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NEW YORK, March 02, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Big Idea Ventures LLC today announces the appointment of Bette Brand, former Deputy Under Secretary for USDA Rural Development and Bill Northey, former Under Secretary for USDA Farm Production and Conservation as senior advisors to the General Food Rural Partners (GFRP) fund.

Recently launched, GFRP is a $125 million target fund that will drive economic development in rural communities through the commercialization of university-developed intellectual property. North Carolina State University is the fund’s inaugural collaborator.

Brand and Northey will use their extensive experience to advise the GFRP fund managers on how best to identify the rural communities ideal for locating new businesses and assisting the Big Idea Ventures team with expanding its networks in agriculture and food innovation industries.

“I’m very glad to be a part of this advisory team,” Brand said. “My entire career has been focused on helping farmers build economically viable businesses so they can raise food to feed the world. This fund continues that path in a new and unique way.”

Brand is the president and CEO of Strategic Consulting LLC of Roanoke, Virginia. She served with USDA Rural Development for more than three years, eventually as Deputy Under Secretary where she led a team of 4,500 in 477 field offices committed to helping improve the economy and quality of life in rural America. Agencies under her oversight included Rural Housing Service, Rural Utilities Service and Rural Business-Cooperative Service. Prior to USDA, Brand was with Farm Credit of the Virginias for 16 years and various roles in other farm credit organizations since 1982.

“The GFRP fund is an example of private industry innovating to both stimulate rural economies and further develop ag-related intellectual property coming from our top schools,” said Northey. “It’s a privilege to be involved.”

Northey was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as an Under Secretary for USDA in February 2018. He led the Farm Production and Conservation Mission Area overseeing the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Risk Management Agency and the Farm Service Agency. Prior to his work at USDA, Northey served as the Iowa Secretary of Agriculture from 2007-2018. He and his family operate a fourth-generation corn and soybean farm in northwest Iowa.

“It’s an honor to have Bette and Bill as a part of our advisory team,” said Tom Mastrobuoni, chief investment officer for Big Idea Ventures. “They bring a unique national, high-level perspective that will help us activate GFRP in the most effective and impactful way, driving innovation and economic development in rural communities.”

“Big Idea Ventures is glad to bring onboard thought leaders and advisors like Bette and Bill to the GFRP fund,” said Andrew D. Ive, founder and general managing partner of Big Idea Ventures. “They know the intricacies of agriculture and rural development and will help make this effort a success for the communities, the universities and the investors in the fund.”

The GFRP fund will establish venture centers to facilitate collaboration with multiple leading U.S. universities. BIV will staff the venture centers with team members experienced in evaluating intellectual property to work with the universities to identify and evaluate new developments with the strongest commercialization potential and the fund will then invest in new companies formed around the groundbreaking research. These new companies will be headquartered in rural communities near the collaborating universities. The GFRP team expects the first of these to open in conjunction with the initial closing of capital commitments.

About Big Idea Ventures
Big Idea Ventures (BIV) is solving the world’s greatest challenges by supporting the world’s best entrepreneurs. Big Idea Ventures develops the most globally strategic funds delivering significant investor returns while addressing real world challenges. BIV is focused on alternative protein with its New Protein Fund, and innovations in the food industry to solve challenges in waste, water use, plastic use and carbon dioxide with its Generation Food Fund.

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Big Idea Ventures | Worth Sparkman,, 479-236-0674

Dan Riegler of Karana is out to prove that plant-based diets are no less enjoyable than what people are used to

“I’ve always operated on the assumption that you need to have meat to have a real meal and be satisfied,” says Dan Riegler, co-founder of Karana. But things changed following a bicycle trip in Thailand, where he spent months eating vegetarian food.

Riegler started to realise he enjoyed the food a lot more than he expected, especially since he has always had an appreciation for good food, albeit meat-centric ones. “That was the first time I had consciously made the connection that I was getting more appreciation for food without meat. The flavours – and balance of flavours – were still coming through and I started to think about what meat is contributing to this,” he says.

That period of introspection would lead to the founding of Karana, which specialises in whole-plant meat substitutes that are as healthy as possible and are environmentally more sustainable as well. Based in Singapore, Karana processes young Sri Lankan jackfruit into a meat substitute, with only a smattering of natural ingredients as additives.

