I always thought the people innovating in the food science and food start-up area were exclusively R&D professionals with years and years of experience working in the food industry. But, much to my surprise, that is not true!
In fact, one of the most fascinating elements of this recent surge in innovation in food science and food start-ups is the involvement of entrepreneurs who do not have food science backgrounds. By combining this entrepreneurial spirit with the knowledge and skills of food science professionals, food start-ups are embracing a trans-disciplinary approach that has led to some incredible innovation.
For instance, take Impossible Foods—a company that has raised $75 million and found early success with its “Impossible Burger,” a vegan, vegetable protein-based patty that tastes amazing and even “bleeds” like a beef burger. When you hear about a company like that, you don’t really expect to learn that its founder, Patrick Brown, doesn't have a traditional food science background.
I was particularly amazed by this after I visited their manufacturing facility at the Rutgers Food Innovation Center in New Jersey. Along with the rest of my tour group, I got into sterile clothes and was led around by an Impossible Foods facility manager, who explained to us the process of getting those burgers made and out into the world. We saw them making the burgers, got to touch them and feel the texture, and—best of all—had the opportunity to sample the finished product. Now, I’m a vegetarian, and I’ve never eaten beef in my life, but even my omnivorous tour-mates couldn’t believe how much the flavor and texture was like a “real” beef burger. All of this from a company founded by someone without a traditional food science background.
Big picture, we are just at the start of innovation around food. There is so much that is still left to be discovered—whether it’s flavoring, packaging, new technologies or something else—and by embracing entrepreneurial innovation, food science related start-ups are making some incredible advances. Impossible Foods is a great example of this “innovation motivation”: it’s not just about creating a great burger for vegetarians, it’s about addressing some of the concerns about climate change. It’s saying that people don’t need to eat beef to be eating burgers, and they can cut down on their carbon emissions without giving up a favorite food. And that all came from innovation, and the embrace of a trans-disciplinary mindset to develop new products that satisfy consumer demand.
I have heard of many other companies whose founders are passionate about not only creating amazingly tasting and nutritious alternative, but who are also looking at addressing bigger problems such as food security and environmental challenges. I believe we should embrace and support these efforts, and many of the industry’s big players seem to feel this way as well.
IFT, for instance, has a competition called the IFTNEXT Food Disruption Challenge that is seeking out innovative food start-ups that are in the seed stage. Six finalists will get to present their ideas on stage at IFT19, one of the most well-attended food event and expos in the world, for the chance to win $25,000. Applications for this year's competition are now open, and I would strongly encourage any entrepreneurs in the food space to apply.
It's a truly exciting time in the science of food, and I, for one, cannot wait to see what the future holds.
IFTNEXT is made possible through the generous support of Ingredion, IFT’s Platinum Innovation Sponsor.