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Do we really need green food startups?

To simply put, yes. But let’s look into why does our world really need those green startups.

One might think that food startups work with the same ingredients: a dose of entrepreneurship, a punch of innovation and, at best, a pinch of idealism. But even with the green food startups, it pays to question meaning and nonsense.

They want to “rethink chocolate” or create food for the “buck-on-good-but-not-cooking-want-to-be” moments. And they make it a rebellious act to sell breakfast cereals for children with less sugar – representatives of the German food startup scene like to outdo their declared missions.

Also at the Biofach 2019, fourteen newer or more established food startups have presented themselves. They often attract not only with colorful and (mostly) healthy organic products, but also with the promise that by consuming them we would make the world better and more sustainable.

But is that always true? We took a closer look at the companies represented at the biomass fair.

Of course, many evaluation criteria are in a gray area or argue about subtleties. For example, an energy drink with ingredients from organic farming is better than Red Bull with ingredients from conventional agriculture. But just a little, and above all, the question arises: Do we need such products at all? How useful are always new packaged ready meals in organic quality, where it would be the most sustainable and healthiest way to cook directly fresh?

It honors the food startups that they want to do better. This contribution should not divide them into good and evil, but certainly give food for thought.

Organic smoothies to the point and hundreds of vegan spreads: In some areas, the food startup scene seems to be quite oversaturated. But many a young company still manages to open a gap in the market.

For example, Koawach: People who do not like coffee, but would still like to have a wake-up, so get a tasty solution – caffeine cocoa with guarana. The ingredients for the drinking chocolate come from fair farmers cooperatives in Latin America and are mainly bought directly from the cultivation partners.

With additional premiums for the producers is invested in development projects, medical care, education and environmental protection. Downer: The raw materials from Brazil, Peru, Indonesia and Co. always have a poor life cycle assessment due to the long transport routes – despite organic and fair trade.

When it comes to packaging, Koawach struggles. The food startup has developed new packaging that saves material and thus waste compared to the previous 40 percent. But according to the company, there is currently no way to package the cocoa powder in biodegradable materials.

The pre-mixed chocolate drinks are packaged in a composite board that consists of 60 percent renewable resources (such as FSC-certified wood), but with a plastic coating and a thin aluminum intermediate layer. After all, according to the Federal Environment Agency, these so-called CartoCans have a better eco-balance than aluminum cans.

Another food startup that comes up with a fresh idea is called Nuri, an abbreviation for “Nutrient Rich” (rich in nutrients). It sells portionable, frozen baby porridge in small ice cubes. This food from a few shock-frozen ingredients should taste like home-cooked and offers a healthy alternative to baby porridge in a glass – which according to the manufacturers contains less vitamins and fiber.

Not only the ingredients read well, but also the packaging: the porridge is delivered in a box, the dry ice bag can either be reused or returned to Nuri for this purpose.

But this raises the question: Can you buy instead of “pure carrot” or “pumpkin puree” not just the respective vegetables quickly and puree? Baby pulp recipes are finally enough. And do not varieties like avocado-broccoli-potato-millet or carrot-sweet-potato-salmon work like marketing products?

To balance the bad conscience when biting into a chocolate bar because you are doing something good with it: This idea is not new. But when food startups pair their products with the financing of a meaningful initiative, that’s basically welcome.

There is a simple but effective concept of this kind at Lycka: The company has been working with Welthungerhilfe since its foundation in 2014 and has its own social project in Burundi, Africa. A fixed cent amount of each product sold goes there and allows a child a school meal. More than 1.5 million (as of March 2019) meals have since met. For example, Lycka sells fair trade coldbrew coffee in a glass bottle, vegan and lactose-free ice cream and “mini power bars”, which unfortunately are packed in thin plastic – according to the startup due to a lack of alternative solutions.

The Food Startup Stark has teamed up with Lycka – both belong to the purefood GmbH. Stark is also socially engaged in cooperation with Welthungerhilfe and is coordinating the initiative with its own products: protein-rich muesli, porridge and ice cream for sports nutrition (or “enjoyment after training”). At Stark, money from every product sold goes to a football school in the Central African Republic, where children and adolescents abused or criminalized as child soldiers are given a chance to learn fair play and team spirit.

The nu company is linking its range of products to another campaign: In collaboration with the reforestation network Eden Projects, the Food Startup has planted a tree in Madagascar, Nepal or Haiti for every product sold, with more than 350,000 in the meantime. The company is committed to developing new chocolate products with “nucao” that are healthier and at the same time good for the environment.

Thus, the bars are lower in sugar and nutritious, the packaging consists of home-compostable cellulose film and recyclable, FSC-certified cardboard. Even the purely vegetable “nupro” protein shakes are packaged in this innovative way and thus completely plastic-free. In view of this exemplary commitment, there is only one minus point: The fair trade organic ingredients have in part a long journey behind them – and a corresponding life cycle assessment.