“For me, it was mainly an environmental standpoint. There are two things I’ve always been very passionate about in my life. One is food, and the other thing is sustainability,” says Riegler.

Realising that his eating habits were not contributing to a sustainable food system and at the same time seeing that there was room for changes at an infrastructural level, Riegler was motivated to explore alternative proteins and more sustainable food practices.

“Very few people were really interested in talking about plant-based meats beyond two years ago, and that conversation has changed so quickly here. In the US, five years ago, hardly anyone cared, and now it’s everywhere,” says Riegler.

He noticed that people were starting to realise the connection between food, health and the environment, and he became convinced that it was a trend that was likely to stay. His previous work in finance and experience with agricultural set-ups led him to believe that producing healthy meat substitutes would be a viable business opportunity – and one that could be fulfilling on multiple levels. The next step was to find a way to provide enough products – be they raw ingredients or ready-to-cook – at an accessible enough price so people could make that switch.

Don’t underestimate jackfruit

Jackfruit is an excellent example of what Karana looks for in a food crop. It checks off crucial boxes in terms of commercial viability as well as sustainability potential. Jackfruit requires little water, fertiliser and maintenance, and yet it is a high-yield crop. It is often intercropped and offers additional benefits like support for pepper vines and shelter for vanilla pods. It also helps that the fruit has a proven track record in its use as a meat substitute. Riegler couldn’t have asked for a better candidate to kick off his company.

He explains that Karana taps onto the supply that would typically be wasted, and will not disrupt the current mechanisms of the supply chain. It’s a win-win, he adds. Farmers will have more income, and there is no need to clear natural landscapes to increase production.

Karana is working with a host of restaurants like Grain Traders, Atout, Butcher Boy, Candlenut and Open Farm Community to incorporate the jackfruit product into their dishes. I was able to try a bespoke menu at Butcher Boy, and boy, was I impressed with the results. You won’t believe that it’s meat, but my taste buds don’t care: good is good.

Riegler is bent on making a good impression on consumers. While Karana is less concerned about having a full range of products from the get-go, it has an upcoming range of jackfruit-based frozen dumplings and meat buns for the consumer market.

“We think that’s really the key: making it as accessible as possible, making it convenient, so it becomes a no-brainer. There’s no barrier to switching. If you have something that offers you the same experience and it’s going to be healthier, lower in calories, similarly priced, much better sustainability from a sourcing standpoint – our hope is that at that point, people will feel good about making a switch,” he explains. “None of this is new. It’s really about how to get people excited and how to get people to want to consume this product. It’s about having choices and making it convenient.”

But Riegler is under no illusion that he has found a silver bullet that will get people to start eating healthier and more responsibly. That comes from the power of the collective.

“There’s no one solution for this. There’s no one product that’s going to make or break this industry,” he adds, acknowledging that the ideal situation is to have as many good substitutes as possible, either as an ingredient or a finished product. It’s about variety and giving people the power to choose.

“Very few people eat the same thing, day in, day out. People want a range of flavours and experiences. Giving them the opportunity is the best chance we have.”

More than three-quarters of consumers in Singapore are open to trying cultured seafood, a recent survey finds, with the primary motivations being sustainability, curiosity in the novel protein, and health and food safety concerns. The research, originally conducted by cell-based food tech Shiok Meats for internal purposes, has been shared exclusively with Green Queen Media and Future Food Now, the Asia-Pacific alternative protein investment and consultancy platform founded by Michal Klar.

Data from a recent survey conducted in late 2020 for Singapore-based cultured crustacean maker Shiok Meats has found that a significant majority of consumers in the city – more than 78% – are willing to try cell-based seafood options after being shown a simple infographic of explaining the concept of the novel alternative protein. Of the entire cohort, of which 83% considered themselves as omnivores, 56% said that they already understood or have prior heard of cell-based seafood.

The top factors that participants cited as the reason why they would be willing to taste cultured seafood was sustainability, with 45% saying that the appeal comes from the lower environmental footprint compared to its traditional counterparts.

Other key drivers include curiosity about cell-based seafood (20%), as well as health and food safety concerns related to aquaculture (16.5%), such as the overuse of antibiotics and nutritional advantages of proteins that have been cultivated directly from cells. Ethical or animal welfare related reasons also contributed to interest in cell-based seafood, though to a lesser extent (15%) than sustainability and health.

