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Insights from the Food Innovation and Investment Summit

Karyn Knox, Chief Development and Partnerships Officer, Educated Choices Program

This past weekend, I had the honor of attending the Food Innovation and Investment Summit held by Kisaco Research in San Francisco. This show was a fascinating intersection of large corporations like Nestle and Unilever, front-running cultivated meat and seafood companies like SuperMeat and BlueNalu, industry non-profits like ourselves and GFI, and start-ups like Wilk and Enough. These institutions were accompanied by investment groups of all sizes, representatives from the USDA, and an impressive showing of companies geared towards personalized medicine, such as Nutrition Business Advisors and GenBiome Consulting.

As part of our efforts to support the understanding and acceptance of alternative proteins, we often act as a media sponsor for events such as these. In some cases, like this summit, we take our support a bit further and act as an Innovation Showcase Sponsor to assist in the launch and development of new food technologies and companies cultivating innovations that have the power to change our food system for the better. At this event, each company had the opportunity to share its accomplishments, ideas, and innovations to improve the healthfulness and sustainability of existing products with investors, large corporations, and other attendees. The Alternative Protein Finalists were:

Apparo – A food technology company focused on seed-to-ingredient commercialization and maximizing the human nutritional value of plant-based products. Their initial work is in sunflower ingredients geared toward improving the health of people and the planet.

BioBQ – An Austin, Texas-based company that is preparing to launch a 100% cultured full-cut beef brisket in an area famous for BBQ! Its mission is to bring guilt-free cut meats to consumers that reduce the impact of food production on the environment.

Enough – A food tech company with a mission to make protein sustainable through fermentation to feed our growing population. Its upcoming facility in the Netherlands will enable the company to produce enough Abunda mycoprotein to equal 5 cows worth of protein every hour!

Nowadays – A company focused on accelerating the market shift towards healthier plant-based meats to improve human and planetary health. It produces whole cuts of tasty plant-based meat with a shortlist of wholesome ingredients and an unparalleled nutrition profile. Their goal is to make plant-based meat attractive and accessible to more people.

Novonutrients – A food and feed from CO2 bio company cleanly transforming CO2 emissions into microbial alternative protein ingredients. The company's mission is to not only reduce GHG emissions’ global impact, but also decouple the world’s food system from fossil fuels.

OnegoBio – A company producing animal-free egg white protein with precision fermentation. Their product, bioalbumen, is identical to chicken egg white. This product holds the potential in the B2B market to enable many mainstream companies to make the switch to a sustainable egg alternative in their existing products.

Wilk – A company working at the crossroads of Biotech and Foodtech to introduce laboratory production processes that replicate the milk-producing cells of humans and other mammals to create 100% real milk and milk components in laboratory settings.

As part of our event sponsorship, I was honored to have the opportunity to introduce the Educated Choices Program and to the attendees and present the Innovation Showcase winner, OnegoBio, and the runner-up, Nowadays, with consultation packages with Bryant Research LTD. This research firm provides essential services for start-ups including valuable insights and information to assist with investor short reports, data analysis, marketing strategies, and more. We are honored to provide this award to support the success of these companies as they work to build a better food system for us all!

I also had the opportunity to serve as the Chair for the exciting Alternative Protein Round Table Discussions held by Audrey Gyr from GFI, Leo Aquino from Unilever, Lou Cooperhouse from BlueNalu, Brian Sylvester from the FDA/USDA, and Laura Braden from GFI. These discussions covered the topics of fermentation and its role in the alternative protein landscape, the latest in plant-based dairy innovations, the importance of cell-cultured seafood in the race against ocean depletion, and how to best overcome regulatory barriers as an alternative protein start-up.

Throughout the summit, powerhouses in the cultivated protein market gave exciting and information-packed presentations about their recent achievements and plans for the future. President and CEO of BlueNalu Lou Cooperhouse announced the upcoming opening of the BlueNalu Innovation Center in San Diego, which will include not only their manufacturing facility but also a product demonstration kitchen, R&D Laboratories, and more! The new facility will allow the company to expand its offerings with new cultured seafood products such as bluefin tuna and more product applications including filets and strips. Cooperhouse also addressed the role that cultivated seafood can play in alleviating the stressors and concerns of not only the Oceanic Protein Ecosystem, but also the Seafood Global Supply Chain. These products can reduce the overfishing and habitat damage occurring in our oceans and the resulting climate impacts. Plus, they are free of viruses, parasites, and toxins that are found in conventionally harvested seafood that can lead to public health issues. On top of that, it offers an option that is not susceptible to issues the current seafood market faces like inconsistent supply, unreliable quality, and volatile pricing.

