Emerging Technologies and Trends in Better-for-you and More Sustainable Food and Beverages
Guest Post by: Julia Stamberger, Co-founder and CEO of The Planting Hope Company
The good news: People around the globe are embracing more plant-based eating and consciously shifting more of their diet to plant-based, while still consuming some animal proteins. The reasons consumers give for this transition to a more ‘Flexitarian’ diet include concerns about the environment, animal welfare, and interest in better health, wellness, and nutrition.
The bad news: Some of the products consumers are shifting to aren’t necessarily much more sustainable (if at all) than animal-based options, and many are arguably less nutritious.
The hopeful news: Brands are rising to the challenge and introducing improved, better-for-you options that can provide equivalent or additionally nutritious products, leveraging more sustainable crops, ingredients, manufacturing, and packaging film. In this early stage of the ‘plant-based food and beverage revolution’, there is a continued evolution as measurably better, more delicious, and more nutritious products come to the forefront.
Here’s how consumers can help: Be conscious of your food, its packaging, and nutritional claims. Read nutrition labels and packaging and evaluate the products effectively. For instance, not all ‘milks’ are created equal. It’s of great surprise to many that discover almond milk has 1g or less of partial protein per serving (effectively flavored water) as opposed to the 8g of complete protein received from dairy milk, with all nine essential amino acids the body needs but can’t make and must get from food.
As people look at shifting more of their diet into plants and grains, the nutritional quality of those swaps can’t be overlooked. White rice, for instance, has very little protein, no fiber, and is a significant source of carbohydrates, which can drive high levels of blood sugar and metabolic load. Grains like quinoa, however, provide complete protein and are an excellent source of fiber. Our RightRice veggie rice combines 90% beans + 10% rice in a ‘rice grain’ that has 10g of complete protein (four times the protein in white rice), 6g of dietary fiber, and 40% fewer carbs than rice, per serving.
From a sustainability point, not all ingredients are equally efficient to farm. Almonds require a significant amount of water and irrigation, and won’t pollinate without bees, forcing groves to import millions of bees every pollination season (a process killing more than 30% of the US bee crop annually). Hazelnuts, however are wind-pollinated and use about half of the water that almonds require to grow. Sesame, the core of our Hope and Sesame Sesamemilk, requires very little water, thriving in hot dry climates. Sesame is an efficient cover crop, and when rotated with heavy-feeding cash crops like cotton, it fixes nitrogen back into the soil. Sesame is naturally pest-resistant and self-pollinated.
Packaging technology is still evolving to address sustainability needs with practical solutions that meet the challenges of keeping food protected and extending shelf life without refrigeration, can be machined efficiently on currently available packaging equipment, and can offer a manageable price-point for the consumer. One of the opportunities available now to reduce environmental footprint is shelf-stable packaging, an alternative to packaging requiring refrigeration to conserve food. Eliminating the need for refrigeration in the home also eliminates it throughout the supply chain, bringing down the cost and environmental impact at every level, from production to shipping to warehousing to display in the retailer.
Shelf-stable packaging also typically provides a longer shelf life (as an example, our Tetra Pak aseptic cartons of Sesamemilk are shelf-stable without refrigeration and have a 14-month minimum shelf-life unopened – when opened, the carton must be refrigerated, and the contents are ‘best’ for seven to ten days). The critical factor in shelf life is the oxygen barrier it provides (exposure to oxygen is a major driver in food deterioration and allows for the growth of bacteria or for food to go stale). Shelf-stable packaging provides a lot of flexibility – it can be stored in the pantry until ready-to-consume, and then chilled before eating if preferred. Cafes and other food service locations do not have lots of available refrigerated storage and having shelf-stable products enables them to more cost-effectively stock up for demand without being forced to add cost and space for refrigeration. Shelf-stable products can be taken on hikes and stored in your desk drawer or gym bag for easy consumption wherever, whenever you’re hungry. Shelf-stable packaging is better for the environment, and better for you, keeps good food good longer, and requires no refrigeration.
One great way for consumers to vote is with their dollars – that’s the fastest place to change retailer activity and increase the availability of products that fit with both your nutrition and sustainability goals. Shop the shelf-stable milk aisle instead of the refrigerated milk aisle. Read the labels of what you’re eating, from the macros to the ingredients. Make delicious choices that use the ingredients that are most virtuous for the earth. Delicious food and beverages can be both nutritious and sustainable – and the options are getting better all the time!
About The Planting Hope Company Inc.
Planting Hope develops, launches, and scales uniquely innovative plant-based and planet-friendly food and beverage brands. Planting Hope’s award-winning and cutting-edge products fill key unmet needs in the skyrocketing plant-based food and beverage space. The Planting Hope brand family includes Hope and Sesame® Sesamemilk, Barista Blend Sesamemilk, RightRice® Veggie Rice, Mozaics™ Real Veggie Chips, and Veggicopia® Veggie Snacks. Founded in 2016 by experienced food industry entrepreneurs, Planting Hope is a women-managed and woman-led company focused on nutrition, sustainability, and diversity.
Our co-founders saw the ‘rise of the flexitarian’ early on; specifically that people are consciously trading off some animal-based nutrition in their diet with plant-based sources and while not abandoning animal proteins altogether, they are intentionally eating more plants. Today more than 50% of the planet identifies as ‘flexitarian’ – i.e. eating more plant-based food. The primary reasons reported by consumers for making this switch include health and wellness, allergies and inflammation, and sustainability/better-for-the planet.
However, not all plant-based foods can supply similar complete nutrition to animal proteins, which contain all 9 essential amino acids that the body requires but can’t make and must get from food. Most plant proteins are incomplete and only supply a partial amino acid chain; to get the complete chain, combinations of plant-based foods must be eaten together.
From a sustainability standpoint, many crops can be intensive on the environment when farmed aggressively, leading to unintended consequences in terms of water usage, soil degradation, or damage to animal populations.
The goal of The Planting Hope Company is to deliver nutrition-dense ‘pantry-staple’ products that consumers use every day and that have a widespread application in food service as well as grocery stores, for maximum impact. Additionally, Planting Hope focuses on continuous improvement regarding sustainability, as new opportunities and technology are made available that can increase sustainability and minimize the environmental footprint of products. For instance, in 2021, Planting Hope upgraded the packaging film on its Mozaics™ Real Veggie Chips to a NEO Plastics packaging that degrades without special processing required in any waste stream, releasing a biogas that landfills are set up to harvest and convert to a clean energy source.