Business and the planet. How they can pair up perfectly

Vegan, vegetarian, or flexitarian. Alternative proteins have made their way from the niche to mainstream. If anyone thinks vegan means hippy, think again.

Society is changing the way it eats. The traditional, Western diet of meat and dairy products is putting too much pressure on the environment, simply due to the fact that there are so many of us. The world currently holds around 23bln commercial farm animals, vastly outnumbering humans at 7.9bln. The question quickly arises how efficient and how sustainable it is to rear, feed and maintain a constant supply of farm animals as part of the food production system; an issue more pressing as our population numbers swell.

Agriculture, after all, needs to grow food for all these animals, using precious land and water resources. Agriculture will have to increase its total output by a 100% in 2050 (source World Bank) to feed the world population. That is a huge challenge and deemed to be impossible, unless agriculture becomes much more efficient.

Currently our food-system is that 1) we grow food for animals and then 2) we eat the animal. A logical conclusion would be to take the animal out of this chain and to eat the crops directly. Reducing the amount of farm animals will start to free up a lot of agricultural - and pastureland and it will be a huge part of how to feed the planet solution.

But how to replace the foods we love is the challenge. Not everyone will be happy to become a vegan or vegetarian as we associate, especially vegan foods, with limited choice and a compromised taste.

But help is on the way. As vegetarianism and to a lesser extent, veganism, are growing globally, clever businesses have seen the opportunity and are jumping into the space. Making very tasty, plant-based foods, is becoming a focus of many large companies as well as host of start-ups.

Beefburgers, one of the world’s favourite foods, are seeing most of the action. New, lab grown burgers are actually very tasty and at times undistinguishable from real burgers. Beyond Meat, Mosa Meat, The Vegetarian Butcher (now owned by Unilever) and Impossible Foods are the leading and tastiest meat-free meat products.

One of the more recent ‘meat’ startups is Redefine Meat in Israel (also called the Vegan Capital of the world, given that over 5% of the population is vegan), which just raised $29mln in its Series A financing round. The funds will be used to expand its production capacity for its 3D printed plant-based steaks, which are printed in the company’s proprietary 3D printers. (

In the dairy sector, there are almost too many milk alternatives to mention. Although those ‘non-milk’ milks tick a box as in reducing the land space required for cattle, the jury is out on how much of an environmental improvement soy, oat or almond milk actually represent. That there is appetite for non-dairy milk and associated products, like ice-cream and puddings, both from vegans and non-vegans, is underlined by the upcoming listing (IPO) of the Swedish company OATLY on the New York Stock Exchange for an estimated $10bln valuation.

Other companies to watch in the dairy sector are, a.o PEGGS, making eggs taste and look like eggs, but made from chickpeas instead of chicks. PEGGS has been set up by a Stanford student during the 2020 lockdown. Peggs use 90% less land, water and energy than eggs laid by hens. Peggs has raised funds via crowdfunding platform Kickstarter and is busy with its first roll-out to restaurants in the Bay area.

Many large-scale food and meat producers are making investments in alternative proteins. Companies like Unilever, Nestle, Tesco and Tyson Foods (the largest meat producer in the US) for example have upped their game in alternative proteins over the last few years, with all eyes on China – a prolific consumer of pork.

Business and the planet seem certainly be a great pairing. The listing of OATLY will be keenly followed and many may follow suit.

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