It seems unlikely that many of us really gave much thought to the production and availability of food until COVID-19 hit. Then, as both the staples and treats we loved disappeared from store shelves or saw massive price hikes, it became apparent that the global network that stocked our supermarkets was worryingly fragile. Remember when everyone wanted to make their own bread in lockdown, but yeast could not be found for love or money? That was a mild instance of a real problem – food insecurity – that is only going to become more severe in the coming years.
Indeed, making food and getting it to consumers is becoming more of a challenge for a number of reasons. These include climate change, an increase in pests and pathogens worldwide, concerns over the labour conditions of seasonal workers, population expansion, and food waste.
There are companies, however, that are tackling these issues, and they are poised to do well for themselves while doing good for all of us. Here, we look at five of the most innovative ones transforming the food space and helping ensure that the world will be able to eat enough in the years to come.
Almost everyone loves sugar, but no one enjoys the tooth decay, obesity, diabetes, and heart and liver disease that can result from its overconsumption. Israeli-based food-tech startup Incredo (formerly known as DouxMatok) is addressing that concern with Incredo Sugar. This form of sugar crystal has been engineered to taste 30% to 50% sweeter. This means, for instance, that a cookie made with Incredo can use that much less product to make it taste as sweet as one baked with regular sugar. Made with real cane or beet sugar, Incredo is primarily being used by food brands, bakeries and other food makers instead of the general public. DouxMatok struck an agreement with Canadian sugar company Lantic in 2020 to manufacture Incredo in North America.
Vertical farming does not signify the end of traditional farming in Canada just yet, but it is arguably a more efficient use of space, water and other resources. First, let’s explain the term: vertical farming refers to growing plants in a building on multiple levels. This controlled environment provides plants with the exact amount of light, water and other nutrients it needs and no more.
One of Canada’s leading vertical farms is Vision Greens. This Welland, Ontario based company can create as much produce (right now, that means lettuce, arugula and basil) as a working farm, but on 5% of the land. They also farm 365 days a year and service markets within a 200-km radius, meaning their produce is fresh, and leaves a much smaller carbon footprint than if it was shipped worldwide. Their produce is grown without herbicides or pesticides and is sustainable – an important point in a province that is losing 319 acres of farmland every day.
ASPIRE FOOD GROUP
It is going to take a vast shift in the mindset of Western consumers for them to prefer insect protein to the nutrients found in a juicy hamburger. But with arable land decreasing worldwide and beef production being the single biggest contributor to greenhouse gases, one answer to food insecurity may be the harvesting of insects – already a source of protein to over 2 billion people around the globe.
The Aspire Food Group was in part looking to tackle the problem of food insecurity when they opened their London, Ontario cricket farming facility in the summer of 2022. While the 13 million kg of cricket protein it currently hopes to produce there annually will go towards pet food for now, they hope to tackle the bigger problem of human hunger in the years to come. This is an especially promising strategy given that crickets are protein-rich and require only a fraction of the food, water and land needed to raise other sources of protein, like cows.
TOO GOOD TO GO
The fact that half of all food produced in this country goes to waste is especially galling in light of how many Canadian families don’t have enough to eat on a regular basis. (Worldwide, nearly a billion people are considered malnourished, due primarily to poverty and unequal food distribution.)
Copenhagen-based food wastage app Too Good to Go is hoping to rectify that problem somewhat by connecting consumers in countries around the world (17 so far, including Canada) with local food-serving companies. The app gives them the chance to buy food that has not been sold that day in “Surprise Bags” for about a third of their retail cost, although the bags are never more than $10.
The app, which came to Canada in 2021, allows these companies to profit off food that would have been trashed, customers to eat fresh food at a fraction of the bag’s actual value, and to reduce the waste that ends up in dumps.
American food tech company Benson Hill is using cutting-edge technology – including cloud computing, machine learning and AI –to unlock the genetic diversity within plants to make them more nutritious and abundant. This means using predictive breeding and gene editing to improve a number of crops. These include its specialty soybean varieties, which are ultra-high in protein and high in oleic oil which is related to skin health. These soybeans are a key component in the alt-meat category which aims to produce nutrition for human consumption while reducing the greenhouse gas emissions typically associated with meat production, especially beef. Farmers also benefit from new revenue opportunities and the sustainable farming practices required to farm their Benson Hill crops.
The company’s innovative approach appears to be working on a business level as well, with its consolidated revenues increasing 307% in 2022.
With the population expected to rise from 7.8 to 9 billion by 2050, how humanity is going to feed itself – and that includes your sourdough starters – is, to say the least, a pressing issue. New technologies, business innovation, and changing our eating habits are all important places to start, and these companies are leading the way.
Sean Plummer | Contributing Writer