods, companies must get regulatory approval. This applies to plant-based businesses creating new proteins or fats, cell-based meat, and precision fermentation-derived ingredients.”   

Some plant-based foods are considered novel even if there is a history of safe consumption of the original plant, but it is being used in a new way. For example, if leaves are commonly used, but a company wants to process the seeds into protein isolates. Food that is common in one country might be novel in another. So where innovators squeeze protein from grass or algae, that is a novel food and must go through the regulation process.  

This means entrepreneurs need to be aware of how their product is viewed in the territory in which they want to sell it. Mathilde Do Chi says, “They need to check the current regulations. Most countries will have a public list of products that are considered novel. If they cannot find an answer, they can contact national authorities. Just because something is authorized in one country doesn’t mean that it’s authorized in another. Even if there is a history of consumption, it will be considered novel if you want to change an ingredient. Decisions are made very much on a case-by-case basis. It can take between 18 months and three years to get through the process, depending on the quality of the application. If the authorities believe the company has not provided enough information, they will allow another six months and continue the analysis.”  

Mathilde Do Chi applies her knowledge to working with plant-based companies to help them work through the regulatory framework: “First, I check that the processes and ingredients are not novel. If I’m sure they are not, I help companies draft answers to the queries from the authorities. If they are novel, I help them write a dossier to get the product authorized. I also help identify which market will be the easiest to enter. If they want to start selling as fast as possible, I advise them on what ingredients to use from a regulatory point of view. I make sure companies have all the necessary information. And that they gather that first. Because if you apply with an incomplete dossier, the application might not even be accepted.”  

Businesses might assume that the UK is the best place to launch a new plant-based product. After all, the UK is the home of Veganuary and U.K consumers are accepting of non-traditional foods. However, the picture is different regarding novel food regulation: “At the end of the day, it’s a risk assessment, made regardless of the potential consumer acceptance. In fact, one of the best places to seek authorisation is Singapore. You can get approval in Singapore in around one year if the product is passed as safe. Singapore has more resources in place to approve products so you can get questions answered quicker than in the UK or EU.” 

Mathilde Do Chi has some tips for companies creating new foods and some general advice on naming new products: “Don’t assume the regulations will straddle different countries because they have different legal systems. It’s a matter of talking to authorities and researching to see if the product has already been sold in the same form. If it hasn’t, and the ingredient you want to use is a novel food, look at using other crops to see if you can get the same results without spending time and money getting approval. Ensure you are aware of labelling issues, where regulations differ in different territories. Be careful about using traditional names, which are often for specific products whose recipes are set in stone. The only thing you will achieve if you disregard this rule is to get sued. It’s why you have very generic terms for plant-based alternatives. For example, plant-based yoghurt is called plant-based dessert because yoghurt is a protected name in some countries. And my final piece of advice is to remember that the words you use in marketing campaigns are often regulated, so check whether you need to comply with certain conditions to use those words.”