Standout startups at IFT FIRST

CHICAGO — Dozens of entrepreneurs participated in Startup Pavilion, a dedicated exhibit at IFT FIRST, the Institute of Food Technologists’ annual meeting, held July 10-13 at McCormick Place in Chicago. Emerging companies showcased solutions ranging from sugar reduction to sustainable agriculture.

The winner of a pitch contest was Equinom, an Israeli seed developer with US headquarters in Indianapolis. The company recently achieved a record 75% protein in an exploratory minimally processed pea protein ingredient by breeding new varieties of yellow peas using its technology platform. The technology identifies favorable traits for food applications in the genetic structure of seeds and predicts the best crossbreeding matches to yield better varieties without the use of genetic engineering.

“By building nutrition and taste right into the seeds, we enable less processing, tastier and more nutritious, accessible and affordable plant-based food,” said Galit Feinreich, chief marketing officer, during the pitch event.

Several startups presented plant-based innovation. Alchemeat, Chicago, has developed a substitute to whole-cut meat made with soy protein isolate, soy flour and wheat gluten. The product looks and tastes like premium beef, but costs the same or less, said founder Huan Xia, PhD.

Planetarians, San Francisco, has created plant proteins using byproducts of soybean oil and beer.

“We harvest the soy from the oil extraction industry and brewers spent yeast from the brewing industry and combine those using our proprietary technology,” said Max Barnthouse, head of formulations at Planetarians, describing the protein as “price-progressive.”

Cella Farms, Alameda, Calif., uses fermentation to create high-protein grain flours for bread, pasta, crackers, tortillas, cookies and more.

“Our flours have six times more digestible protein and 40% reduced carbs compared to normal flour,” said Monica Bhatia, PhD, co-founder and chief executive officer of Cella Farms. “Imagine eating a simple avocado sandwich and getting 20 grams of complete protein right from the bread… Our radical vision is to displace meat.”

Upcycled Foods, Inc., Berkeley, Calif., displayed its range of high-protein, high-fiber ingredients, including a new protein crisp launched in partnership with Kerry Group. The company’s flagship ingredient platform is ReGrained, converting beer waste into nutritious food, but other areas of interest include “finding the overlooked and undervalued foods” within the coffee and chocolate supply chains, said Daniel Kurzrock, co-founder and CEO.

“There’s a lot that we’re leaving off the table,” he said. “We’re here to close that loop, make it easy and accessible for food developers as an ingredient supplier and innovation partner.”

Nutraberry, Seattle, offers powders based on upcycled seeds of raspberries, blackberries and blueberries, which are rich in fiber and polyphenols, said David Wishnick, co-founder.

D’vash Organics, Los Angeles, supplies date sugar, date syrup and date paste derived from irregular dates unfit for the market. Dates are rich in antioxidants and have a lower glycemic index than honey and other sweeteners, according to the company.

B.T. Sweet (Better Than Sweet) Ltd., Tel Aviv, Israel, featured Cambya, a plant-based, one-to-one drop-in sugar replacer. The Cambya sweetening platform was created to reduce sugar in a wide range of food and beverage applications without compromising on flavor or other organoleptic qualities. It delivers optimal sweetening capacity without the need for masking agents and does not leave any lingering aftertastes, according to the company.

The proprietary formula is based on soluble fibers, monk fruit and select botanicals and has a one-to-one equivalent to sugar in body and taste, said Yishai Potack, CEO of B.T. Sweet.

Cane’d, Chicago, produces cold-pressed sugarcane juice, packed with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, according to the company. The beverages are blended with fruits and herbs and contain no added sugar.

Think Better Foods, Minneapolis, is the maker of Vegify, a brand of freeze-dried vegetable crumbs that may be used as a binder, coating or topping in savory or sweet food applications. Varieties include carrot turmeric, purple carrot, beet and cauliflower. The products are “super neutral in taste” while providing a serving of vegetables per quarter-cup, said Kari Wordelman, co-founder.

Levelle, New York, is developing sports nutrition products that meet the unique fueling requirements of women, made with organic ingredients and “no engineered sugars, additives or artificial colorants,” according to the company. Nearly half of marathon runners in the United States are female, yet only 30% of sports science and sports medicine studies include females, and less than 2.5% of all sports nutrition products are formulated for women, according to the company’s findings.

“Products on the market are made based on men’s physiology and, while great for male athletes, they can cause a myriad of physical side effects in female athletes throughout the course of training and competition,” said Linda Alvarez, MD, co-founder and CEO. “We’re fueling women to run the world.”