Future food: Agile start-ups are driving change but need backing for commercialization

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17 Sep 2019 — Start-ups are continuing to drive change in the food industry thanks to their agility in responding to trends. However, they sometimes face challenges in winning over established companies to aid commercialization, as well as in convincing consumers to try less conventional offerings. FoodIngredientsFirst speaks to three start-ups who will be exhibiting at Future Food-Tech London next month about sustainability and innovations to come.

Responding to rising consumer demand for protein-alternatives is Entis, a Finnish company that uses powdered crickets as an ingredient in various snack foods. “Insects are one of the most promising protein sources we have. Farming insects causes up to 98 percent less greenhouse gas emissions compared to traditional meat and also requires only a fraction of the water and space used by any other protein source,” says Samuli Taskila, CEO of Entis.

This trend for sustainability is also seen in UK-based Mimica, which produces accessible and affordable freshness indicators to cut food waste. Mimica Touch shows food freshness and spoilage in real-time by adjusting to temperature conditions, ultimately being more accurate than food expiry dates.

Ixon’s ASAP technology is more efficient than tradition preservation forms.“The conversation around food waste has been going on for some time. Never before have we as consumers been more aware of the impacts that our consumption habits have on the planet, and this is most true for the industry that sustains us all. While there are some initiatives to move things in the right direction, many consumers feel that it is too little too late,” says Solveiga Pakštaitė, Founder and Director of Mimica.

Also active in the food preservation space is Hong Kong-based Ixon Food Technology, which specializes in advanced sous-vide aseptic packaging (ASAP) to sterilize foods at low temperatures. This will allow food manufacturers to turn perishable foods, such as medium-rare steak and poached eggs, into shelf-stable products.

“Our technology is driven by the rising demand for healthier convenience food and ready-to-eat meals, as well as the development of unmanned supermarkets and convenience stores. In the latter, our technology helps solve a monumental problem – how to keep fresh food that sells for a premium price shelf-stable so that no staff is needed to dispose of the expired products,” explains Felix Cheung, Founder and CEO of Ixon. 

Ixon also appeals to businesses seeking to cut down their carbon footprint as ASAP technology uses 30 percent energy than canning, and 80 percent less energy than freezing (assuming 12 months of storage). Pakštaitė notes that the whole world is watching what big food companies are doing, and predicts that the ones who make bold moves aligned with sustainability will win. 

“In 30 years, there will be 10 billion people living on this planet and people are also moving up to the middle class, meaning that we should almost double our food production. However, finding sustainable ways to produce our protein is one of the key issues we are facing,” adds Taskila. 

Getting the message across
Successful communication is one of the key elements of a start-up’s success. Cheung notes that the commercialization of ASAP technology requires the support of food manufacturers, food processing equipment companies, packaging equipment companies, as well as packaging materials companies. “Getting all these companies to understand our technology and collaborate with us has been fun yet challenging,” he adds.Entis’ main challenge is overcoming the “yuck” factor associated with eating insects.

Pakštaitė also notes there is a belief within the food industry that food waste is good for sales and bottom lines. “Helping the food industry understand the relationship between waste and profitability will be key to our growth,” she explains. 

However for Entis, the main challenge is overcoming the “yuck” factor that Western consumers associate with insects. “Getting consumers familiar with the benefits of insect food, as well as making easily approachable insect food products, is the key. At Entis, we do not use any visible insects in our products. Instead, we use insects mainly as an ingredient and as a powder in otherwise familiar products. We believe that this is the easiest way to get people to try the products and get over the ‘yuck’ factor,” says Taskila.

Looking forward to the next five years, Mimica aims to be on the top five perishable items in people’s shopping baskets in Europe and North America, as well as starting to look at other global markets. “After three years of lab research, we’re running our first production run right now and negotiating commercial contracts with global food producers. Anything that perishes could potentially benefit from the Mimica technology, but initially, we are targeting high-value and high-risk foods such as dairy, meat and juice,” says Pakštaitė.

Meanwhile, Entis is launching in four Eastern European countries this October and is looking to expand to other countries in the Nordics and Western Europe in early 2020. As well as recently commercializing a meat substitute made out of insects and vegetable proteins within Finland, the company plans to focus on the gym and fitness sector in the future, with a protein powder set to be launched soon. 

“We haven’t really locked up any countries where we want to expand to; it’s more dependent on where we can find the right partners and retailers who are willing to work with us long term. We believe that there will be a niche market for insect food products in every country, but the change will not happen overnight,” concludes Taskila.

By Katherine Durrell

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