8 Israeli Alternative Protein Startups
The global demand for meat is expected to jump 70% by 2050 as the population grows to roughly 9.6 billion people. As expected, the bulk of the burden will be on widely consumed protein sources like fish, beef, and chicken. With the possibility of running out of resources and the strain caused by the production of these foods on the environment, more and more companies have turned to alternative sources for nutrition.
Investors have taken notice and money is being poured into alternative protein startups working on solving these problems using lab-cultured meat, plant-based protein, and substitutes made from insects. Even 3D printing technology is being looked at to create alternative proteins, and we recently discussed several Israeli startups working in this space – Aleph Farms and SavorEat. Today, we’ll take a look at eight more Israeli startups joining the race to come up with economically viable alternative protein products.
Founded in 2014, Hargol FoodTech has taken in $3.9 million in funding to develop protein powder made with grasshoppers, a topic we touched previously in our piece on 8 Startups Selling Edible Insects and Bugs. Grasshoppers are said to be the ideal insect for an alternative protein source since they offer a remarkable nutritional value of up to 70% protein along with zinc, folic acid, omega-6, omega-3, and chitin. Not only that, grasshoppers are already consumed by roughly 2.5 billion people across the globe. Given its neutral flavor, grasshopper protein powder can be used as an additive for a wide selection of dishes. Interestingly, grasshoppers are the only ones that are kosher and halal.
The process of harvesting is quite simple. Hargol drops the temperature in its grasshopper farm during harvest season. The change in temperature makes the insects sleepy, and as their little insect heads nod off, they’re gathered and frozen. The last steps in the process are to dry them in large ovens and mill them into a fine powder. Despite the size of the potential market, Hargol admits that – like everyone else – they’re still figuring out how to address the “yuck factor.”
Founded in 2010, Hinoman has taken in $15 million in funding to develop a superfood alternative plant-protein source that’s been shown to have some benefits that marketing teams can spin. The startup chose Mankai, a small aquatic plant found in the duckweed family, because of its rich nutritional value. Native to Southeast Asia, this tiny plant is not only rich in protein but also vitamins A, B, and E. It also offers fatty acids and minerals but unfortunately doesn’t get you high. A key value proposition is the superfood’s ability to control the glycemic effects brought about by carb-filled meals.
The idea is that the plant joins standard superfoods like kale, spinach, and spirulina so that a teaspoon full gets slopped into your smoothie at ridiculously high margins. In 2017, Hinoman forged a partnership with a $9 billion Japanese food company, Ajinomoto, for exclusive rights to sell the Mankai product in Japan. As well as its nutritional value, Mankai can be cultivated in a short period of time with a relatively small amount of water, light, and nutrients, meaning it can be produced efficiently with a minimal ecological footprint.
Founded in 2017, Rilbite has taken in an undisclosed amount in funding to develop plant-based minced meat. The product combines eight plant-based ingredients including rice, lentils, onions, soy or pea, and unsweetened cranberries. Yummy. In terms of sustainability, the meatless patty product only requires 76 liters of water including the amount needed to irrigate the eight ingredients used to make it. In comparison, other companies offering similar products – like delicious beef patties – require 670 liters of water. So far, Rilbite has been making progress marketing their meat alternative in Israel with the product being utilized by a government project which aims to reduce child obesity by 50% by 2030. Maybe they can help the people of Nauru solve a similar problem.
Founded in 2013, InnovoPro has taken in $5.8 million in funding to develop a chickpea protein concentrate with a strong nutritional profile. The company recently partnered with another Israel company, tofu maker Wyler Farms, to launch non-dairy items. Apart from hummus, chickpeas can also be used to make chips and other dishes. They can also function as emulsifiers and even as foaming agents in dishes that do not use eggs, gluten, or oil. Despite being plant-based, chickpeas still manage to have an airy and lightweight texture compared to other alternative proteins. The product is largely being marketed to the large number of Americans who developed all these odd food allergies that are annoying AF for chefs the world round.
Frankly, we could all stand to eat a bit more hummus.