Infographic about cell-based protein production shown to respondents of the survey. (Source: Shiok Meats)

We are very encouraged that the majority of survey respondents are interested to try cell-based seafood.

Dr. Sandhya Sriram & Dr. Ka Yi Ling, Co-Founders, Shiok Meats

The results are a part of an internal consumer research study that has been shared with Green Queen Media and Future Food Now, and represents one of the first looks into the perception and familiarity of cultivated seafood amongst Singapore’s ethnically-diverse residents. It was commissioned by Shiok Meats, the Singapore food tech behind the world’s first cultivated lobster and currently the most valuable cell-based startup in Southeast Asia, following its recent US$12.6 million Series A funding round.

“We are very encouraged that the majority of survey respondents are interested to try cell-based seafood. This is true for both groups who were familiar and unfamiliar with cell-based seafood,” commented Dr. Sandhya Sriram, CEO and Dr. Ka Yi Ling, CTO and co-founders of Shiok Meats in a joint statement issued about the research and its findings.

The online survey collected data from 850 respondents who responded to a call to answer questions via various channels including social media, and made up the gender and ethnically representative sample of Singapore consumers, though no independent third-party research was conducted to verify potential biases in the participant pool.

Shiok Meats’ cell-based lobster debuted at a tasting event in November 2020. (Source: Shiok Meats)

These mostly young, well educated, environment-focused consumers will be crucial in the early phase of commercialisation, before cell-based startups are able to close the price gap with conventional products.

Michal Klar, Founder, Future Food Now

Notably, the survey also examined the potential “early adopters” of cell-based seafood who would be willing to pay premiums and were very or extremely likely to regularly purchase the product. Among those identified are mainly younger respondents between 18-39 years old who were more likely to be ethnically Indian or Caucasian. Those who declared themselves as vegans were the most likely of all diet groups to become “early adopters”.

One self-identified vegan who participated in the survey, said that as someone who chooses to follow a plant-based diet for ethical reasons but “simply cannot find any clean, unprocessed vegan seafood alternative[s]”, they would “definitely support and try cell-based seafood as I was previously a pescatarian and miss seafood very much.”

Another respondent noted that due to their commitment to sustainability, they would be willing to pay “10-20% higher” prices over existing conventional seafood options and would “encourage family and friends to choose cell-based seafood” once made available.

Klar believes that these results are encouraging, particularly in identifying the key demographics that will be critical to kickstart the wider adoption of cultivated proteins, as more startups gear up their go-to-market plans in the coming months and years.

“Importantly, the research identified a small group of early adopters (~2% of the population) that are willing to pay over 50% price premium. These mostly young, well educated, environment-focused consumers will be crucial in the early phase of commercialisation, before cell-based startups are able to close the price gap with conventional products,” Klar told Green Queen Media.

Co-founders of Shiok Meats Dr. Ka Yi Ling (L) and Dr. Sandhya Sriram (R) (Source: Shiok Meats)

While the general population might be less willing to pay premiums for the cell-based version, nearly half (48%) did state that they would be likely to purchase cultured seafood provided it be available at price parity, indicating that reaching a cost at par with conventional products would be a significant motivator for mass consumers to make the switch.

Other obstacles to the adoption of cell-based seafood include the lack of familiarity or understanding about the product itself, suggesting the important need for the alternative protein industry to promote public awareness about its benefits. Around 40% of respondents, for instance, cited “unfamiliarity of novel foods” as the main reason why they would be deterred from trying cell-based seafood, while cost (10%), taste (7.7%) and freshness (6.5%) trailed behind as other concerns.

“Some have also left remarks about the unnaturalness of cell-based seafood, fear for lab-based food, concerns of safety and health risks, ethical reasons, the lack of personal benefits and fear for loss of livelihood for farmers,” the researchers wrote.

For Shiok Meats’ co-founders, these insights lend further credence to the “need for consumer education and transparent communication.”

Alternative protein is taking off all over the world, with consumer demand reaching all-time highs and investor enthusiasm in the food tech space greater than ever before. The Arabian Gulf region is no exception to this trend, where the ecosystem is heating up big-time, with young startups racing to develop novel sustainable proteins, venture capitalists jumping in to back innovations, and governments launching pro-alt protein initiatives in a bid to boost food security. With so much going on, here’s a rundown of the exciting things happening across the region.

