The food industry has very slowly over the past few years addressed the issue of sustainability as it remains a large contributor to environmental pollution, accounting for about 20-30 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions as of 2010, not to mention the 1.3 billion ton of food and packaging waste produced every year.
Entrepreneurs all over the world have been trying to meet this concern with innovations in agriculture, packaging, recycling, and nutrition. Beyond recycling and composting, consumers are looking for products that are environmentally friendly, pushing companies to meet market demands.
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Israeli companies too are making an impact, from creating sustainable packaging to developing lab-grown meat. Here are four Israeli startups getting food product sustainability right.
Plastic is known for its durability, but notorious for its negative effects on the environment. For example, it requires possibly hundreds of years to decompose and often winds up in the ocean, either whole or as micro-particles. As a result, sea animals often consume it and some researchers worry plastic particles will soon enter the air we breathe.
The environmental impact of plastic is a salient issue for all sectors, especially the food industry, due to the ubiquitous use of the material for packaging and transportation.
Ramot Hashavim-based TIPA (“drop” in Hebrew) is presenting a unique solution – compostable bio-plastic packaging.
TIPA CEO Daphna Nissenbaum, a former software engineer, founded the company in 2010 after repeated incidents of her children coming home without their plastic water bottles, having thrown them away. And they weren’t the only kids doing so. Nissenbaum founded Tipa to produce a sustainable alternative to plastic.
But, as TIPA marketing vice president Merav Koren tells NoCamels, as Nissenbaum developed Tipa’s products, she realized that being degradable was only half the battle. Koren notes that decomposed plastic may still leave behind micro-particles that “contaminate everything” and says that Nissenbaum wanted to find a way to turn disposed-of plastic into a resource. Thus, Nissenbaum and her team developed “flexible packaging that can… become compost within 180 days.”
Today, TIPA offers this material to a wide range of clients, mostly in Western countries, in the food industries as well as in the fashion world. Some of these clients include Dutch food retailer Ekoplaza, Dutch coffee producer Peeze, and fashion houses Stella McCartney and Mara Hoffman.
Another unique aspect of Tipa is its organization as a seller of not only a product, but also know-how. Koren says that Tipa treats its clients like “partners,” assessing with them their specific needs and adapting Tipa’s capabilities to those needs. For example, Tipa is currently working on making compostable packaging for tea companies.
Tipa’s biggest investors are Hong Kong-based Horizons Ventures, Toronto-based Greensoil Investments, and Tel Aviv-based Aviv Venture Capital.
Koren says Tipa’s newest investor is New York-based fashion designer Gabriela Hearst, who is also a client.
Another Israeli company in the sustainable plastics field is Bram Industries, based in the southern Israeli town of Sderot, a city that often makes headlines for being under rocket attack from the Gaza Strip.
The company, which grew from a small family firm to one traded on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange with international clients, produces biodegradable industrial packaging for the food industry and a line of disposable dishes and home products such as plastic kitchenware, food, and storage containers.
Named in 2016 as one of Fast Company’s “Most innovative” of that year, Bram Industries’ Life Story products can be found at global retail giants like Walmart, Target, Amazon, Home Depot, the Container Store, Tesco, and Bed, Bath & Beyond. In 2016, it also opened Bramli USA, a manufacturing and distribution plant in Savannah, Georgia.
One of the company’s most widely recognized products is the 17-ounce, on-the-go drink mug the Corky Cup, made of – you guessed it – cork. Bram Industries also makes stylish lunch bags, and cookware.
Inspecto was founded in 2016 after CEO Avner Avidan and VP Yair Moneta watched an exposé on the news revealing that there are significant levels of contaminants in foods in Israeli supermarkets. The US Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported the 85 percent of our food supply carries pesticide residues, resulting in 29 pesticides being found in the average human body.
Inspecto seeks to solve this problem by developing a “nanoscale portable device for early detection of food contaminants in the field.”
The company also says the device “can be used by farmers, producers, suppliers, buyers, retailers and quality assurers at any point in the supply chain and retrieve results in real time,” which is set to help manage diseases and food waste.
Currently, Inspecto is working on its first product: a device that detects a contaminant in coffee called acrylamide, which forms during the bean-roasting process of coffee production. Avidan tells NoCamels, “this contaminant is found also in potatoes, chocolate, bread, and a large variety of food items.”
Regarding other contaminants, Avidan says Inspecto is “getting requests from manufacturers all over the world to check water, rice, soybeans, it’s a never-ending process.”
“The problem with identifying contaminants in food is they’re in extremely low levels of concentration, in parts per million, in some cases, parts per billion,” Avidan continues, “what we’re doing is using a combination of optical sensors that allow us to isolate the contaminant we’re looking for and amplify its signal a million times over. The idea is to have this technology implemented in various points in the supply chain, so if we’re talking about coffee, it’s going to be used in coffee roasters, manufacturers, at the point of sale of coffee beans.”
Avidan says that Inspecto will use data analysis to pinpoint exactly where companies need to reduce contamination and plans to manage its data with blockchain. Eventually, Inspecto hopes to create an app to facilitate its operations and analysis.
Inspecto has a number of pilot companies lined up for its first deployment. One of them is Israel’s Strauss Coffee, the world’s fourth-largest coffee manufacturer. Another is Chinese coffee manufacturer Shinho.
Inspecto’s investors include the Kitchen Hub and Shinho. Inspecto has won a number of awards, including the European Union’s 2020 Horizon Grant and the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals Award.
In 2015, ethical vegans Ido Savir, Shir Friedman, and Koby Barak founded Tel Aviv-based SuperMeat to produce “clean meat,” or meat made by growing animal cells rather than by raising animals. Although the idea of clean meat has been around for decades (Winston Churchill predicted it in 1931), Friedman, SuperMeat’s CCO, tells NoCamels “there were not enough companies developing it.”
Friedman tells NoCamels that clean meat has two main advantages, namely ethical and environmental. “In order to eat meat right now, you have to raise and kill animals. That’s not something people like to think about,” says Friedman, “If you can produce the same meat without having to grow or kill animals, that’s a win-win situation.”
On the environmental side, Friedman notes the impact of growing animals, “When you raise an animal, you have to provide this animal with feed and water, which is very wasteful and it stresses the environment a lot. With clean meat, you grow the parts you like to eat and you can save resources.”
Friedman says that SuperMeat is still in the research and development stage and is working on producing a chicken meat prototype in the next year, intending to enter sales within the next two years.
In January, SuperMeat raised $3 million in seed funding. SuperMeat’s main investors are meat producer PHW Group and food tech venture capital firms Stray Dog Capital and New Crop Capital. In addition, SuperMeat has a number of private Israeli investors.
The presence of a meat producer on SuperMeat’s list of investors bodes well for the meat industry’s acceptance of SuperMeat. In fact, Friedman notes that the potential of clean meat to significantly reduce production costs make it attractive to the meat industry in particular.