Plant based protein
NotCo’s pitch is a grand one: to completely disrupt the factory-farm food system. The company argues that its proprietary machine-learning algorithm can efficiently sort through a complicated web of consumer food needs (nutrition and sustainability, but also mouthfeel, flavor, color, etc.), allowing NotCo to bring successful, delicious vegan alternatives to stores and upend animal-based markets in the process.
For the IndieBio team, the fact that the startup’s first product was already on the market proved that NotCo could deliver. But the machine-learning algorithm is what really has Gupta and Bethencourt excited.
Through the WI Lens
It’s important to keep an eye on to what extent tech might disrupt food. A few months ago, Eric Schmidt (the chairman of Alphabet – Google’s parent company) dubbed the plant-based meat industry the no. 1 trend in tech. Today, the biggest players in the food tech scene are funded by some of the most prominent private investors in the world (like Eric Schmidt or Bill Gates) who understand that the nutritional and environmental benefits of meat and dairy replacements make the disruptive companies especially attractive to investors. To put things into perspective: China alone will import 1 million tons of beef in 2018.
This article describes how one start-up using machine-learning algorithms to replace animal proteins with vegan alternatives became a vegan-mayo company once valued at $1.1 billion. Machine learning in food is particularly challenging because of the subjectivity of taste, so it’s too early to tell how these ventures will evolve and how profitable they’ll ultimately be. Some people worry that the food tech industry is racing forward, fueled by venture capital, a lot of hype, and “without much regard for any consequences”.
There is no doubt, however, that the big incumbents (the Nestlés of this world) are at risk of being disrupted. They are not alone: the underlying idea of using a machine-learning algorithm to more efficiently account for a wide array of consumer desires can be used for different industries, skincare companies for example.
“On such fragile foundations are built the first steps towards a more ethical kind of business, and who knows what virtuous circles might result?”
“Scientific evidence recently emerged that, contrary to earlier beliefs, Covid-19 can be spread by tiny droplets that we breathe out when we respire, called aerosols.”
“Economic wellbeing is part of the story, but it is also about finding less stressful lifestyles, in which healthy diet figures as a meaningful measure of success.”
“The industry has every asset needed to be a guiding light in the shift toward personal health priority. Will that become a prevention legacy, a ‘phoenix rising’ from the Covid-19 ashes?”
“Looking at the bigger picture, putting the measures in this order represents a lost opportunity that the pandemic could have offered for a cultural pivot pivot towards getting people more focused on their health, a powerful statement of intent.”
“Employment is necessary to fulfil our most basic human needs such as food and shelter. Any significant increase in long-term unemployment will spell a retrograde step for human wellbeing like no other.”
“All roads lead to a wellbeing anchor, whether that be economic/financial, physical, mental or emotional: all contribute to a progressive and inclusive cosmopolitan world. The answer should not be a choice of one or the other but of a joined up and compassionate solution for society, business and individuals.”
“The paradox is that we continue to do this in spite of recognising that striving to become ever-more productive is an intrinsically unhealthy behaviour, leading to stress and too often, a sense of failure.”
“The same broad-sweeping structural racism that enables police brutality against black Americans is also responsible for higher mortality among black Americans with Covid-19,” Maimuna Majumder, a Harvard epidemiologist working on the Covid-19 response, tells Vox.
The take-out from this? Wellbeing cannot exist at a more elevated level without our basic needs being met.