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7 meat-free startups changing the future of food

A look into the companies taking a bite out of the meat industry— and the big investors behind them.

A world without animal agriculture may sound like a distant reality, but many companies and entrepreneurs are turning to plant-based and cruelty-free foods to establish just that.

Plant-based meat, cheese and milk offer all the taste and texture of their animal-based counterparts, without the food safety risks, huge ecological footprint or animal suffering. And "clean meat," a product of cellular agriculture, soon will provide omnivores an experience indistinguishable from today’s typical backyard barbecue — but guilt-free.

As founder of Mercy For Animals, the nonprofit focused on farmed animal protection, I’ve dedicated my life to ending factory farming through activism. But I believe technology and business will play considerable roles in improving the current food system. That’s why I helped launch The Good Food Institute, a nonprofit that works with scientists, entrepreneurs and investors to shift food production toward clean and plant-based products.

These seven startups are key innovators of an industry that is changing the world.

Impossible Foods

If you haven’t yet tasted the Impossible Burger, know that it lives up to its name. The impossibly beef-like patty is made with wheat and potato proteins to encourage a slight external char and coconut oil to simulate the mouthfeel of beef fat. It even has 25 percent more protein than a comparably sized beef burger. What truly sets it apart, however, is heme — a component of hemoglobin, the red pigment in blood that gives animal-based burgers their color and distinctive flavor. As a result, the Impossible Burger truly looks, "bleeds" and tastes like meat.

Memphis Meats

Of all the disruptive technologies mentioned here, "clean meat" is probably the most groundbreaking. Clean meat doesn’t just mimic meat; it actually is meat. Produced by growing animal cells in cell culture, clean meat eliminates the suffering and slaughter of conventional meat production. Moreover, it contains no antibiotics, growth hormones, E. coli, salmonella or waste, all of which are unavoidable in factory farming.

Memphis Meats launched in 2015 and soon debuted the world’s first meatball made with clean animal meat. The company plans to bring its clean meat to market by 2019 and is rapidly reducing production costs to make these products widely accessible.

Hampton Creek

Hampton Creek has more than 40 entirely plant-based products, including mayonnaise, cookie doughs, cake mixes and dressings, sold at thousands of mainstream stores.

The company is also creating an open-source database with information on every plant protein in the world. As it stands, nearly 92 percent of plant proteins remain unexplored for use in food production. Hampton Creek is also developing over 400 new products and promises to sell clean meat by late 2018.

Miyoko’s Kitchen

Cashews, not cows, are the basis of Miyoko’s Kitchen, whose mouthwatering plant-based cheese is considered the gold standard. Cashews are ground into a heavy cream before undergoing culturing, aging, smoking and flavoring to achieve a taste and texture that even Food & Wine magazine said "mimics the real thing." In 2016, the company’s plant-based cultured butter launched at Trader Joe’s stores nationwide, and Miyoko’s is rapidly expanding to meet the ever-increasing demand for its products.

Perfect Day Foods

Using fermentation, Perfect Day Foods aims to grow and extract milk proteins from a specially programmed yeast, creating animal-free milk that contains the same proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals as animal milk but has neither cholesterol nor lactose (a common allergen). This product is also immune to bacterial growth, so pasteurization and refrigeration aren’t needed. Perfect Day Foods plans to use its animal-free dairy milk as a base to replicate other dairy products, such as cream, cheese and yogurt.

Clara Foods

Clara Foods aims not simply to replace egg whites but to create a bioidentical product. Using methods similar to Perfect Day Foods’, Clara Foods is producing egg whites without the animal or environmental harm. And unlike eggs from hens, Clara’s products will contain no harmful pathogens. Clara Foods expects its products to be on the market by 2019.

Beyond Meat

Beyond Meat is the company behind the popular Beyond Burger, which tastes remarkably like a hamburger patty. But it has more iron and protein than a beef burger; a fraction of the saturated fat; and none of the cholesterol, hormones or antibiotics.

You can find Beyond Meat products at hundreds of Whole Foods and Safeway locations and at more than 600 Kroger-owned grocery stores. Bill Gates is an investor in the company — as is Tyson Foods.

Sergey Brin, Biz Stone, Vinod Khosla and other Silicon Valley luminaries also have invested in plant-based and clean meat. The future of food is here, and its visionaries see no reason to hurt animals, your wallet or your health. 

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