Beyond the ‘clean eating’ trend. How technology responds to the changing food landscape.
Wednesday 19th April
In 2016 Eric Schmidt, executive director of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, listed developments of new plant-based proteins as the most important trend in tech. That’s ahead of 3D printing, self-driving cars, mobile medical data, virtual reality or education programs. We have seen a great rise in popularisation of the clean eating movement and plant based diet. According to Mintel, there has been a 25% increase in vegetarian claims and a 257% rise in vegan claims in global food and drink launches between September 2010 – August 2011 and September 2015- August 2016. These astounding findings suggest an important cultural change in the way we perceive food. Apart from the obvious role of satisfying hunger, food now serves as an expression of one’s desire to live a healthy and sustainable life and plays an important role in constructing our identities.
It is an exciting time for food innovation and technology, which have an opportunity to address some of the biggest challenges in helping people to navigate the changing landscape of food.
Speaking to Julien Morrez, head chef at a vegan deli Beyond the Kale about the recent popularisation of plant based diets, he stresses that the key in getting people on board is recreating familiar dishes. ‘Healthy, vegan cooking involves so many replacements to what we’re normally used to. It’s important to try and recreate tastes and textures that are familiar. If we want to encourage people to eat more plant based food, we need to be inclusive and not freak them out’.
As a plant based, sustainable diet involves a major shift in our everyday consumer decisions, making the transition easy should be at the heart of innovation. Apart from animal welfare, there is carbon footprint as well as food waste to consider. Apps such as Seasons aim to help re-introduce the concept of seasonal shopping and encourage people to step outside of their typical fruit & veg comfort zone. The Green Egg Shopper sets out to minimise household food waste and overbuying by organising our shopping based on expiry dates of the perishable items. Then there is Vegan Alternatives, an app developed by a teen from Buckinghamshire, which allows you to find vegan replacements for animal-derived products.
In essence, it is about making healthy, sustainable food choices easy and widely available, thus bringing food innovation to the mainstream. New Crop Capital, a venture capital fund started by animal-welfare activists invests in entrepreneurs whose products help to support animal welfare and has raised over $25m in the first year after its launch. Some of the start-ups they have supported, so far, include plant based meat substitutes (Beyond Meat), home delivery vegan meal kits (Purple Carrot) and artisan vegan cheese (Miyoko’s Kitchen). Another example of making an ‘alien’ plant ingredient more approachable comes from The Algae Factory, a start up which turns microalgae into chocolate bars and breakfast flakes.
However, sustainable food innovation goes beyond the easily identifiable animal-derived products. If technology is to make plant-based alternatives a norm, it is also about driving change in the areas that most people don’t consider unsustainable. Therefore, while gelatine free gummi bears or puddings might not seem like a top priority for sustainability, San Francisco based startup Geltor which produces microbe-based gelatin has received $250,000 in seed funding and is said to revolutionise the worldwide gelatin market. The reason? Many foods we consume daily as well as medicines we need; think capsules, pills, syrups, ointments and suppositories rely on a single ingredient – gelatine. While there are already vegan gelatin substitutes on the market, they don’t have the same mechanical or chemical properties and cost 4-5 times more than the bulk price of animal-derived gelatin. And so the development of cost effective animal-free gelatin could be a real game changer for the $3bn gelatin industry.
While we may need to wait years to see animal gelatin being completely replaced with a microbe derived one, for now, we can push for vegan cakes at our local cafe. As I write this article, I receive a notification about my next local vegan meet up. Started by a few Bath residents and one year into running, the group easily gathers between 30-50 attendees at any of their events. So far they have managed to convince a few local restaurants to put on pop up vegan menus and introduce vegan cake options to a couple of cafes. On a global scale, in isolation, their impact is insignificant. However, I am reminded that while food innovation and technology work to drive long term change on a global scale, local initiatives serve an important role in cultivating that change. Local level ground work benefits from an immediacy not always possible with global projects. This direct, immediate effect makes sustainable, healthy food part of our everyday reality, which in turns creates a fertile ground for dreaming up global food tech ideas. It’s this combination of local level engagement and action, alongside game changing tech solutions which will ultimately lead to healthy, sustainable food becoming more than a trend and we’re excited for the future.
Find out more about Osborne Pike: http://osbornepike.co.uk/
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