The need for sustainable food is growing. Not only is sustainable food generally better for overall health, but it also has a better impact on the environment in terms of resource usage.
Below are a few trends I identified, as well as a few companies that are innovating in the space.
Reduce Carbon Footprint
One main driver behind food innovation is the reduction in emissions and resources. For perspective, 70% of the world’s freshwater is used for agriculture (30% of that is for feedstock), 26% of land is for grazing livestock, and another 33% of land is for growing feed.
Insect protein is an interesting play, as there are many benefits. Chirps Chips is focused on reducing impact in many aspects. Chirps Chips is making tortilla chips with cricket protein. Crickets take fewer resources and produce fewer greenhouse gases, compared to meat. Crickets can consume food waste, and they also have a better feed to food production conversion and water usage – it takes thousands gallons of water to make a pound of beef but only one gallon of water to make a pound of crickets. It also takes less space (it takes one square foot of space to grow one pound of crickets), giving production more flexibility in terms of location and transportation logistics.
Plant-based protein is another sector that aligns itself with the mission of reducing impact. Hooray Foods is making plant-based bacon. Pigs are the number two contributor, after cows, to greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture. By switching from animal meat to plant-based meat, you reduce the emissions by around 85%, when it comes to pork.
Another focus for sustainable food innovation is to reduce waste. 1.3 billion tons of food per year are wasted globally (roughly a third of all food produced), adding 3.3 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.
One of the more common solutions to reduce waste is by upcycling. In 2019, the food upcycling sector was worth $46.7B and is expected to grow 5% each year over the next decade. Even though most of the market is currently made up of companies turning food waste into animal feed, food upcycling is a great opportunity to create an impact with innovation.
Companies like Reveal and Renewal Mill are fighting climate change and reducing food being sent to landfill global by upcycling waste byproducts. Reveal is taking avocado seeds, extracting nutrients from the seeds, and creating a sustainable probiotic beverage. Meanwhile Renewal Mill is upcycling waste byproducts into premium ingredients and finished products.
There are some companies that have some overlap with the previous trends, but are truly developing a greener product with sustainable packaging.
Impact Snacks is one company that is combining aspects from the reducing carbon footprint and reducing waste to develop a truly sustainable product. The mission behind Impact Snacks is to change the way people look at everyday snacking by creating a 100% plant-based superfood bar that reclaims more carbon than it makes and produces no plastic.
No Evil Foods is in a similar boat. The company recently announced their partnership with rePurpose Global to offset their plastic footprint. No Evil Foods has committed to going plastic negative by funding the recovery and recycling of 2 pounds of plastic waste for every 1 pound they generate.
One other company with a similar mission, but different execution is Apeel Sciences. Apeel Sciences is developing a plant-based coating for produce that allows for longer shelf life, keeping produce fresh longer and reducing food waste. This effectively decreases emissions associated with cold chain transportation and food waste.
Solutions are needed to ultimately reduce both food waste and carbon emissions. There is no one solution that can do it all. The food sector is vast, and there are many opportunities to bring new products to market.
For solely reducing carbon emissions, plant-based meat is popular and growing trend. In March, grocery stores sold 231% more plant-based food than the previous year, and the graph below shows the year-over-year percent change between meat and plant-based meat sales:
Something to keep in mind is that the US meat market is worth about $95B, compared $1B for plant-based meat. While meat alternatives are growing, it will take more adoption and sales to see big changes in the meat industry. However, there has been an increase in both consumer awareness and the number of plant-based products in the market.
When it comes to decreasing food waste, the best way to reduce waste is to minimize food waste in the first place. Looking at solutions for food waste through a production lens, one of the best ways to do this is by upcycling food byproducts. Naturally, this will require looking for opportunities in current processes and the supply chain and will likely lead to new products.
For upcycled food to create a big enough impact, it’s crucial that companies scale up. The real challenge is marketing and growing the number of consumers, which is tough when products are seen as waste and are usually sold at a higher price than traditional items. However, CEOs should keep in mind that for every dollar invested in reducing food loss, $14 is saved in operational costs – the “roadblock is companies not taking it seriously.”
Food waste is a growing business that was worth $46.7B in 2019 with an expected annual growth rate of 5% for the next 10 years. This is a great opportunity for companies to repurpose their food waste into packaging and upcycled food.
Combining these two key factors of reducing emissions and waste are going to be critical to a sustainable future. We only have a little over 7 years to address the climate crisis, and food adaptation and adoption is an achievable goal. The only thing standing in the way is consumer behavior.
About The Author
Daniel currently works at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. His original assignment was to maintain and update facility safety documentation for all facilities on-site, and perform risk analysis. Over time, his role has expanded to leading continuous improvement efforts through product management.
Concurrently, Daniel volunteers with Techstars, helping organize startup weekends, and with the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, organizing events on the local and national levels of the organization. He also volunteers with One World, and previously with Powerhouse Ventures, to source and screen startups for potential investment.
Daniel holds a BS in Chemical Engineering from UC Davis, and recently completed coursework in energy innovation from Stanford. His passion is at the intersection of sustainability, innovation, and business.