Young consumers & rising health concerns are driving up demand

With the average age across the states in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) being just 27 years and over 20% of the total population currently under the age of 15, millennials and Gen Zs are an influential demographic driving consumer trends. Like the rest of the world, younger generations are increasingly conscious of their spending – from whether their clothes are ethically made to the footprint of their plates – and they’re now buying up alternative proteins more than ever before as new products continue to launch on the market. There’s even a Dubai-based Meatless Sundays movement, (in the same vein as Green Monday but adapted to a Middle East audience where the week starts on Sunday.

Younger consumers are driving the alt protein trend (Source: Beyond Meat)

Plus, with the coronavirus pandemic refocusing our attention on health and wellness, eating better and more nutritious foods has become top of mind. Like the rest of the world, rising health concerns and the growing pool of data showcasing the correlation between plant-based diets and lowered risks in terms of heart disease, obesity, diabetes and death from all diseases, is pushing shoppers to pick up meatless alternatives.

Authorities in the region are also concerned about food security, and like many other states, perhaps most notably Singapore, GCC governments are looking to bolster supply chain resilience in the wake of the coronavirus-related disruptions over the past year, with many initiatives in the UAE, Oman and Saudi Arabia underlining alternative protein development as key to their goals.

Bolst Global founder & CEO Victoria Boldison, who works extensively across the Middle East and has supported several plant-based brands to successfully enter most of the Gulf territories over recent years, told Green Queen there is a growing demand in alternative proteins that is becoming more mainstream in both retail and food service channels in the region: “The Gulf territory has a reputation for being a large consumer of meat products and whilst there is still a long way to go to see some of the shift in plant based attitude and consumption, changes are happening across the region. The next five years will see consumers making more conscious decisions when it comes to their protein intake. Plant-based diets and products are widely available in other global regions, but there is a huge opportunity for exporters specialised in this area since there is currently no market leader.”

Boldison also underlines that the sector’s outlook is strong: “It is anticipated that 15-20% of meat consumption in the UAE for example will be plant-based by 2025, with a 4-5% CAGR. Opportunities for producers of meat substitutes also present themselves in the foodservice industry. For example, sales of meat-free burgers in Dubai food outlets increased from 35% to 50% in January 2020 alone and this year’s Veganuary campaign in upmarket retailers such as Spinneys was an overwhelming success amongst its alternative protein listed suppliers. With the growing concerns and the willingness of consumers to adapt a healthier lifestyle, categories such as organic, free-from, and fortified/functional are also likely to experience positive growth across the region.”

Alt protein ecosystem support: VCs and advocacy players fostering innovation

Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal, founder & CEO of KBW Ventures (Source: KBW Ventures)

There are a number of players supporting innovation in the alternative protein space, starting off with several venture capitalists backing the most promising entrepreneurs and ventures. Perhaps most notably, Saudi royal Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed bin Talal, the founder and CEO of KBW Ventures, has supported some of the leading food techs in the world, including Beyond Meat, Memphis MeatsTurtleTree Labs and BlueNalu, though regional investment in local talent appears to still be lacking.

Then there’s key influencers like Egyptian celebrity comedian, television host, political satirist and vegan advocate Bassem Youssef, who started the Plant B bilingual educational series on YouTube to promote plant-based eating with his following, and Egyptian-born Canadian actor Mena Massoud, who famously starred in the Disney’s 2019 film Aladdin, who has since published plant-based cookbook Evolving Vegan.

Bassem Youssef on his show Plant B (Source: Plant B)

Bloggers with a following have also influenced and grown awareness of alternative proteins amongst the public in the GCC. Take Egyptian Nada Elbarshoumi, who is based in Abu Dhabi and started the region’s first-ever vegan food and lifestyle blog One Arab Vegan, or Saudi vegan chef Almaha AlDossari, who has been credited with pioneering plant-based cuisine in Saudi Arabia.

