Food as new business
Plant-based food is not only sustainable and healthy, it also has great business potential and is on its way to becoming a billion-dollar market. The food of the future has become
a hot field for investors.
Sustainable food supply is a key issue for the planet. A report from the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency shows that food accounts for about a quarter of our climate impact and causes a number of environmental problems, such as reduced biodiversity, over-fertilisation and depletion of natural resources. The health aspects and changes in animal husbandry add to the need for change.
New consumer values and behaviours are driving the development of food forward by leaps and bounds. The American company Beyond Meat was one of the first to launch a vegan meat imitation with the true taste and texture of meat as early as 2016. Their plant-based burgers became a business success that attracted heavy investors – even the largest meat producer in the United States bought into the company.
The meat-free burgers became important precursors to new non-animal “meat products” and also showed the way in terms of investment: Plant-based food is big business.
In Sweden, companies such as the oat milk giant Oatly and vegan Peas of Heaven, which produce deli “meats” with protein from green peas, have taken the lead and proven that plant-based food is not a flash in the pan.
International investment banks are now fully counting on the market potential for the fast-growing protein alternatives. Barclays estimates that the market for plant-based meat products could increase tenfold over the next ten years, while UBS expects growth of 30 percent annually until 2025.
In Sweden, many analysts believe in growth for plant-based meat products of between 15 and 20 percent per year, which would mean sales in the Swedish grocery trade valued at SEK 2–2.5 billion in 2025.
The new plant-based products are part of the innovation area called foodtech. An umbrella concept that encompasses many areas, it includes things such as agtech, which deals with technology linked to agriculture and food science, which is focused on developing completely new food products. Foodtech is also described as the link between food and technology, where data analysis can be used to reduce food waste and improve agriculture and the food industry. With the help of new technology, it will also be possible to produce food using new sustainable methods.
An example of the latter is the Dutch Mosa Meat. The company has developed a technology whereby taking muscle cells from cattle, you can grow muscle tissue: meat. The technology is not yet ready for mass production, but there is great interest among investors. In 2020, at least 20 new cultured meat companies started globally and investors contributed SEK 3 billion, twice as much as the year before.
But foodtech is so much more. Smart technology can, for example, be used to grow vegetables in a more efficient manner, for example through sensor systems that control water, nutrients and atmospheric conditions. Grönska is a Swedish tech company that develops technology for vertical cultivation. Following the launch of its latest cultivation system, the company raised SEK 20.5 million in a new investment round this past spring.
New innovations can also help in the fight against food waste. A huge part of all food waste in the world comes during the production stage, where a large part consists of by-products that have nothing wrong with them and still have high nutritional content. In Sweden, more companies are emerging that take care of and process food and by-products that would otherwise be discarded. Brave Brews produces the beer Crumbs using grain saved from bread production that would otherwise have been thrown away. Kärno makes cream cheese from leftover pickling liquid and the milk residue from churned butter. And Rescue makes juices, ice cream and smoothies from spotty fruit that would have been discarded if it had not been used by the company.
Overall, foodtech is a fast-growing market segment worldwide that is paving the way for new cultivation methods, new food innovations and new methods to reduce food waste – something that in the long run can contribute in the fight to save our planet. The food of the future is here to stay. •
5 Nordic innovations that can create change
The Norwegian Seaweed Solutions has developed a technology for growing seaweed. Seaweed is rich in minerals and vitamins and requires no fertilisation, rather it grows with the help of carbon dioxide, light and nutrients that are naturally present in water. In addition to food, seaweed can be used as plant nutrients in animal feed, in cosmetics, and in medicines, as an energy source and as a biofilter in oil decontamination. The global market for seaweed is growing by about 8 percent annually.
Potential for protein
Finnish foodtech company Solar Foods produces the unicellular protein powder Solein, a powder that increases the protein content in products such as bread, pasta, yoghurt and ready meals. The company is described as Finland’s hottest start-up company in the
food and technology sector.
Dough waste becomes mushroom protein
Swedish company Mycorena has developed a patent-protected technology that produces a fungal-based protein from waste, primarily from the bakery industry. The process is based on a unique mushroom species that grows in closed tanks, resulting in a protein- and fibre-rich product with a neutral taste and meat-like consistency. Mycorena aims for a global market and is now building a full-scale production facility in Falkenberg that is expected to be completed this year.
Sweden’s Hooked Foods has developed a plant-based substitute for tuna, intended for use similar to canned tuna, made from soy and wheat protein, algae and yeast extracts. In the autumn of 2021, Brightly Ventures and German Oyster Bay Venture Capital, among others, invested in the company so it can expand and develop more types of plant-based fish.
The Finnish technology centre VTT is in full swing researching laboratory-grown coffee. The same technology is used as in cultured meat: cells from coffee plants are grown in laboratories, then placed in bioreactors with nutrients. However, the technology is less complex than in cultured meat production
and the scaling up is described as simpler.
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