Record-high investments in alternative proteins: who are the key players?

Sustainable Leaders | Global

By Francesca Levi, Freelance Writer

Published October 28th, 2022

The demand for animal-based product replacements is growing. Recent data by the Good Food Institute show that 2021 was a record-breaking year for the alternative protein industry, with $5 billion invested in companies that develop and distribute alternatives to animal products.

With the looming threat that climate change poses on our livelihoods, and the COVID-19 pandemic putting life on hold, the urgency to move towards sustainable foods that also reduce the risk of zoonotic transmissions is ever growing.

Soy burgers are becoming increasingly popular as an alternative to meat and veggie burgers. | LikeMeat / Unsplash

New data from the Good Food Institute showed that in 2021 alone, $5 billion was invested in companies that focus on the production and distribution of alternative proteins as a substitute for animal-derived products. The Good Food Institute is an international non-profit organisation that aims to make alternative proteins more accessible and affordable.

The data reported was highly encouraging; 73% of the over $11 billion invested in alternative protein companies since 2010 has been in the last two years, since COVID-19 hit the industry. Five billion USD were invested in 2021, topping the previous $3.1 billion in 2020 and $1 billion in 2019. The data is clear—the appetite for protein alternatives is growing.

The Good Food Institute breaks down the alternative protein market into three main categories: plant-based alternatives, fermentation, and cultivated meat.

Plant-based alternatives

Plant-based alternatives are the oldest alternative protein sector, encompassing meats, seafood, eggs, and dairy substitutes. It trumped all other forms of animal-product substitutes in investments, raising $1.9 billion in the last year and making up 30% of all funds raised since 2010 ($6.3 billion). The companies leading this rise in investment are Impossible Foods, NotCo, v2food, and Next Gen Foods.

You may have heard of the US-based Impossible Foods’ plant-based product, Impossible Burgers. According to Impossible Food, a soy-based Impossible Beef burger requires 92% less water, results in 91% less greenhouse gas emissions, and uses 96% less land than an equivalent beef burger. On the other side of the globe, Australian v2food and Singaporean Next Gen Foods also lead the production of plant-based foods, namely the soy-based v2 burger and Tindle chicken.

Another plant-based producer is NotCo, an American company that makes use of an artificial intelligence programme named ‘Giuseppe’. This programme analyses the molecular structure of animal-based foods and uses plant-based ingredients to replicate it, using machine learning to refine its ability to match colours, flavours, and textures.


Fermentation is another method of making alternative proteins with microorganisms, being first commercialised around 2013. It has been used for millennia in the production of foods we consume every day, such as alcoholic drinks, breads, yoghurts, tofu, and tempeh.

Traditional fermentation uses microbial anaerobic digestion (i.e. in the absence of oxygen) to make products such as beer and yoghurt, and it can be used to improve the flavour of plant ingredients, such as tempeh or kimchi. Alternatively, biomass fermentation exploits the high-protein content of microorganisms to produce high amounts of alternative proteins.

An example of this is Quorn, which grows high amounts of filamentous fungi as the primary protein source. Lastly, precision fermentation uses the microorganisms to produce high volumes of specific molecules. Aside from proteins, these may also include vitamins, fats, and pigments.

The acidic hot springs of Yellowstone National Park harbour a fungus used by Nature’s Fynd to produce alternative protein products. | Nicolasintravel / Unsplash]

Fermentation as an alternative protein production method also saw a massive increase in funding in 2021, raising $1.7 billion of the total $2.8 billion secured in its funding history. The companies leading this advancement were Nature’s Fynd, Perfect Day, Motif Foodworks, and EVERY.

Nature’s Fynd is a Chicago-based food company that makes use of biomass fermentation. Isolated from an acidic hot spring in Yellowstone Park in 2009 by co-founder Mark Kozubal, the fungus Fusarium flavolapis has become the main research subject of the company. From it, the Fy protein, a highly nutritious protein containing all 20 amino acids, along with vitamins, minerals, and fibre, was isolated. Nature Fynd uses it to produce a broad scope of products, from breakfast patties to cream cheese.

On the other hand, the California-based company Perfect Day uses precision fermentation in its products. The company uses microflora that have been modified to incorporate whey-making genes into their genomes, which then enable the production of the beta-lactoglobulin whey protein.

In essence, the company’s strain engineers modified microorganisms to make milk proteins without cows being involved at any step of the process. Similarly, EVERY uses yeast containing the DNA sequence of chicken egg protein to convert sugar into protein via precision fermentation.