Food techs and brands across the GCC to watch

Plant-based meat has risen in popularity over the recent years, with foreign brands such as Impossible Foods having launched in the United Arab Emirates since 2015, and the country’s capital Dubai now seeing its Burger King chains roll out plant-based Whoppers made by Unilever-owned The Vegetarian Butcher. Other brands such as Violife, Brooklyn Creamery, Alpro and Daiya have all also entered the market lately.

Plant-Based Whoppers recently rolled out in the U.A.E. (Source: Burger King Arabia)

But local startups are rising there too, like Dubai’s Arlene who launched its plant-based ready meals aimed at flexitariansHealthy Farm, a frozen food brand and subsidiary of the Albatha Group, whose range includes frozen plant-based burgers, meatballs, kebabs and chunks; and of course, Veganity, who famously opened the biggest vegan restaurant in the world in the capital back in 2019. In January this year, one of the biggest Arabic brands, Al Islami Foods, launched the U.A.E.’s first Halal plant-based burger, joining the rising cohort of domestic producers poised to drive growth in the local plant-based industry.

Al Islami Foods recently launched a plant-based burger (Source: Al Islami Foods)

Over in Kuwait, there’s Nabati Burger, a new brand serving the domestic market and other GCC countries with made-in-Kuwait plant-based organic vegan patties, that just began rolling out in 2021. Though still nascent, the Kuwaiti plant-based movement has been slowly building up over the years, partially thanks to civil society and nonprofit efforts to raise public awareness like the Kuwait Vegan Society, which was launched in 2014 by children’s rights activist Dr. Abeer Al-Sharhan.

Arlene makes plant-based ready meals targeted at flexitarians (Source: Arlene)

Other homegrown businesses in the alternative protein space include plant-based baking brands like Treat Me Gluten Free, a U.A.E. subscription service offering customers vegan, organic and clean-label baking mixes made from natural ingredients like coconut sugar, oats, maple syrup, tapioca flour, and Raw Candy Shop, a store in Bahrain offering vegan, refined sugar-free and dairy-free bakery with breads, chocolates, desserts, sweets and more.

With thanks to Dr. Dalal Alghawas who provided some of the research & data for this article.

By Avery Parkinson


According to the Human Rights Watch, 50.8% of First Nations Peoples living on reserves and 28.2% of Indigenous Peoples off reserve are food insecure in comparison to 11.1% of white families experiencing the same issue. The higher rates of food insecurity experienced by Indigenous families in general can be attributed to the fact that existing options are too expensive. 

Purchasing power on reserves is often too low to buy healthy food at an accessible price. For instance, in a study done by Food Secure Canada, in order to purchase the Revised Northern Food Basket (a list of all the basic food essentials in northern communities) for a family of four for the duration of a month, it would take 19% of the median income in Timmins, Ontario. In comparison, it would take 36% or 56% of the median income in Moosonee and Fort Albany, respectively – both of which are reserves. 

This pattern holds steady for many northern reserves, and is only emphasized due to the relative purchasing power people on those reserves have – i.e. income relative to expenses. As described in Invisible North by Alexandra Shimo, “If it were a country, Kashechewan’s income would be ranked at 104th in the world, below Iran (70th), Namibia (101st), and Sri Lanka (103rd). But these statistics do not give a true indication of Kashechewan’s poverty. In Iran, Namibia, and Sri Lanka, the salaries are low, but so too are the prices. In Kashechewan, the wages are low, but the costs are four times as high as in the rest of the country.” 

Photo 1. LaLoche Reserve, Saskatchewan, Canada Credit: Macleans

Such a significant disparity is the result of two main factors. First, the costs required to transport fresh produce to reserves are higher than they are to cities as the reserves are farther away from farms. In the cases where reserves are not accessible by road all year round, they must be contacted by plane or boat. According to Michael McMullen who is the vice president for the North West Company Grocer, “It costs typically one cent a pound to send stock to Winnipeg, and 30 cents a pound to send something to Iqaluit by sea, but it costs $1.27/lb to air freight stock to Arviat in southern Nunavut, and $3.65/lb to fly something to Clyde River in northern Nunavut”. Such an increase is compounded by the fact that on many reserves, one grocery store can have a monopoly on the market enabling them to charge higher than average costs without the pressure of competition. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, the Northwest Grocery Store has no competition in at least 70% of northern communities. As explained by CBC Manitoba, “The North West Company, through its NorthMart and Northern Stores, has developed almost complete control over every aspect of the lives of some First Nations people, their communities and their local governments.  A Northern Store can serve as the community’s grocery store, gas bar, post office, pharmacy, motor vehicle dealership, electronics and furniture retail sales outlet, supplier of doctors (Amdoc), tax preparer and even the bank, as it does in God’s Lake Narrows”.

