Alt-protein food-tech trends to watch in 2022

2022 is set to be another bumper year for alt-protein. As the industry grows and matures, what innovations and market shifts can we expect? From new generation product launches, to bigger funding rounds, and the return of the brand, we’ve got the top nine alt-protein food-tech trends of the year covered.

We’ve been analysing the successes, achievements, and innovations of the last year (it was a BIG one) and looking ahead to the alt-protein food-tech trends of 2022. Put simply, there’s a lot to be optimistic and get excited about. Raises are getting bigger, new technologies are making whole new generations of products possible, and there are more startups entering the alt-food space than ever before.

The health of our planet is now reported to be the number one global issue for consumers. Sustainability is a monumental, overarching topic for the whole of the food industry and it’s driving a lot of innovation (and the investment to support it, too). For many consumers, sustainability is a top purchase driver, and for others, it clinches the deal when choosing between products.

Consumers are also becoming more demanding (in a good way). Whether it’s for health, environmental, animal-welfare or taste reasons, people want clean labels, functional foods, and more animal-free options.

This is all at a time when alternative-protein sources are of vital importance. Last year, global animal meat production was responsible for nearly 60% of food-related greenhouse gas emissions.

As the alt-protein industry matures, what food-tech trends can we expect to see in 2022? Let’s take a look.

More capital for food tech

Following record levels of investment in 2021, even more capital will flow into the alt-protein space this year. Some companies are already raising impressive amounts. Future Meat Technologies raised $347 million for cultured meat at the end of 2021, and in its lifetime Impossible Foods has attracted over $2 billion in funding.

As the industry and individual companies mature, we expect to see even bigger rounds at both the seed and later stages. There is also likely to be more IPOs and acquisitions this year, as well as a growing number of individuals and celebrities investing in plant-based and cultivated meat, in addition to institutional investors.

alt-protein food-tech trends include animal-free cheese
Founders of alt-dairy company Formo. In 2021, Formo raised $50 million for animal-free cheese

New ingredients coming to the fore

Companies focusing on new ingredients will gain global traction. While there is a wealth of alt-dairy options out there, some do fall short of consumer expectations. This is particularly true when it comes to texture. Our alumnus Cultivated Biosciences is developing a fat ingredient from oleaginous yeast to improve the creaminess of plant-based dairy.

A focus on ingredients like this could really ramp up the quality of plant-based products and open the door to a wave of new hybrid foods. In 2021, Melt & Marble raised 750,000 to make fats for plant-based meat. We expect to see this kind of approach in other sectors, too.

One of our most popular webinars of all time was about algae. Seaweed has huge potential in the food-tech industry and we expect it to really shine this year with new applications and products coming to the fore.

Sophie’s Bionutrients is leveraging fermentation technology to make all kinds of algae-based products, including cheese! Meanwhile Algama is harnessing the power of algae for the production of alt-seafood and our alumnus Genesea provides plant-based ingredients from offshore grown marine macroalgae. This is a space to watch.

Cultured meat coming to a plate near you

Despite the challenges of scaling and cost, there will be further traction and investment in the cultured meat industry. Until now, Singapore has been the only nation to approve the sale of cultured meat. We expect movement on this in 2022. China, for example, just released its five year agricultural plan, which for the first time specifically mentions cultivated meat.

Meanwhile, companies such as Upside Foods, Good Meat, Blue Nalu, and others have indicated that they are ready to launch once they’re given approval. We’re predicting that the regulatory environment will become more open and that more consumers could get their first taste of hybrid products with cultured meat in restaurants relatively soon.

Alt-dairy stepping into the spotlight

Precision fermentation will bring fundamental change to the alt-dairy industry. This is a hot topic because it’s what is going to bring us bioidentical cheese, for example. At the end of last year, Remilk raised $120 million for animal-free dairy and before that, Formo raised $50 million to produce cheese via precision fermentation. Like with cultured meat, scalability is a huge factor here. However, several companies have already hinted at product launches in 2022. We’re ready for it!

