Meat Substitutes Attract Venture Capital
Move over faux fur, meat substitutes are (potentially) the next big thing.
Despite the fact that that the number of people adhering to strict meat-free diets remains small, there is increased demand for meat substitutes from several market segments:
- Flexitarians: A flexitarian is someone who greatly reduces the amount of meat, fish or poultry in his diet, though he does continue to eat these foods in small amounts. The reasons someone would become a flexitarian vary but may include a concern for the environment, ethical issues surrounding meat consumption, or the desire to eat a healthier diet. Many people now participate in “Meatless Mondays,” a movement that encourages people to give up meat each Monday in favor of a plant-based menu.
- Dieters: Many meat substitutes contain fewer calories than real meat, making their use popular among people who want to lose weight.
- Vegans and Vegetarians: Many vegans and vegetarians rely on meat substitutes as a source of protein and as a way of adding variety to their diets. In addition, new vegans and vegetarians may use meat substitutes as a way of addressing cravings that sometimes occur soon after giving up animal products.
- People with Food Sensitivities: Some people are allergic to eggs or certain types of meat. Substitutes for these products allow those with allergies to continue enjoying some of their favorite dishes.
There are several VC-baked firms specializing in the development of animal product substitutes:
- Beyond Meat (previously Savage River Farms): This company developed a chicken substitute that won praise from New York Times food writer Mark Bittman. Whole Foods now uses the product in many of its prepared salads, sandwiches and entrees. The company received funding from Kleiner Perkins and Twitter co-founders, Ev Williams and Biz Stone.
- Hampton Creek Foods: Supported by venture capital from Vinod Khosla, the folks at Hampton Creek Foods are hard at work developing a plant-based egg substitute called “Beyond Eggs” that can be used in baking, though there are rumblings about a scrambled “egg” product as well. Hampton Creek’s egg substitute is less expensive than genuine eggs, but baked goods made from the substitutes may be virtually indistinguishable from those made with the real thing.
- Modern Meadow: While Hampton Creek and Beyond Meat focus on creating plant-based meat and egg analogues, Modern Meadow takes a different approach by attempting to culture leather and meat in the lab from existing cells through the use of bioprinters. While this project is certainly an ambitious one, Modern Meadow hopes to allow people to enjoy wearing leather and eating meat without the ethical or environmental issues raised by the raising and slaughter of cattle.
While VC support of meat substitutes is definitely on-trend, the relationship between venture capital and meat substitutes isn’t a new one. Wholesome & Hearty Foods, makers of the now-famous Gardenburger got its start with two rounds of venture capital funding in the mid-1980s. The company was purchased by Kellogg in 2007.
While many people remain ambivalent about embracing an entirely meat-free lifestyle, the market for meat analogues remains strong. Inventors who can develop tasty, affordable substitutes for edible and non-edible animal products should focus on developing a strong business plan to present to possible investors.