Five alternative protein startups driving the future of food

Five alternative protein startups driving the future of food

Staff Writer
Staff Writer
Pinduoduo Content Team
June 16, 2021

At Pinduoduo, we are big believers in the potential of agtech and foodtech to help chart a more sustainable and resilient path forward for the agri-food system and the environment. And one of the promising areas of innovation in recent years has been in alternative proteins. It is also an area where there are significant differences in views on the best way forward.

We have compiled this collection of original exclusive interviews by Pinduoduo with alternative protein startup founders working at the cutting edge of science (and Michelin-level haute cuisine!) As you will see, they have different views on the relative merits of various types of alternative proteins. But one thing they all agree on is that the current model of animal agriculture is unsustainable, and that bold, innovative ideas are needed.

This Finnish startup is literally producing food out of thin air

Pasi Vainikka, CEO and co-founder of Solar Foods

Pasi Vainikka co-founded Solar Foods in Helsinki, Finland, as a spinoff from a national renewable energy program. The startup has developed a yellowish powder called Solein that is 65%-70% protein, making it from hydrogen, carbon dioxide and mineral nutrients. Solar Foods claims that Solein creates roughly 1% of the greenhouse gas emissions of meat protein and 20% of those from plant-based protein production.

"Five years ago maybe what are doing would have been seen as strange, but now it's completely different because people are aware of plant-based meat and that cultured meat may be coming. We are looking at products in a more holistic way than, for example, just plant-based beef to a burger." -- Pasi Vainikka, co-founder of Solar Foods.

(Prefer to listen to a podcast? Check out part 1 and part 2 of our Agri Matters podcast with Pasi Vainikka.)

TurtleTree Labs sees cell-based human milk as part of solution to feed the next billion people

TurtleTree Labs CEO Fengru Lin

The story of TurtleTree Labs involves cheese-making, human breast milk, and a real-life prince. The Singapore-based startup is targeting bioactive proteins found in human milk, followed by high-value complex sugars, and then the fluid milk market, says co-founder Fengru Lin.

"We believe the next billion people coming onto the planet, we need to find alternative sources to continue feeding people." --Fengru Lin, CEO of TurtleTree Labs.

(Find out who the prince is in our Agri Matters podcast episode featuring TurtleTree CEO Fengru Lin.)

Can a Michelin-starred chef elevate cultured meat to haute cuisine?

Masaharu Shimamura

Masaharu Shimamura is owner-chef of Michelin-starred Unkaku and co-founder of cellular agriculture firm DiverseFarm. When he’s not cooking for patrons at his Michelin-starred kaiseki restaurant in Osaka, Japan, he is upstairs on the second floor working on recipes for cultured meat.

Shimamura is hoping to change the public perception of cell-based meat by combining his culinary expertise with cutting-edge technology.

“Chefs are very picky about the ingredients and taste. Making a block of meat may be a big achievement for researchers, but it’s not enough for a chef. It’s hard to produce the quality cultured meat that chefs are looking for right now, but the technology has potential.” -- Masaharu Shimamura, Michelin-starred chef and co-founder of DiverseFarm.

Shiok Meats CEO says consumers could be growing their own meat at home in “10 to 15 years”

Shiok Meats CEO Sandhya Sriram (L) with co-founder Ka Yi Ling (R)

Ever grown your own herbs at home? Some kale, perhaps? How about cultivating some stem cell meat for dinner? That could become a distinct possibility in the longer run, like in "10 to 15 years," according to Sandhya Sriram, stem cell scientist and co-founder of Shiok Meats, a Singapore-based clean meat startup.

"People have been baking, making wine and beer and growing their own vegetables and fruits at home. Why not grow cell-based meat at home as well?" -- Sandhya Sriram, Shiok Meats CEO.

(Listen to Sandhya Sriram talk about Shiok Meats’ plans for commercialization on Agri Matters here)

How manga inspired IntegriCulture's Yuki Hanyu to dive into cultured meat

IntegriCulture founder Yuki Hanyu

Yuki Hanyu is founder of IntegriCulture, a cellular agriculture startup in Japan spun off from a DIY cultured meat community that he started as a way to share growing techniques among like-minded hobbyists. He has also spearheaded the formation of the Cellular Agriculture Institute of the Common as a nonprofit organization to facilitate the dialogue on rule-making for cellular agriculture in Japan. He was inspired to pursue cultivated meat from reading manga and science fiction as a child.

"Existing meat or leather or fur companies know their business is not sustainable, so at some point they need to capture the cell-cultured technology. That's what we are offering here." -- Yuki Hanyu, IntegriCulture founder.

(Listen to Yuki Hanyu on our Agri Matters podcast - Part 1 and Part 2)

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