Next-gen food and nutrition companies have the opportunity to make a significant impact.
There’s a decent chunk of evidence to back up this claim. New developments abound in today’s market.
But before we dive into the details, let’s take a step back and evaluate why these companies are so important. Current methods are problematic in that modern agricultural practices take an enormous toll on the planet. Animal agriculture uses 30% of all land and over 25% of all freshwater on Earth—plus, its greenhouse gas emissions are equal to all of the world’s cars, trucks, trains, ships, and airplanes combined.
It doesn’t have to be this way. A number of innovative health & wellness companies are disrupting the sector and gaining a great deal of traction.
I’ve been fortunate to connect with senior executives, founders, and investors in the know, and it’s clear that these companies are in it for the long haul. A growing desire to positively impact the environment—to promote both personal and environmental health—is a driving force behind the disruptive brands in this sector. This resonates with consumers, who seem to value transparency more than ever before.
That said, it might look like the secret is out. So many companies are hoping to partner with disruptive players, buy their way into these markets, and develop competing products. And yet, while mission-driven areas in health & wellness have grown increasingly crowded, some companies are still taking the reins and transforming the space.
Disruptive Meat Substitute & Replacement Companies
Most meat substitutes have been problematic because they failed to appeal to a significant part of the population: meat eaters. This may sound counterintuitive, but hear me out. Since only a small percentage of U.S. consumers are vegetarian or vegan, targeting these groups puts an inherently low ceiling on a company’s market potential.
Does that make sense? Regardless, the following disruptive meat replacement companies will provide a clearer picture.
Meet (pardon the pun) two game-changing alternatives: Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat. These companies have transformed the food industry by serving as a replacement for meat rather than a substitute. Prior meat alternatives were similar to early electric vehicles in that consumers felt they were settling for a less-than-optimal substitute. When Tesla came along, everything changed. The company appealed to all drivers, not only those in favor of electric cars.
What I mean here is that you choose a Tesla not necessarily because you’re looking to save the environment, but because it offers a better driving experience—all in a cool, sleek package.
Similarly, Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat cater to vegetarians and meat eaters alike. To reinforce this, they offer their products in the meat aisle or in burger restaurants alongside real meat options, steering clear of niche sections or establishments that only appeal to select consumers. This strategic decision has opened up a much broader market—especially as meat-eating consumers look to cut back for health, environmental, or animal welfare reasons.
Impossible Foods has effectively created an “aura of exclusivity” around its Impossible Burger. In the early days of its distribution, consumers felt special to have sampled it—only a handful of people had the opportunity to do so. Jardinière, a high-end restaurant in San Francisco, started serving the Impossible Burger in 2016. Lines at the time would form outside the restaurant several hours before the burger went on sale, and Jardinière would regularly sell out so quickly that it had to start issuing tickets at 7 p.m.—30 minutes before the revolutionary product was even available on the menu.
In addition to the tremendous commercial potential of companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, their environmental impact is astonishing. For instance, the Impossible Burger uses about 75% less water, generates roughly 87% fewer greenhouse gasses, and requires around 95% less land than conventional ground beef.
While this is significant, disruptive companies aren’t limited to the meat replacement sector. A number of businesses have disrupted the protein supplement industry as well.
Disruptive Protein Supplement Companies
Protein supplements have been a longstanding staple in the health & wellness sector. Until recently, however, their presence was rather limited in that supplements typically involved whey protein, derived from cow’s milk.
Reliance on this mode of agriculture has obvious drawbacks from a sustainability standpoint—and this is where companies like OWYN (Only What You Need) Protein come in. Not only does OWYN look out for the environment, but the brand also caters to an oft-overlooked segment of consumers. The founders took quick action when they realized some people—specifically those facing dietary issues—felt alienated by the limited protein supplement options they had at their disposal.
That’s how OWYN got its start. The plant protein-centric brand is extremely allergen-friendly, and uses a unique blend of flax, pea protein, and pumpkin seed powders.
Sounds appealing, right?
And so it came as little surprise that OWYN was acquired by CPG collective Halen Brands in March 2017. Halen noted that while it rarely acquires pre-revenue brands, it felt OWYN’s product far outshined its competition in terms of taste and functionality. It also reported that OWYN easily maintained an 18-month head-start on its competitors.
What attracted me to OWYN was how incredibly clean it was—that and the low sugar content. I was previously a fan of Vega Protein, but a March 2018 Consumer Reports study revealed that many top-selling plant-based powders contained concerning levels of heavy metals like arsenic, cadmium, mercury, and lead, as well as toxins like bisphenol A (BPA). Vega exhibited one of the poorest scores in the study.
OWYN, meanwhile, is an ideal alternative. A compelling bonus: Its allergen-free nature makes it sit easier in the stomach.
Disruptive Milk Alternative Companies
The nearly $8 billion dairy alternatives market is expected to double in size over the next four years, thanks in part to the growing number of people avoiding cow’s milk. But even if former cow’s milk drinkers can get over the differences in taste, there’s one front on which the almond, cashew, and coconut varieties cannot compete: protein.
Ripple Foods makes milk not from nuts or soybeans, but from split yellow peas. The company’s goal is to make a plant-based milk that rivals cow’s milk in both nutrition and taste while using a fraction of the natural resources.
The company has stated the dairy industry accounts for a quarter of all food-related carbon emissions. As such, making a difference in this sub-sector can generate a much greater impact overall.
When it hit the market in 2015, Ripple’s line of pea-based milks was the first of its kind. The milks have since become quite popular, and are now available at 10,000 stores nationwide. From Kroger and Target, to Whole Foods, they’ve made quite a splash. (Forgive me, but I couldn’t resist this second pun.)
Let’s return to the topic of protein. Ripple milk features 8 grams of protein per cup—the same as a cup of cow’s milk—compared to 1 gram of protein in a cup of almond milk. Ripple’s original variety also has half the sugar and twice as much calcium as a cup of 2% cow’s milk.
The company’s milk features a taste and texture that Ripple competitors simply cannot match. Its proprietary protein powder is combined with ingredients like sunflower oil, cane sugar, algal oil (for omega-3 fatty acids), and vitamins and minerals to create a beverage that resembles milk. In its lab, Ripple is developing recipes to take over more of the dairy aisle, with nutritional shakes, cheeses, and ice cream products in the works.
As is the case with Tesla and the Impossible Burger, Ripple can make an immeasurable impact by presenting its product as a tastier, more nutritious alternative to what others once considered the “real thing.” It has the potential to be a true disruptor in a long-stagnant sector.