December 12, 2013

Silicon Valley expands its purview to sustainable foodSan Francisco is well-known for its technology startup companies. But one of the newest ventures to hit the Bay Area takes a sharp turn away from the traditional road to digitally derived riches.

Hampton Creek Foods, a new food-tech startup that is housed in the up-and-coming South Market neighborhood of San Francisco, is taking on the issue of sustainable production in a whole new way. Funded by Silicon Valley investors, including Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Hampton Creek’s first major product tries to eliminate the old chicken-versus-egg argument altogether by rendering them both unnecessary as a part of the world’s food supply. And that attempt could have some interesting ramifications for culinary school graduates and anyone interested in taking pastry classes.

Green alternatives – literally
Citing wasted energy, environmental pollution, potential disease outbreaks and the mistreatment of chickens, Hampton Creek’s founders say that a viable alternative to factory farming is necessary to our future. That’s why they, and other companies like Southern California-based Beyond Meat, are working on ways to substitute plant-based products for chicken, eggs and other meat products.

It’s an effort that is still in its initial stages, but there is such a widely recognized need for innovations of this kind that the company raised approximately $350 million in funding from venture capital firms in 2012 alone, up from $50 million in 2008, according to The Associated Press. That kind of investment is just a part of a trend that is sweeping the world.

“There’s nothing to indicate that this will be a trend that will end anytime soon,” Anand Sanwal, CEO of CB Insights, a New York firm that tracks venture capital investment, told the AP. “Sustainability and challenges to the food supply are pretty fundamental issues.”

Health, environmental and economic benefits
Hampton Creek’s founders cited a number of benefits that their products could eventually bring to people. Among them were a reduction in the over-consumption of meat, which contributes to unhealthy lifestyles, especially in America, as well as limiting the environmental and financial costs associated with operating large factory farms.

But there are those who worry about how easy it will be to get people to try these new products if and when they are finally produced.

“The biggest challenge is that people who consume a lot of meat really like meat, and to convince them to try something different may be extremely difficult,” said Claire Kremen, faculty co-director of the Berkeley Food Institute at the University of California, Berkeley.

Hampton Farms got a start on the process with eggless mayonnaise and eggless cookie products that are currently being sold at Whole Foods Markets.