The fact that we do not do our body any good, when we fill it with energy drinks and alcohol or feed it with snacks, finished products and sugary cornflakes, should be clear to most. But some food startups want to do us least less harm to us and the environment when consuming these things – with more or less great success.

For example, under the motto “naturally awake”, Acáo offers energy drinks that contain caffeine from guarana extract and contain fewer calories and sugars than conventional products. Unfortunately, the watchmakers come in the usual aluminum cans in the trade and catapulted for environmentally conscious consumers in the end.

For a while, the original “quince-lemon” variety was also available for the organic retail trade and catering in the reusable glass bottle. “We have to say that the design of the bottle and the response unfortunately did not turn out as expected,” the company said on demand. One was aware of the topic of sustainability and reusable, but currently find no suitable solution that satisfies the customers.

The Food Startup Elbler exclusively processes organic apples from Germany into juice spritzers and alcoholic: wintry “glow apple” and natural “craft cider” with no added sugar. With partner farms from the Old Country, the production lines are kept as short as possible. The cider is thus definitely a more sustainable alternative to imported products – but you should still enjoy it in moderation.

Heimatgut snacks are less committed to regionalism: “In our early days, marked by our regional savoy cabbage products, our mission of ‘home’ today is to give everything every day, the snack landscape in your home country a little better, “it says on the website of the startup. In plain language that means: Even things like cocoa chips and quinoa flips come in the (plastic) bag. The savory and sweet vegan snacks contain at least no flavor enhancers or colorings and less sugar than many comparable products.

Ms. Ultra Frisch swims on the trend wave of natural ready meals. Breakfast rolls, lunches or soups without additives should be a fast and healthy option for cooking and stress-relieving. Here come out creations such as “soy bolognese with hibiscus flower” or “chilli sin carne with cocoa”. Anyone who thinks that they have to resort to convenience food now and then, certainly has some variety on the plate. However, the fact that the plastic “Doypacks” are a relatively environmentally friendly packaging – as claimed on the website – is only partially true: Although they produce less energy and CO2 emissions than plastic or glass containers, the fossil resources required for this are limited.

The breakfast cereals for children of the brand Rebelicious do not need any sweet animals to taste – instead evil evil-looking monkeys and birds decorate the packaging. For this food startup, cornflakes & Co. made from wholegrain flour, without additives and with about 40 percent less sugar than comparable products, are just like a revolution. This may be a little over the top (and not the only way to give kids a healthier breakfast) – but it may set an impulse that rubs off on other companies as well.

Sometimes the boundaries between meaning and nonsense are fluid. The Food Startup Purya! specializes in vegan, protein-rich products. The ingredients are sourced directly from the farmers and come from more sustainable and “insofar as possible, regional agriculture”. For trendy, exotic ingredients such as baobab fruit powder and chia seeds, it is logically not possible. Why take such ingredients when the company also offers regional superfoods such as barley grass, stinging nettle or linseed?

In the light of some food startups, people think: Fruit is healthy – but does it have to be pressed into ever new forms that require a lot of resources for their production and packaging? Naughty friends wants to make fruit and vegetable muffle children, for example, pureed purées in the plastic bag Quetschie tasty: the usual nonsense in bags – only in bio. After all, most of the packaging of the crunchies is made of bio-plastic and the company strives to recycle it. In the case of LCA and waste generation, the fruit pulp is certainly trumped by fresh, regional fruit. And whether the freeze-dried “fruit chips” of this brand with over 50 grams of sugar per 100 grams are “almost as good as fresh fruit,” is also an open question.

The fruit hearts of Foodloose are true sugar bombs: The apple / mango variety comes to 72 grams per 100 grams – “ideal as a snack at school, in college or at work,” as promised, they are certainly not. However, it has to be said fairly that they are only compared to other sweets and not suggested as a fruit alternative – in general, this food startup is only about “healthier snacks”. In the packaging Foodloose has deliberately decided against bioplastics and stretched polypropylene films, as explained in detail on the website – a better solution than this relatively good recyclable plastic one unfortunately not yet found.

To reinvent the wheel of products like tea seems difficult at first. At least the Food Startup Teatox makes an effort by cutting the contents of its pyramid tea bags too large – according to the manufacturer, such a rough cut is conducive to the taste and can only be found with loose tea. But what speaks against accessing loose tea directly (and thus avoiding garbage) if you want to have that quality?

Our conclusion: Making a general subdivision into “super” and “stupid” is difficult in this area. For a food startup may be exemplary in terms of ingredients – fairly traded and regional – but not yet have the best packaging solution. Others, in turn, show outstanding social commitment by supporting meaningful projects, but may offer only unhealthy products such as ice cream and sweets – which does not make the fig coconut sugar sugar much better than industrial sugar.

In any case, food startups are providing a more colorful assortment in our supermarkets – and are helping to find and promote more sustainable solutions to aspects of food production.


Also published on Medium.

Published inStartupsTechnology

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