Founded in 2014, Yofix has taken in $2 million in funding to develop a dairy-free yogurt line which contains probiotic cultures (another food fad Americans can’t get enough of.) The startup’s product makes use of a handful of natural ingredients like oats, sesame seeds, fruit, and live cultures. In terms of its production’s effect on the environment, Yofix’s yogurts leave an extremely low carbon footprint. This is because the product line does not use cow’s milk. It also does not need a substantial amount of water compared to cashew or almond milk. The entire production process paints a picture of zero waste since practically all the raw materials are used up until the final stage.
Props to the marketing team for the clever product name which practically writes its own slogans.
Founded in 2018, Zero Egg has taken in $1.5 million in funding to develop a plant-based egg. For all intents and purposes, Zero Egg’s product looks, tastes, and behaves like a real egg. The key difference is that this egg alternative is made of GMO-free proteins such as potato proteins, pea, chickpeas, and soy. To keep the product as close to the real thing as possible, Zero Egg uses turmeric to come up with the yellow coloring for their egg liquid. (It all comes down to how well they’ve nailed the egg flavor because it’s tough enough to cook real eggs and get the texture right.)
In recent years, outbreaks of diseases in the poultry sector have significantly affected the price of eggs. In fact, the FDA says approximately 79,000 people in the United States alone get sick from tainted eggs annually. The limited-production not only resulted in fluctuating prices but also inspired a bit of paranoia in the market. This led to many companies to look for alternative options, and Israel’s Zero Egg is one of them. Meanwhile, from a health perspective, Zero Egg has lower calories compared to its conventional rivals with 15 calories per egg substitute compared to almost 70 calories in an egg powder equivalent.
Aside from plant-based protein alternatives, there’s also “clean meat” which is stuff that grows in a petri dish. Also called “lab-grown meat,” this stuff still costs thousands of dollars a pound but everyone still seems keen to throw more money at it. That’s because it also feels good for all the ESG types out there.
Although there are different ways to do this depending on the meat to be produced, the general idea is that the procedure grows real animal cells by “feeding” them with the proper nutrients to produce muscle and fat. This process emulates the same bodily functions of live animals so we’re able to produce meat without having to raise and kill animals. Around 56 billion animals are slaughtered annually to feed humans, so it’s a pretty large total addressable market (TAM) that our next two startups are trying to target.
Founded in 2015, SuperMeat has grown up a bit since they came across our radar in a piece we did on 7 Startups Creating Lab-Grown Meat. At the time, SuperMeat had managed to raise about $230,000 via crowdfunding. Today, this Tel-Aviv “clean meat” candidate has taken in $4.2 million in funding so far to develop lab-grown chicken meat which is manufactured in cells taken from chickens sans any animal serum. This ensures that the process remains animal-friendly and produces products that are acceptable to those demanding vegetarians. The bulk of their funding (around $4 million) came from one of Europe’s largest poultry companies, the PHW group, a partnership that was forged to market SuperMeat in Europe as an initial market.
Future Meat Technologies
Founded in 2018, Future Meat Technologies has taken in $16.5 million in funding so far from industry giants including Tyson and leading financial investors like S2G ventures to develop a cultured meat product that tastes just like farm-grown meat (their PR firm said we couldn’t use the term dead cow.) The company aims to produce cultured meat by turning beef or chicken cells into fat or muscle in large stainless steel vessels. The biology behind Future Meat’s vision is non-GMO stable connective tissue cell proliferation and not stem cells, coupled with proprietary low cost nutrient media.
In order to reduce costs, they plan to recycle some portion of the media and utilize lower-cost nutrients – something that they say comprises 99% of the entire production cost. In terms of how much customers can save, this process can lower prices to $10 per pound for cell-made steak and $4 per pound for meat combined with plant-based substitutes. They’re currently building a 1,000 square meter pilot plant in Israel (that’s 10,763 square feet for all you Yanks out there.)
In our past piece on The Top-10 Biggest Startups in Israel by Funding, we puzzled as to why so much innovation is coming out of such a small country. It could be that whole genetic intelligence thing we’re not supposed to talk about, or the fact that much of the innovation comes out of all their military spending, but an incredibly large number of Israeli startups end up being listed on Nasdaq which is kind of like the ultimate exit for a tech firm. The bigger question is whether or not alternative proteins can come in at price points that will withstand a recession when everyone becomes less keen about paying a premium for something that tastes “okay” when compared to the real thing which happens to be a whole lot cheaper.