Return of the brand

Startups will build new brands that truly stand out. As the industry grows, companies are building a better picture of their consumers and what they want. Whether it’s sustainability-driven customers striving for a unique experience or health-conscious consumers seeking transparency and clean-label products they can trust.

To become successful and remain relevant in what is becoming a fuller market, startups need to create brands that cut through the noise and help them to build a loyal community.

This will also help plant-based and animal-free products to become more mainstream. We hope to see more of this in 2022 and for products to become more accessible and affordable. The trend is already starting, for example with Betterfish, the alt-seafood brand, launching in Aldi.

Alt-seafood alt-protein food-tech trends 2022
Alt-seafood salmon from Algama Foods

A new generation of meat

Fungi and fermentation-based meat and seafood is an underexplored category with massive potential. We predict that fermentation companies are going to take off this year, ushering in a new generation of alt-protein products.

My Forest Foods (previously Atlast Food) is preparing to launch its mycelium-based bacon in the US and biotech startup Libre Foods is doing likewise in Spain. This kind of technology is also bringing wholecut meat alternatives closer to our plates. We’d recommend keeping an eye on new companies like Bosque Foods (formerly Kinoko Labs), Exponential Foods, and mycelium pioneer Mushlabs this year.

Putting the tech into food tech

2022 looks set to become the year of the hybrid. The lines between plant-based, fermentation, and cultured products are already blurring, and the emergence of innovative new processes and technologies will accelerate this.

Take plant molecular farming (PMF), for example. This process is similar to precision fermentation, but uses plants instead of bacteria or fungi. Moolec is already using plants as “small factories” to produce animal proteins and Nobell Foods has raised $75 million to make cheese via PMF by mixing casein protein with plant-based ingredients.

Then there are a growing number of AI and data-science-driven platforms that can also support product innovation and development. Our alumnus the Live Green Co is using machine learning to improve the taste and quality of plant-based products. Meanwhile, trailblazer NotCo uses artificial intelligence to find new combinations of plant ingredients to replicate animal foods.

Alt-protein food-tech trends bacon
Bacon alternative from MyForest Foods (formerly Atlast Foods)

Plant-based categories continuing to diversify

If you’ve been to the supermarket recently, you’ll see that there is an increasing selection of alt-chicken, mince, and burger products out there. While there is still plenty of space for new developments in this arena, more and more startups are eyeing new and under-represented product categories. 

Take Plantcraft for example – this startup (an alumnus of the ProVeg Incubator) is targeting the alternative deli meats market, developing products from unique ingredients such as green bananas. Meanwhile, there are also an increasing number of companies focusing on bacon. French startup La Vie, which makes alt-pork products, just raised an impressive €25 million from angel investors including Natalie Portman and the Chairman of Oatly. Hooray Foods, meanwhile, recently raised $2.7 million for it’s plant-based version.

In the first half of 2021, there was a record-breaking $116 million of investments into alt-seafood. However, seafood alternatives account for less than 1% of plant-based meat sales in the US. The sector is seeing a lot of traction, though. Take our alumnus Hooked, for example. Last year, the Swedish startup launched a plant-based tuna and raised €3.8 million ahead of their salmon launch. We expect significant expansion of the alt-seafood market this year, and we’re particularly excited to see further innovations in Asia. This geography currently accounts for the highest seafood consumption per capita globally.

Finally, eggs. This is one of the fastest growing alt-protein categories out there. It has huge potential for plant-based and fermentation-derived products and ingredients. We’ll be paying particular attention to the Every Company, Perfeggt, YO-Egg, Evo Foods, and our alumnus Eggfield in the coming year.

Resource efficient circular economies

A growing number of entrepreneurs are using side streams (such as brewer’s yeast) to build a business. Companies such as Saccha, NoPalm Ingredients, Kern Tec, and Mushlabs are leveraging these ingredient sources to develop innovative new products. Kern Tec, for example, upcycles discarded fruit pits into oils and other plant-based ingredients. As more technologies and ideas for products come to the fore, we expect more competition in this space in future.

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