Photo 2. Northern Store in Bearskin Lake. Credit: NetNewsLedger

However, simply explaining food insecurity as the result of remote locations and grocery store monopolies fails to capture the deeply rooted historical factors as to why such inequities have emerged. The reason many First Nations communities have come to be dependent on southern systems of food production is because their own traditional methods have been inhibited by colonization. 

Environmentally, the harsh weather conditions characteristic of northern communities make it difficult to cultivate anything other than naturalized vegetation for an extended growing season. However, endemic game and plants have often been the subject of commercial exploitation which render them scarce today. As a result of this, various levels of government have periodically instituted bans and moratoriums on certain species (cod, salmon, and seals to name a few) which completely restrict access for the Indigenous communities to farm these food sources. 

Perhaps even more significant than this is the loss of traditional knowledge. As Cherokee scholar Jeff Corntasel writes: “sustainability is intrinsically linked to the transmission of traditional knowledge and cultural practices to future generations. Without the ability of community members to continuously renew their relationships with the natural world (i.e., gathering medicines, hunting and fishing, basket-making, etc.), indigenous languages, traditional teachings, family structures, and livelihoods of that community are all jeopardized”. The residential school system which took place from the mid 1880s until the late 20th century attempted to eradicate such culture by assimilating children into Euro-canadian society thereby preventing them from inheriting and passing on that knowledge. Stories of children experiencing sexual, physical and emotional abuse, living and unsanitary conditions, being forced to participate in western tradition and being denied their own traditions are common amongst survivors. Due to the magnitude of the generations traumatized by this system, traditional knowledge is not as widespread as it once was, a fact which is only expedited as community Elders continue to pass. As written in Canadian Food Studies: “With the passing of each elder, the unique food history, personal stories and Indigenous food knowledge also disappears.” And so, as resources diminish, so too does the opportunity to share traditional knowledge wane. This positive feedback loop increases the vulnerability of Indigenous communities, exposing them to reliance on southern providers.

Photo 3. Dancer at the Calgary Stampede Credit: Canadian Geographic

In order to improve food security amongst Indigenous communities, we must mitigate its main inhibitors – namely, the inadequate purchasing power constituted by disproportionate food prices as a result of lengthy transportation routes and grocer monopolies, unfavourable environmental conditions and a loss of traditional knowledge. While there have been proposals to decrease the costs associated with transport, provide subsidies to Indigenous consumers or increase salaries, such approaches do not fully resolve the cultural component of the problem and so are not sustainable in the long term.

Rather, we must pay specific attention to increasing the transmission of traditional knowledge as such teachings have permitted Indigenous Peoples to live in harmony with the land since time immemorial. This ranges from growing and hunting practices to an intrinsic understanding and respect for the land. This set of knowledge also responds to otherwise unfavourable environmental conditions in a sustainable way, which is mostly unlike western cultivation practises. By being able to produce food using traditional pathways, communities can decrease their dependence on southern producers and increase their options. Such a concept of restoring the control of food systems to Indigenous communities is termed Food Sovereignty. This approach has additional benefits as food and participation in its cultivation is often regarded in Indigenous communities as healing – “food is medicine for the body, mind and soul”. And like many healing practices, it not only has potential to reinforce Indigenous food systems, but if done correctly, can help improve global food systems as well.

To learn more about Indigenous Food Sovereignty, visit: 

The province’s second Manitoba Protein Summit kicked off today, a virtual gathering of key agricultural, food-processing and academic stakeholders engaged in accelerating the province’s economic position through plant and animal protein industry development, Agriculture and Resource Development Minister Blaine Pedersen announced today.

“We have made great progress on our protein strategy in the last 18 months, to position Manitoba to lead Canada in sustainable protein industry growth that benefits our producers, processors and our economy,” said Pedersen. “By having leaders in the industry gather here at the Manitoba Protein Summit it allows us to continue looking forward and exploring next steps to keep our momentum going.”

