Americans consume more meat than they used to. They drink less milk, but eat much more cheese. Grain products, like cereals and baked goods, have skyrocketed in popularity. And while the average American eats about 2% more fruits today than in the early ’70s, they also consume 2% fewer vegetables.
That’s according to a recent Pew Research report, which looked at how the average American diet has changed from 1970 to today.
The typical American meal will probably continue to change. And a growing number of food-tech startups are trying to be a part of whatever comes next.
They’re coming up with new ways to produce meat, dairy, and veggies — from growing vegetables in warehouses under LEDs to engineering meat in labs. Most are focused on the consumption of less meat and more plants, and away from traditional modes of agriculture.
Here are some of the companies leading the transformation of the food industry:
Memphis Meats — Lab-grown chicken, duck, and meatballs
The company, which has raised $3.05 million, produces the meat by cultivating animal muscle tissue in a sterile environment. The team hopes to reduce production costs over the next few years, and begin offering its products to the public in 2021.
Memphis Meats claims it can make beef and poultry much more efficiently than traditional farms (by doing it indoors without killing animals). However, as Business Insider’s Ariel Schwartz previously reported, lab-grown meat still requires fetal serum, which comes from unborn calves and chicks, to start the cultivation process. Memphis Meats told The Wall Street Journal in 2016 that it expects to replace the serum with something plant-based soon.
Apeel Sciences — Fruit and vegetables that last longer
A Santa Barbara-based startup called Apeel Sciences says it has invented edible coatings that can extend a fruit or vegetable’s shelf life by as much as five times. That means, if you spray it on a ripe strawberry that’s starting to wither it will last about a week longer than normal.
Made of leftover plant skins and stems, the coatings act as barriers that slow down the decay process. You can apply it to produce anytime during its lifespan. Apeel could even make a bunch of bananas grown at the same time each ripen on different days.
Six farms in Southern California, Kenya, and Nigeria are using Apeel’s products, CEO James Rogers previously told Business Insider.
The US Food and Drug Administration has approved Apeel’s first products, Edipeel and Invisipeel, as “generally recognized as safe,” meaning they’re fine to eat and sell.
AeroFarms: Greens grown indoors
The vertical farming startup AeroFarms works inside a 69,000-square-foot warehouse in Newark, New Jersey.
The company, which has raised $95.8 million since its 2004 launch, grows greens on trays stacked 30 feet from the floor to the ceiling. Instead of natural sunlight and soil, the crops rely on LEDs and nutrient-dense water.
To get to mass production, workers are using data to monitor and learn about the plants. AeroFarms’ growing trays collect 30,000 data points on things like temperature, humidity, CO2, and oxygen levels. AeroFarms’ data scientists then mine the data to predict how future crops will grow.
Critics of vertical farming worry about how much energy the technique wastes, since LEDs need to shine 24-7 to produce a high volume of plants. And since energy costs are so high, it’s uncertain whether vertical farmers can grow greens at an affordable price long-term.
The greatest promise of vertical farming, however, is that it will bring fresher produce closer to urban areas.
“Cities have a lot of mouths to feed. We have population growth, urbanization, and we need better ways to feed humanity that are sensitive to the environment,” AeroFarms’ CEO and founder David Rosenberg told Business Insider. “Vertical farms are one of many solutions.”