Imagine an exam period and the energy snack on your desk is made of insects. While this might sound surreal to some, it is a perfectly realistic scenario for Dr. Christopher Zeppenfeld, CEO of SWARM Protein. In a guest lecture on the 18th of January as part of the Sustainability Lab of the IHK – Chair of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises, Zeppenfeld described the idea and business model of his crowdfunded start-up.
"In about 30 years to come, nearly 10 billion human beings will live on earth. To supply all these people, meat production would have to double. The consequences for the environment would be massive. Hence, we need alternatives to feed everyone and including insects in our diets is a healthy and sustainable solution. Insects consume only a fraction of feed, land and water and produce hardly any greenhouse gases compared to classical protein sources such as meat or whey.”
SWARM Protein took up work in 2015 and has set out to produce protein bars made of insect-powder, nuts and dried fruit. Zeppenfeld elaborated on opportunities and challenges associated with starting a business in the German food industry that involves unconventional ingredients. He described inhibitions concerns and reservation on the side of the customers as one challenge. While many customers show initial reservation with regard to the idea to eat insects, the reactions following tastings are mostly very positive. “Of course, sometimes imaginations run wild when people hear that our bars consist of insects. But many are also curious and just want to try insects. Many are positively surprised that our bar simply tastes delicious.”, Zeppenfeld explained.
Another hurdle that the team of SWARM Protein still struggles with is bureaucracy. Zeppenfeld stated: “If you ever want to start a business in the food industry – be aware that it is not so easy to establish new types of food in Germany. It means a lot of bureaucratic effort. But since insects are very novel to the market, we took the chance to actively engage with public administrations to shape bureaucratic guidelines. Now the way is paved, and we advance with more ideas and more products!”
A different approach towards more sustainable food production was presented during the guest lecture of Mark Post, Professor of Vascular Physiology of Maastricht University on the 23rd of January. Back in 1931, Winston Churchill’s stated: “Fifty years hence […] [w]e shall escape the absurdity of growing a whole chicken in order to eat the breast or wing by growing these parts separately under a suitable medium. Synthetic food will, of course, also be used in the future. Nor need the pleasures of the table be banished.”
Almost a century later, a team of scientists led by Post, has turned Churchill’s vision into a reality in the shape of in vitro meat. In his guest lecture, Post presented the work of his team and the start-up Mosa Meat that he is leading as Chief Scientific Officer.
“Cultured meat is a lab-grown product that is 100% natural beef, just grown outside the cow. No unnatural chemicals added. It is intended as step towards a solution to some pressing problems in global food production and might help us to tackle global problems such as hunger crises and global warming in the coming years.”, Post explained.
“So far, we still run a very costly business. Our first publicly presented lab-burger came at a price of 250,000€. This is still very novel science, but high costs today are a small price to pay for the potential future benefits of Cultured Beef to all of mankind. In the long run Cultured Beef could be cheaper than conventionally farmed beef, and certainly better for the environment.”
Today, Mosa Meat is not the only company around the world that seeks to advance the science of Churchill’s synthetic food. Poultry and pork are being grown around the world, and other companies have started working on in-vitro meat products, too. The science of it is slowly transitioning into a business, with investors and start-ups in the food industry getting ready to join in the attempt to revolutionize the future of nutrition.