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Animal-free food is coming, here are the startups pioneering the field

June 21, 2017

Although tech news, as well as the pretty much inevitable hype, have been dominated by startups working in the field of electronics, AI, healthcare, and other next big thing, the number of food and beverage startups, which are generally considered less interesting, are on the rise. Behind their perception as tech wallflowers, a notable number of them are now becoming primary exploiters of novel tools and techniques such as those based on synthetic biology (synbio), which arguably is just as sexy as VR and AR. But also, unlike most of the serial headline grabbing startups, food and beverage startups can easily lay claim to their being at the forefront of innovation crucial to human survival. Funding for these startups has more than tripled in the last five years [1], encouraging new companies to enter the field.

Animal-free food

The most funded food & beverage startup in the field of synthetic biology is Hampton Creek. [2] Founded in 2011, Hampton Creek develops plant-based egg substitutes. [3] These substitutes have been used to make mayonnaise [4] and cookies [5]. The technology is also covered in a US patent application the company filed in 2011. Another start-up that offers egg substitutes is Clara Foods. Clara Foods makes egg white substitutes from genetically modified yeast. [8] The company has a PCT patent application that disclose the technology. Egg white proteins are recombinantly expressed in host cells for later secretion and processing to come up with the egg white substitute. The startup was founded in 2014 and has no products out yet. The company is more focused on working directly with businesses that use egg-based products such as pasta and confectionery companies.

Aside from egg substitutes, chicken meat substitutes are also being developed with the help of synthetic biology. Beyond Meat, formerly known as Savage River, is a startup that develops plant-based meat that includes chicken meat and beef. Chicken strips and burger patties based on those plant-based meat are now available in some supermarket chains. [9] A US patent application on meat structured protein products was  filed by the company in 2014. The patent application describes the process for the preparation of fibrous protein products, which contains at least 5% by weight non-animal protein material.

Beyond Meat is not the only startup working on plant-based meat. Impossible Foods is another startup that aims to replace animal products with products from engineered plants. The company has so far developed ground beef derived from plant protein, which is already sold as burger patties to select restaurants. [10] The ground beef product is designed to completely replicate the characteristics of meat such as its texture, flavor, and change in color and firmness, as well as the meat’s release of water during cooking, as disclosed in a PCT patent application filed by the company.

Although Pat Brown, current CEO of Impossible Foods, doesn’t believe growing meat from animal cells has potential, citing lack of development in the area, [11] Memphis Meat thinks otherwise. It’s a startup working on culturing meat from animal cells. The company has already reported success in cultivating meats such as chicken meat, duck meat and beef in the laboratory. Memphis Meat uses serum from unborn calves and chicks, which they aim to completely substitute with something plant-derived. The company filed a US patent application in 2013 that relates to their cultured meat production technology. The US patent application discloses a method for skeletal muscle cultivation, and it further details the use of self-renewing cell lines of animals to make muscle tissues fit for human and non-human dietary consumption. The company aims to reduce its production costs before offering their products in the market. [12]

The synthetic food industry is also trying to provide alternatives to food from aquatic sources. New Wave Foods offers a shrimp substitute made from algae and plants. According to the company, results of a taste test showed the participants were unable to distinguish their shrimp substitute from real shrimps. [13] Another startup working on alternative marine animal food products is Finless Foods, which was just founded this year. Though the company doesn’t have any commercially available product yet, Finless Foods plans to use cell culture technology to make fish meat. [14]

Further diversifying the roster of synthetic biology-based food startups is Perfect Day Foods, formerly known as Muufri. Perfect Day Foods focuses on dairy products, and offers animal-free milk. The milk proteins are made using yeast instead of acquiring them from cows. [15] In their  PCT application, the milk substitute is disclosed as comprising casein protein, lipids, flavor compounds, sweetening agents, and ash. The startup has no products released in the market just yet.

