We all live in our own bubbles. Some are small, some are bigger, but they are bubbles nonetheless. To understand the future, we need to understand what is happening outside of these bubbles. What trends are flying below our radar? Which innovations are we ignoring or not giving enough attention to? In order to widen our own horizons, we interview food experts and ask them about the trends that they think we are not talking about enough.
We are starting this interview series with Björn Witte, Managing Partner & CEO at Blue Horizon. The company invests in a new sustainable food system, with an end-to-end approach that extends beyond alternative proteins – starting with better crop practices right through to sustainable packaging and smarter distribution.
Björn Witte will speak at the 2nd International Food Innovation Conference on 15 June 2022. Get your tickets now!
GDI: Which food innovations are we not talking about enough?
Björn Witte: I believe precision fermentation is a topic that doesn’t yet get the attention it deserves. There are ever more alternative protein companies that are using fermentation in innovative ways to produce products that deliver the distinctive flavours and textures of animal products, without farming animals.
Fermentation is an incredibly efficient process. It enables proteins to grow very quickly – sometimes doubling in size within hours, compared to months or years for animals.
This means that, compared with farming animals, meat and other alternative proteins made using fermentation are less resource-intensive. They have the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, biodiversity loss, water use, water pollution, antibiotic resistance, and foodborne illnesses.
What food, still unknown today, will end up on our plates in the future?
I would say cultured meat. It’s identical to conventional meat in terms of taste, texture, and nutrition, but it’s slaughter-free. Instead, it’s made from real animal cells that have been provided with the necessary nutrients and environment to grow into a cut of meat.
This past year has seen a huge uplift in media interest in this space and many more companies joining the startup scene creating healthy competition and driving innovation.
One of our portfolio companies, Mosa Meat, made international headlines recently because Leonardo DiCaprio invested in it. The company also announced a few months ago that it has reduced the cost of its fat media by a factor of 66x. Mosa Meat is a well-known company because they created the world’s first cultivated hamburger back in 2013 – for a cool USD 325’000. With Mosa Meat driving down the cost of its growth media, they keep pushing the boundaries of innovation which will ultimately lead to scalability of a viable product on a global scale.
Another portfolio company of ours, SuperMeat based in Israel, unveiled the world’s first commercial cultivated poultry platform last year called "The Chicken". Today, you have the possibility to dine at "The Chicken" and at the same time peek into SuperMeat’s factory, where you can see your chicken burgers manufactured under the same roof.
What developments happening around you are you deliberately choosing to ignore? Why?
At Blue Horizon, we don’t look at anything that includes animals in any way. This gives us a very clear cut red line in terms of where our investment universe ends. There are a lot of great projects out there that are improving sustainability in various areas, e.g. sustainable salmon or cricket farming. However, as soon as animals are involved, this means by definition that we are out.
Is there an important resource for the food system that is still underestimated today?
There is still a lack of knowledge when it comes to how much resources are actually needed to produce a certain piece of meat. More than half of all habitable land on earth is used for agriculture and 77% of that is allocated to livestock producing meat and dairy products. The amount of water that is required to produce 1kg of beef is more than 15,000 liters. Those numbers are huge. Animal agriculture accounts for 23% of all freshwater consumption in the world. Now, if we assume that by 2050 we’ll be close to 10 billion people on this planet, we simply cannot continue in the same manner. We need to find more sustainable solutions and build new sustainable food systems that work for us, the animals and our planet.
Will food prices increase or decrease and why?
I believe that in the long-term prices of animal-based proteins will increase while those of alternative proteins will decrease. Today, we see a lot of subsidies in many countries for meat production and even advertising. This has to change and it will. The traditional meat industry has reached a natural floor in terms of how efficient they can build their processes. Everything is super-efficient and there is just not much room left to further squeeze out any additional margin. Alternative proteins on the other hand are still at the very beginning of a decade of strong growth paired with efficiency gains. Together with BCG we predict that alternative proteins will capture at least 11% – if not double that number – of the global protein market within the next 10 years. Achieving price parity is vital for mainstream adoption because consumers are more likely to try a new plant-based option that is not much more expensive than its animal-based counterpart.
Which companies / startups / chefs are the most promising newcomers or game changers?
At Blue Horizon we look at hundreds of interesting companies every year and due to our history of focusing on this space exclusively we have quite an unparalleled visibility into the alternative protein and agtech market. It’s always difficult if not impossible to name "most promising newcomers".