Author: Matt Vulpis

Better Plates for Better People and a Better Planet

The abundance of new technology brought about by digital transformation is rapidly changing a variety of industries. One by one, virtually each sector is being turned into digital havens, brimming with innovative devices and applications that are helping add ease and optimization into a plethora of daily tasks and processes. This transition to technology can be seen currently underway in almost all industries, and the food industry is no exception.

Technology in the food industry has become increasingly more prominent in recent years. As per the report published by The Brainy Insights, the global food packaging technology & equipment market was valued at USD 46.99 billion in 2021, and is expected to grow to USD 83.52 billion by 2030, at a CAGR of 6.60 percent during the forecast period 2022-2030.

The technology overhaul is associated with the growing concerns in sustainability, health, and freshness, as consumers are becoming more interested in what their food is made out of and where it comes from. Along with these concerns, a more efficient way of producing food for the 7.5 billion people in the world is needed. Technology will have to play a crucial role in optimizing the food industry as the world population is expected to grow another billion by 2030.

Technology has already revolutionized the food sector in the short time it’s been heavily incorporated. For example, technology has resulted in various ways to package materials from organic food packaging, edible packaging, reusable packaging, and even bacteria-fighting packaging. However, one section of the food industry that has been greatly impacted by the arrival of technology is the production of alternative protein sources.

Alternative protein sources are defined as plant-based and food-technology alternatives to animal protein. They include food products made from plants (for example, grains, legumes and nuts), fungi (mushrooms and molds), algae, insects and even cultured (lab-grown) meat. Around the globe, alternative protein sources are increasingly growing in terms of demand, with the two main driving factors relating to health concerns, and environmental concerns.

On an individual level, consumers are swiftly making their own health more of a priority, leading the way for a shift to alternative proteins. Red meat consumption is claimed to have links to health issues, such as cancer, high cholesterol, heart disease, and inflammation associated with autoimmune disease. Having alternative proteins instead of traditional meat can help decrease your risks of high cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, diverticular disease, and certain types of cancer, including colorectal, ovarian and breast cancers.

On a larger, more global scale, the desire for a healthier, more sustainable environment is being driven by citizens around the world, leading the shift to alternative proteins. This is because animal agriculture is one of the most polluting industries in the world, leading to key issues of increased greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) (associated with our climate change) and increasing pressure on land and water usage, which leads to resource scarcity.

With global demand, the market for alternative protein sources is growing rapidly. The market came in at USD 49.70 million at the end of 2021 but is expected to grow at a CAGR of 16.90 percent, reaching USD 126.84 million by 2028. With numbers like these, enterprises everywhere are increasingly looking for ways to get into the alternative protein scene, whether through technological advancements, or more commonly through partnerships with other organizations.

In the coming days, the Modern Agriculture Foundation (MAF), an Israeli non-profit which promotes entrepreneurship and innovation in the alternative protein industry in Israel and globally, will begin accepting applications for its 2023 cohorts of the Better Plate alternative protein track within MassChallenge Israel’s Accelerator program.

At the beginning of 2022, MAF launched Better Plate, making it the Middle East’s first accelerator program specifically targeting alternative protein startups developing plant-based solutions, fermentation, cultivated meat, or related sustainable food innovations that seek to disrupt the conventional animal protein sector.

Leveraging a team of industry leaders, investors, and experts in relevant fields, The Better Plate track provides early-stage startups with resources, mentors, contacts, and training on key issues such as choosing strategic partners, public funding, pitching, going to market, regulations, and more, all specifically tailored to the special needs of alternative protein sector.

“MassChallenge Israel is laser-focused on creating positive impact and is committed to further developing our vibrant innovation ecosystem,” remarked Aaron Zucker, executive director of MC Israel. “Alternative protein innovation has far-reaching implications for our planet and humanity, and impact investors are increasingly cognizant of that fact.”

“The outsized success of Better Plate cohorts reflects the tremendous potential of AgriFoodTech in general, and alternative proteins in particular, to mitigate major global challenges including global food security, environmental crises and supply chain issues,” said Levana Shifman, executive director of the Modern Agriculture Foundation.

Shifman added, “Better Plate’s first cohort is highly accomplished, with our startups winning prestigious awards and running successful pilots. We anticipate similarly impressive outcomes from the incoming cohort and look forward to the track producing the next unicorn with the revolutionary key to unlocking a sustainable food system.”

The Better Plate’s first cohort consisted of five companies, four Israeli and one Greek:, Mush Foods, which developed a revolutionary process for cultivating mycelium; PoLoPo, which pioneered a game-changing method to grow egg protein from plants, AlgaHealth, which addresses food production and nutritional challenges using microalgae; Fabumin, a producer of sustainable multi-functional raw materials using upcycled ingredients; and the Greek cohort, Solmeyea, a purpose-driven AgriBioTech venture producing more efficient “carbon neutral” high value bio ingredient-based proteins,.

These Better Plate cohorts represented just 12 percent of 42 total MC Israel cohorts, and yet PoLoPo, and AlgaHealth, snagged two (20 percent) of the coveted spots in MassChallenge Israel’s New York-Boston roadshow this month, granting them audiences with major investors, officials, and business leaders.

“Better Plate engaged phenomenal mentors and experts,” said Eran Itzkovitch, CEO of AlgaHealth, who received his award in Jerusalem last July at a celebratory culmination of the accelerator attended by hundreds. “Working closely with such a strong group brought us one big step closer to a better, healthier world.”

“We couldn’t have asked for a more excellent program. We were privileged to be part of the 2022 cohort, among so many amazing startups,” emphasized PoLoPo co-founders Maya Sapir-Mir and Raya Liberman Aloni.

“MAF is deeply grateful to its indispensable partners for their invaluable support, ensuring the track’s success and enabling our promising startups to soar,” remarked Shifman, praising InNegev, a unique technology incubator in Israel’s Negev region; Reinhold Cohn Group, a leading Israeli patent firm; Proveg International and Animal Charity Evaluators.

“Israel ranks second only to the United States in terms of investment in the alternative protein sector,” remarked Shifman. “But most of this funding is flowing towards well-established companies in advanced stages. Better Plate, therefore, fills a gap in the ecosystem. Not only does the zero-equity track provide early-stage startups access to serious investors, but it also supplies mentorship and guidance on key elements necessary to get alternative protein businesses started with the right foot forward.”

Better Plate’s second cohort is limited to Israeli startups. The application questionnaire will soon be available at the Modern Agriculture Foundation’s site.