The three-day virtual event is bringing together some of the top global experts in sustainable protein and innovation in the field. Keynote speakers include:
• Alison Cairns, United Nations – how to meet the increased demand for food in a sustainable manner;
• Jo-Ann McArthur, Nourish Food Marketing – market and consumer insights for protein; and
• Abby Lyall, Big Idea Ventures – attracting investment in protein and innovation technologies.

Other organizations including Wageningen University and Research, the Good Food Institute, EY Parthenon, HyLife Foods, Roquette Canada, University of Manitoba, Maple Leaf Foods, Viresco Solutions and Cargill Protein will also be participating in panel discussions.

In the past 18 months, Manitoba has attracted investments of over $680 million in the protein industry and has created almost 600 new employment opportunities. Investments have been made in novel, innovative protein products ranging from protein isolates and flours from peas, fava beans and other pulse crops and canola and oats, as well as blended plant and animal protein products, pork and arctic char products.

“The growing demand for protein puts Manitoba in a strong position to not only process the raw commodity, but also incorporate the manufactured ingredients in further value-added consumer products,” said Pedersen. “Manitoba is more than our strong crop and livestock industries – we are home to cutting-edge food processing and world-class research infrastructure in the agri-food space.”

To learn more about Manitoba’s work in protein innovation, visit:

New York and Singapore-based venture capital firm, Big Idea Ventures recently launched a fund to strengthen rural economies across the U.S. through alternative protein innovation and other agricultural technologies.

Founded in 2018, Big Idea Ventures (BIV), a venture capital company that invests in early-stage alternative protein innovation has launched the Generation Food Rural Partners (GFRP) fund and has chosen the North Carolina State University as its first collaborator.

The fund is a US$125 million target fund that aims to boost the economic development of rural communities through protein innovation, commercialization of food and agricultural technologies, and university intellectual property.

In a press release seen by Green Queen, Andrew D. Ive, founder and managing general partner of BIV, said that the fund aims to repair the broken global food chain. “Big Idea Ventures was founded to solve the world’s greatest challenges by backing the world’s best entrepreneurs. This new fund will widen our scope to capture breakthrough technologies from world-class universities that will impact the global food supply chain. The goal is to drive job creation and entrepreneurship in rural communities hungry for economic development and have them continue to be the centers of food innovation and production for generations to come.”

With plans to establish five centers initially, the GFRP fund will look to collaborate with several U.S. universities. The company staff will work with universities to pick out those developments that have high commercialization potential and then invest in those companies that are created around the research.

The goal is to drive job creation and entrepreneurship in rural communities hungry for economic development and have them continue to be the centers of food innovation and production for generations to come

Andrew D. Ive, founder and managing general partner of Big Idea Ventures

The new companies will be physically based in rural communities near the universities, with the GFRP team hoping that the first of these new companies will be established in North Carolina.

Tom Mastrobuoni, chief investment officer for Big Idea Ventures explained that they chose North Carolina as its first collaborator due to its research in the plant-based sector. “We are excited to launch Generation Food Rural Partners with NC State as our first university collaborator. We chose NC State because of its forward-looking investments in plant science and plant-based food innovation and its historical excellence in plant breeding and agricultural research. We want to help universities like NC State benefit from the formation of these new businesses while demonstrating the commercial value of university research. We believe GFRP will drive more scientists to pursue additional research and encourage other entrepreneurs to establish their companies near our venture centers in rural America.”

The state is recognised as a top research spot in the country: along with researchers in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences awarded with US$96.5 million in grants last year, it has crossed US$130 million in research expenditures in more than 600 active research programs.

Richard Linton, Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Richard Linton added that North Carolina has the third most diverse agricultural economy and the most entrepreneurial farmers and agribusinesses in the nation. “With their investment in NC State research and programs such as the N.C. Plant Sciences Initiative and the North Carolina Food Innovation Lab, we believe we have a complete innovation ecosystem to attract and support the best researchers and food entrepreneurs in the world.”

We chose NC State because of its forward-looking investments in plant science and plant-based food innovation and its historical excellence in plant breeding and agricultural research. We believe GFRP will drive more scientists to pursue additional research and encourage other entrepreneurs to establish their companies near our venture centers in rural America.