Cultivated meat

Lastly, the youngest of the three alternative protein categories, cultivated meat and seafood, saw a soar in investments this past year, accounting for over 70% of investments ever made in this sector ($1.4 billion of $1.9 billion) since its beginnings in 2016. The companies leading this round of funding were Future Meat, Aleph Farms, and BlueNalu.

Cultivated meat is made from animal cells, eliminating the need for environmentally-harmful farming, yet yielding the same textures and flavours. In the process of making cultivated meat, stem cells from animals are grown at high densities in bioreactors whilst submerged in highly nutritious media.

Since the first cultivated burger was shown to the public in 2013, 60 companies worldwide have been working on the development of this technology, with the first cultivated meat product, Eat Just’s chicken, approved for sale in Singapore in 2020.

A major issue that has prevented cultivated meat from reaching the market is its production cost. To solve this, Future Meat now claim they have reduced the cost of production down to $1.70 per burger, a huge improvement from the first burger’s $250,000 price-tag. Another Israel-based company, Aleph Farms, focusses on the production of cultivated steaks anywhere in the world (or further), and in 2019 produced the first 3D-bioprinted cultivated steak in space.

Land animals are not the only meat whose cultivated substitutes are being developed. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, an estimated 85% marine fish stocks are either overfished or fully exploited. California-based BlueNalu aims to tackle this issue by using cell-cultures to produce sustainable seafood.

Fish meat alternatives are also being developed to combat over-exploitation of fish stocks. | WorldFish / Unsplash

While $5 billion is a considerable investment, it only makes up a fraction of the total $47 billion invested in early-stage climate technology companies alone in 2021. As food systems account for around one-third of greenhouse gas emissions, a substantial amount of that being from animal agriculture, there is considerable argument to match efforts to proportionally reduce these emissions.

With COP27 coming up, innovative food companies will be headed to Sharm el Sheikh. As members of COP27’s first ever Food Systems Pavilion, the Good Food Institute and Aleph Farms will work alongside other game-changing organisations within the food sector, to not only increase the momentum to invest into alternative proteins, but to entirely transform our current emissions-intensive food system.

Featured Image: Ave Calvar | Unsplash

Aleph Farms (2022) ‘ Steak Done Right. Sustainable, Cultivated Steaks | Aleph Farms’. Aleph Farms. Available at: [Accessed October 8th, 2022]

BlueNalu (2022) ‘BlueNalu, Inc.’ BlueNalu. Available at: [Accessed October 8th, 2022]

EVERY (2022) ‘The EVERY Company, Formerly Clara Foods } Vegan Egg Protein’ EVERY. Available at: [Accessed October 8th, 2022]

Future Meat (2022) ‘Future Meat | Bringing Cultivated Meat to the Table’ Future Meat. Available at: [Accessed October 8th, 2022]

Impossible Foods (2022) ‘Impossible Foods - UK | Meat made from plants’ Impossible Foods. Available at: [Accessed October 8th, 2022]

Nature’s Fynd (2022) ‘Nature’s Fynd - Fungi-Based Foods for Optimists’ Nature’s Fynd. Available at: [Accessed October 8th, 2022]

Next Gen (2022) ‘Next Gen | The Next Generation of Plant Based Foods’ Next Gen. Available at: [Accessed October 8th, 2022]

NotCo (2022) ‘NotCo’ NotCo. Available at: [Accessed October 8th, 2022]

Perfect Day (2022) ‘Sustainable Animal-Free Dairy & Protein - Perfect Day’ Perfect Day. Available at: [Accessed October 8th, 2022]

The Good Food Institute (2022) ‘Record $5 billion invested in alt proteins in 2021, surging 60 percent since 2020’ The Good Food Institute. Available at: [Accessed October 8th, 2022]

The Good Food Institute (2022) ‘The science of cultivated meat’ The Good Food Institute. Available at: [Accessed October 8th, 2022]

v2food (2022) ‘v2food - Australia’s #1 Plant Based Meat Company’ v2food. Available at: [Accessed October 8th, 2022]

WWF (2022) ‘Sustainable Seafood’ World Wide Fund for Nature. Available at: [Accessed October 8th, 2022]

Xu X., Sharma P., Shu S., et al. (2021) Global greenhouse gas emissions from animal-based foods are twice those of plant-based foods. Nature Food. Volume 2, pages 724–732.

Meat is the future and is cultured

Sustainable Leaders | Global

Why intensive livestock farming has no place in a greener future

Sustainable Leaders | Global