The cultivated meat landscape is also being explored by companies like Nestle, which stated it is currently learning about the process and is ready to “meet consumers where they are” when it comes to acceptance of the product. When asked how inflation has impacted alternative protein innovation, the representative noted that while it may have slowed some progress, it certainly isn't stopping it. They went on to say that food surety has become the first priority for big retailers, and that the rising cost of some foods is creating immediate opportunities for products like egg replacements, as well as long-term opportunities for products like cultivated meat due to its ability to eventually offer a more localized production process. There were related discussions surrounding the eventual carbon taxes that will impact the food system and possible tax credits for sustainable alternatives, along with valuable insights into USDA and FDA approval and what investors are looking for when they consider a start-up’s proposal.

Alongside the in-depth discussions surrounding the development of cultivated meat products, fermented dairy products, and fungi-based proteins, there was a renewed focus on plant-based food products that consist of clean ingredients. The reality is that to continue to build a healthier and more just food system, the alternative protein options for consumers need to be tasty, affordable, and healthy. The mainstream food industry acknowledges that plant-based alternatives are here to stay both in the way of ingredients and final consumer products. It was said that the plant-based movement has become "mainstream to a point" and a “mega-trend” being driven not only by society but also by the government and industry at large. These companies have done the research and know that most people moving towards a more plant-centric diet are doing so for health reasons. The event had a focus on food as a “healthy aging” tool and discussed how consumers are being more proactive with what they choose to put in their bodies. These companies are finding that their customers are looking for healthful and sustainable food options, and the types of innovative products being created by start-ups in our movement are exactly what they need to answer the call. The desire for large corporations to collaborate with start-ups to create precisely that was at the forefront of this summit. This filled me with optimism for the future! The focus among these partnerships is on how to best build the infrastructure and automation to make these new food innovations affordable and scalable.

Personalized nutrition in supplement and whole food forms was another topic covered at the summit. The phrase repeated by many speakers on panels was “Food as Medicine.” Experts in that area of food innovation, such as Elo Health, explained the current capabilities of the process utilizing urine or blood testing to run panels that indicate vitamin and mineral deficiencies and creating diet plans or supplement formulas to address the unique needs of each client. While this is an ongoing area of research, with the help of data from current customers and research participants, the future of this science is truly exciting. This holds the power to assist individuals in reaching athletic performance goals and overcoming personal health struggles. While experts can’t bottle and sell the motivation it takes to reach optimum health, personalized nutrition may be the next best thing. Experts shared the consumer shift from focusing only on how long we live, aka “life span,” to now seeking ways to elongate their “health span,” or the number of years they can live disease-free. Again, back to the theme of “Food as Medicine.”

Sustainability was a common theme throughout the summit as well. Companies like Kerry spoke about listening to the end consumer and found that the public is asking for not only more sustainable foods, but also more sustainable packaging and manufacturing processes. This includes things like finding solutions to food waste issues, extending product shelf life, transitioning products requiring refrigeration to become “shelf-stable,” and much to my excitement, providing consumer education like we offer through the Educated Choices Program! The challenge, one panelist mentioned, in getting more consumers to choose environmentally-friendly items is to make them more affordable than the other options as opposed to paying a premium for sustainability. Companies are working hard to take these steps in their industry. For example, CEO and Co-founder of SuperMeat Ido Savir announced his company's new focus on extending the shelf life of its products by 3X that of standard meat! These food innovations hold endless possibilities to improve our food system.

The entire experience of attending and participating in the Food Innovation and Investment Summit was inspiring and left me feeling full of hope for our future! When so many representatives of companies can come together with a united goal and collaborate in a warm and mission-aligned environment, wonderful things come as a result. I look forward to returning next year!

- Karyn Knox

Chief Development and Partnerships Officer


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