Tom Mastrobuoni, chief investment officer for Big Idea Ventures

Senator Brent Jackson, N.C. Senate highlight that venture support is critical to the further development of rural businesses and infrastructure. “Bringing food manufacturing companies directly to the source of the agricultural products they need will be a game-changer for our farmers, our rural communities, and the entrepreneurs who take advantage of this opportunity.”

With only 20% of the state’s agricultural GDP coming from food manufacturing, expanding the state’s food manufacturing capacity in rural communities will be essential for the North Carolina General Assembly.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, at the moment, the market base for alternative protein is approximately US$2.2 billion compared with a global meat market of approximately US$1.7 trillion.

In October of last year, BIV collaborated with Ashika Group, one of India’s leading retail financial services companies to establish a new investment fund and accelerator program that will support India’s alternative protein industry.

BIV currently manages a US$50 million international fund and two accelerators across New York and Singapore, with previous investments in over 20 companies such as India’s Evo Foods, a Mumbai-based food tech.

Big Idea Ventures is a venture capital fund with startup accelerators in New York and Singapore, investing in and accelerating top performers in the new food space.

“We aim to support the world’s best entrepreneurs,” explains Ive.

“We’re building an ecosystem of the most innovative companies, corporate partners, great experts and business mentors throughout the value chain. We think that the future of food technologies will only be successful by bringing together the right ecosystem of innovators, partners and thought leaders”.

Tapping opportunities in SE Asia

Big Idea Ventures works in all regions, with a key focus on investing in alternative protein and breakthrough food innovation. While Southeast Asia is at an earlier stage of innovation than other regions, it is catching up fast, and thus offers exciting market entry opportunities. Between 2012 and 2016, new vegetarian and vegan product launches increased by 140% and 440% respectively in Southeast Asia alone.

“Plant-based meats is a promising category as people look to cut down their meat consumption and have great tasting, well priced, healthier plant-based versions of the product they’ve grown up loving,” says Ive. “There is increased demand for vegetarian and vegan products, and we believe that plant-based chicken and duck may be a significant opportunity”.

One of the companies in BIV’s portfolio, Karana, recently launched Asia’s first indulgent whole-plant-based meat brand with its first product — ‘pork’ made from young jackfruit. Another company, Gaia Foods, is Southeast Asia’s first biotech company focused on producing cell culture-based red meats that are widely consumed in Asia.

Another portfolio company, Worth The Health (WTH) Foods, has created plant-based Filipino-inspired favourites using local and sustainable ingredients. Meanwhile, China-based Zhenmeat is targeting Chinese consumers by creating meatballs for hotpot and traditional ‘meat’ mooncakes. Innovative companies are also using fermentation technologies to produce novel ingredients, including protein, fats, gelatin, etc.

Southeast Asia is also now at the forefront when it comes to regulatory approval for cell-based meat, with Eat Just receiving approval to commercialise its cultured chicken bites in Singapore.

“The Singapore government in particular is committed to developing the alternative protein ecosystem,”  says Ive.

The country recently launched its 30-by-30 initiative, which aims to produce 30% of its nutritional needs locally by 2030. This will help the local food ecosystem, reduce food miles, and help Singapore to protect itself against external supply chain disruptions.

Supporting inspired ideas

Ive and his team look for entrepreneurs and startups that are not only tapping into these trends, but also for ones that are passionate about bringing big ideas that will help to solve significant challenges.

“While unique IP is important, the other side of the equation is just as critical — a strong and passionate team who will not quit until they deliver their big idea to the world,”  says Ive.

As with any market, understanding the consumer profile is key, and Southeast Asia is no different. A startup looking to succeed has to understand who exactly they are serving, what appeals to these consumers, and how to get the product to them.

“Startups may encounter regulatory hurdles, especially for products that contain novel ingredients,” says Ive. “These startups need to work closely with the local government agencies to seek guidance on the regulatory requirements”.

Finally, a food tech startup should always start with the consumer as their focus.

“Bring a great tasting product that consumers love to market, at a price that is attractive, then you will be successful,” says Ive. “Companies should try to bring something new to their market, an aspect which gives their consumers a better product than previously available while delivering the tastes and flavours they’ve grown up loving in a more sustainable way”.

Lorem ipsum | Vietnam |

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