Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Rolling Stone editors or publishers.
In late 2021, Impossible Foods announced a record-breaking $500 million investment round to fuel the future of plant-based protein ahead of an anticipated IPO in early 2022. The decade-old startup is gaining ground on rival Beyond Meat, a publicly traded company that’s experienced some stock market fluctuations due to the pandemic. But with such impressive dollars being spent in the plant-based meat category on just two companies, will the future of vegan meat become a Coca-Cola vs. Pepsi situation?
From my perspective, it’s unlikely. Amidst the backdrop of the vegan meat duel in California, exciting up-and-coming plant-based startups across the world are quietly amassing millions of dollars, innovating on novel technologies and getting ready to take the future of food by storm. As the founder of a global platform focused on innovation, food and biotechnology, I’ve seen firsthand the plant-based meat trend gather serious traction over the last few years. Let’s take a closer look at the “new crop” of vegan meat companies and what could become the next Beyond or Impossible.
Next Gen Foods, launched by Brazilian food engineer Andre Mendez and German founder of LikeMeat Timo Rekker, was founded less than two years ago in April 2020 in Singapore. Since their founding, the duo has built a diverse team of folks across the world and launched their first product, TiNDLE plant-based chicken, in Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia, the United Arab Emirates and is now eying a U.S. launch for 2022. With a proprietary ingredient known as “lipi,” which gives a similar taste and smell to that of chicken according to the company, TiNDLE is tackling the sought-after poultry market, which is one of the world’s fastest-growing markets for meat. While most brands are focused on processed nuggets, TiNDLE’s flagship product is a “chicken whole cut,” which poses a unique entry in a market like the U.S. where 62 percent of all poultry consumption is chicken breasts.
Another startup with South American roots is Future Farm, founded in 2019 in Brazil by CPG veteran Marcos Leta and Alfredo Strechinsky. With less than three years of operation under their belt, Future Farm has already raised $89 million and claims a valuation of over $400 million. Focused on non-GMO and “cleaner” ingredients, Future Farm currently boasts an extensive line of products, including burgers, grounds, sausages, and seafood, with plans of expanding into plant-based milks and dairy. Eying North American expansion, Future Farm’s strategy of not using novel ingredients could certainly give other plant protein companies like Impossible or JUST — which have struggled with regulatory approval across numerous regions — a run for their money.
Another plant-based company that has scaled rather quickly is Daring Foods, a California-based vegan chicken startup, which originally launched out of the U.K. in 2019. Led by CEO Ross Mackay, the company recently announced its third round of funding within 12 months, bringing its total investment to $120 million. Unlike other plant-based meat startups, Daring remains focused on the growing chicken category, which has increased in demand in the last sixty years. Only time will tell if Daring and other vegan poultry producers can convince meat-eaters to make the switch.
Perhaps the newest upstart in the plant-based chicken category, Sundial Foods, led by 21-year-old CEO Jessica Schwabach, is set to launch in 2022, after initially being created as a school project in the Alternative Meats program at UC Berkeley in 2019. Focused on creating hyper-realistic chicken drumsticks, including the coveted skin texture, Sundial Foods participated in a Nestle incubator in 2020 before receiving over $4 million in investment in their seed round of investment. Interestingly, the company’s proprietary process requires only eight simple ingredients, which would make it one of the cleanest plant-based protein products on the market when launched.
Originally founded as NUGGS in 2018 by serial tech entrepreneur Ben Pasternak, SIMULATE is a decidedly unconventional competitor in the plant-based meats category. With a laser focus on Gen Z consumers and direct-to-consumer (DTC) distribution, SIMULATE has already raised over $60 million with a valuation of $260 million. Backed by tech titans like Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, SIMULATE has seen massive growth, no doubt due to their early focus on DTC marketing, which exploded with growth during the pandemic. SIMULATE plans to roll out new plant-based meats, including sausages, to accompany their signature NUGGS line, and focus on ramping up engineering support in the coming year. It will be interesting to see how SIMULATE’s heavy DTC strategy plays out, as the world reopens and consumer habits begin to shift post-pandemic.
With over half of Americans agreeing that the plant-based trend is here to stay, it’s certainly early days for the world of plant-based meat. Diversity of founders, emerging markets and a record year for investment are certainly wild cards in the space, as the burgeoning industry seeks to upend the traditional food manufacturing industry model. While it’s too soon to tell how the market share will shake out, one thing is for certain: The future of plant-based meat will look nothing like the traditional meat industry that came before it.