Plant-based shellfish, microalgae and alt-fats feature in ProVeg start-up incubator
13 Apr 2023 --- The ProVeg Incubator program, which supports start-ups working on plant-based, fermented and cultured food products, is welcoming twelve new start-ups from across the globe. The start-ups inducted into this year’s cohort, which begins this month, are innovating a wide range of climate-friendly, plant-based alternative ingredients to traditional meat.
“The scope of solutions of the twelve start-ups in our new cohort is extensive and promising, as they are tackling a diverse range of crucial problems,” Albrecht Wolfmeyer, international director of the ProVeg Incubator, tells FoodIngredientsFirst, noting the importance start-ups play in drawing key demographics.
“If there are healthy and tasty alternatives to conventional meat products, flexitarians are more likely to purchase them and reduce their meat consumption. Crucially, the flexitarians are driving the growth of the plant-based market.”
This year’s start-ups
The twelve start-ups selected for this year’s program include Be Better My Friend, from the Netherlands, which develops plant-based butter and cream alternatives for professional pastry chefs. Wolfmeyer is especially excited to see “FoodSquared in the UK move forward with its development of plant-based shellfish,” starting with plant-based shrimp.
Plant-based innovation continues with “The start-up Fattastic, based in India and Singapore, which leverages precision fermentation to create more sustainable, cheaper and healthier fat alternatives.” Propel Foods in Mexico is leveraging AI to produce frozen, ready-to-eat, plant-based meals such as tacos, burgers and chorizos.
StarPlants, based in China and Israel, is developing chickpea milk and snacks and Bygg Foods in the US is developing a product line of plant-based milk and vegan protein powder, all created from upcycled ingredients.
Similar upcycled efforts come from Plant Origin in Thailand, which is developing plant-based protein alternatives using byproducts of rice production.
These start-ups will receive up to €300,000 (US$329,900) in funding and in-kind services to accelerate their alternative protein products to market.
Leveraging future technologies
Precision fermentation and cultivated meat, critical pillars of plant-based innovation, also feature in this year’s selection. Ergo Bioscience, based in Argentina and the US, creates and reproduces complex animal proteins via plant cell precision fermentation.
“Precision fermentation could be a game-changer rather in the shorter and mid-term perspective,” says Wolfmeyer.
“Precision fermentation could prove to be the solution to overcome the shortcomings of plant-based dairy products, if regulatory - mostly in the EU, in fact - and scaling challenges can be solved.”
Similarly, MycoSure in South Africa is developing a fungi-based fermentation technology to provide scalable nutraceutical ingredients. Ireland-based SomaTech also targets fungi as it uses fungal mycelium to create functional protein-rich food ingredients.
Wolfmeyer notes that “The creation of sustainable and nutritious protein using microalgae by the Singaporean company Algrow Biosciences is another exciting development. Their clean-label process for removing chlorophyll results in a taste- and color-neutral protein-rich biomass with a complete amino acid profile, packed with omega 3, iron, and potassium, that can be produced at a cost that is 85% compared to its competitors.”
Cultivated meat focus
Finally, Sticta Biologicals in Chile uses customized serum-free culture media to create proteins and ingredients for the mass production of cultivated meats.
Cultured meat is a strong focus for ProVeg, which says these products are also included in the Incubator program “because they promise huge sustainability benefits over conventional meat.”
“While regulatory approval for cultivated meat is limited at the moment and scaling up is still challenging, we expect to see more countries give the go-ahead for these products and start-ups focused on cultivated meat will be ready to deliver to those markets,” says Wolfmeyer.
“While cultivated meat is a key element in transforming our food systems, it will take time.”
ProVeg has previously stressed the need for cultivated meats to be framed as “human food first” rather than primarily for pet food.
The ProVeg Incubator, based in Berlin, has various well-known alumni in the current plant-based space.
Wolfmeyer notes, “In February this year, Remilk received regulatory approval from the Singapore Food Agency enabling the company to sell its proprietary animal-free milk protein in the country.”
Also included are Austrian upcyclers Kern Tec, who talked to FoodIngredientsFirst at this year’s BioFach and Omni, which has since debuted its plant-based meals at Walmart.
At the same time, ProVeg remarks it is a “tough investment landscape,” where start-ups are “finding it harder to find lead investors and close rounds” and such rounds and due diligence are taking longer. ProVeg notes that many investors are less active and instead focus on portfolio support.
Similarly, other food acceleration programs are betting on start-ups to effectively solve various food crises and combat climate change.
FoodIngredientsFirst recently talked to some start-ups highly celebrated by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology Food.
By James Davies
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