Recent studies demonstrating substantial health benefits from reducing animal protein intake and consuming more plant-based proteins are likely to bolster interest from investors and thus drive further research and development in the field. Our initial studies at Parola Analytics on patents and patent filings relating to this important technology area have yielded valuable insights on what have been accomplished so far by some of the more promising startups featured in this article and the potential for expanding their existing product and application range.


  • [1] “Grapeless Wine And Cowless Milk: 60+ Synthetic Biology Startups In A Market Map.” CB Insights. February 22, 2017. Web. https://www.cbinsights.com/blog/synthetic-biology-startup-market-map/

    [2] “All You Can Eat: The 15 Most Well-Funded VC-Backed Food & Beverage Startups.” CB Insights. May 30, 2017. Web. https://www.cbinsights.com/blog/food-beverage-startups-most-well-funded-vc-backed/?utm_source=CB+Insights+Newsletter&utm_campaign=ecf265dbb3-ThursNL_5_25_2017&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_9dc0513989-ecf265dbb3-88839177

    [3] Ha, Anthony. “Khosla-Backed Hampton Creek Foods Launches Beyond Eggs, A Genuinely Convincing Egg Replacer.” TechCrunch. February 13, 2013. Web. https://techcrunch.com/2013/02/13/hampton-creek-foods/

    [4] “Just – Mayo.” Just. Web. https://www.eatjust.com/en-us/products/consumer/mayo

    [5] “Is This the Cookie of the Future?” Take Part. Web. https://www.takepart.com/article/2014/08/29/cookie-future

    [6] Zaleski, Olivia. “Hampton Creek Ran Undercover Project to Buy Up its Own Vegan Mayo.” Bloomberg. August 5, 2016. Web. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-08-04/food-startup-ran-undercover-project-to-buy-up-its-own-products

    [7] Kowitt, Beth “Mayo Warss: How Big Food Is Getting in on Egg-Free ‘Mayo’.” Fortune. February 2, 2016. Web. https://fortune.com/2016/02/02/unilever-hampton-creek-mayo-wars/

    [8] Buhr, Sarah “Clara Foods Cooks Up $1.7 Million IN Funding To Make Egg Whites From Yeast Instead of Chickens.” TechCrunch. July 9, 2015. Web. https://techcrunch.com/2015/07/09/clara-foods-cooks-up-1-7-million-in-funding-to-make-egg-whites-from-yeast-instead-of-chickens/

    [9] Anderson, Caroline. “Beyond Meat Makes Distribution Deal for 280 Safeway Inc. Stores.” Los Angeles Business Journal. June 2, 2017. Web. https://labusinessjournal.com/news/2017/jun/02/beyond-meat-makes-distribution-deal-280-safeway-in/

    [10] Pierson, David. “Umami says its new veggie burger tastes like meat – and bleeds like meat.” Los Angeles Times. May 17, 2017. Web. https://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-impossible-burger-20170517-story.html

    [11] Kolodny, Lora. “Impossible Foods CEO Pat Brown says VC need to ask harder scientific questions.” TechCrunch. May 22, 2017. Web. https://techcrunch.com/2017/05/22/impossible-foods-ceo-pat-brown-says-vcs-need-to-ask-harder-scientific-questions/

    [12] Garfield, Leanna. “A San Francisco startup just created the world’s first lab-grown chicken.” Business Insider. March 15, 2017. Web. https://www.businessinsider.com/memphis-meats-chicken-lab-grown-2017-3

    [13] Marshall, Wyatt. “Are These Insanely Realistic Fake Shrimp the Future of Sustainable Seafood?” Munchies. October 7, 2016. Web. https://munchies.vice.com/en_us/article/are-these-insanely-realistic-fake-shrimp-the-future-of-sustainable-seafood

    [14] Finless Foods. Web. https://finlessfoods.com/

    [15] “Home.” Perfect Day Foods. Web. https://www.perfectdayfoods.com/#animalfree

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