Entrepreneurs from around the world descended on Syracuse this week for Grow-NY, a food and agriculture innovation competition that will help fund one company to grow its startup in downtown New York.
The winner of the competition will receive a $1 million prize for local investment. There are 20 finalists, and many of them have come up with new technologies or products in the plant-based food market, which has grown in popularity in recent years.
Kathleen Hefferon is the CEO and co-founder of Ithaca-based Forte Protein, which creates animal protein using plants that can be used to add additional nutrients and protein to a variety of foods.
Her product is considered vegan because they do not use animal DNA. Instead, Forte makes the same proteins using gene sequencing in a lab.
Hefferon says many people have switched to a plant-based diet because of concerns about the environment and their health, as well as because of an interest in new technology.
“We’re at a stage where we have these new technologies coming along and people are curious, they want to try these new foods,” Hefferon said. “So, they’re willing to try things, they’re willing to spend a few extra dollars to try something that they think might be healthier for them and more sustainable for the planet.”
According to a study by the Plant Based Food Association, 29% of Americans are now flexitarians, or people who eat meat and animal products but are trying to eat less.
Impossible Foods, the maker of the plant-based Impossible Burger, reported that plant-based meat sales grew 45% across the board in 2020 alone.
Another Grow-NY finalist, Unnico, based in Westchester County, makes vegan yogurt, gelato and cream cheese with probiotics and no added sugar. The company’s founder, Nico Riggio, also came up with a way to sell their products in clay containers instead of plastic to reduce waste.
Riggio says the plant-based food market continues to grow over time.
“Consumers are much younger and they really want to see products that are good for their health, the planet and the animals,” Riggio said. “Another reason it’s growing is because these products weren’t available before, and you didn’t have a lot of these options.”
Jen Smith, Grow-NY’s program director, said plant-based products are not new, but more and more they have seen the development of new technologies used to develop these products.
“I think it’s particularly exciting,” Smith said. “It’s also nice to see the variety of products available on the market, but going into the technologies that will change the way these foods are produced is so important because price sensitivity and taste is a big drag. for these products on the market.