What Will Tomorrow’s Proteins Look Like? This Competition Gives Us a Glimpse.
XPRIZE Feed The Next Billion is challenging innovators to change our approach to conventional proteins.
Right now, half of Earth’s habitable land and 70% of its available water are used for agriculture. But despite the huge footprint dedicated to providing food, nearly 690 million people go hungry every year. When it comes to our seas, mismanagement in fish aquaculture also affects the health of our planet via excess nutrient run off, potential disease spread, and habitat destruction.
Simply put, the way we feed the world’s current population is unsustainable. So how will we keep our population fed as it grows?
That’s the premise behind XPRIZE Feed The Next Billion, a $15 million competition incentivizing teams around the globe to produce chicken breast or fish filet alternatives that outperform conventional chicken and fish in a number of areas — from sustainability to nutrition to animal welfare, as well as taste and texture. To achieve that, teams are leaning into two methods: cultivated meat and plant-based meat alternatives. The multi-year competition is underway right now, and could provide us with the breakthrough we need to change how we eat, for good.
Who are the next billion?
By 2050, the UN estimates that there will be nearly 10 billion people on the planet, 2 billion more than our current population. Beyond just more people, though, they’ll likely have more expendable income — as global wealth tends to increase with population growth. As more nations move into wealth and the middle class expands, their demand for meat tends to grow, too.
We’ve already seen evidence of this in our lifetime: poultry production increased 28% between the mid-1960s and today, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
At the same time, we know that our protein production is unsustainable for our current population — let alone an increased demand from a growing population. That’s why the need for alternative proteins that can be created at scale was identified as a “critical impact area” by the XPRIZE Future of Food Impact Roadmap. XPRIZE Impact Roadmaps are studies that XPRIZE uses to determine where breakthroughs are needed — then they establish competitions around those impact areas.
Why chicken and fish?
Chicken and fish are two of the most common animal proteins found in global cuisine, so it’s expected that demand for them will be even higher. "During the competition design process we found that chicken or fish is a key ingredient across nearly every cuisine in the world," says XPRIZE CEO Anousheh Ansari. "It's to be expected that as humanity's population grows, so will the demand for chicken and fish, regardless of location. Developing technology that can replicate, or even outperform, conventional proteins will benefit billions of people, as well as our environment's health." XPRIZE Feed the Next Billion isn’t just tasking teams with creating alternatives to these products, though: teams must create multiple, consistent cuts of these proteins that weigh 3-4 ounces and that replicate the sensory properties, structure, versatility, and nutritional profile of traditional chicken or fish, while having a lower environmental footprint.
How do teams win the competition?
Most plant-based options available now utilize a “ground” or “minced” structure (think: plant-based chicken nuggets, for example), because replicating structured or whole cuts that mimic an actual chicken breast or fish filet in texture and taste is incredibly difficult. Additionally, many plant-based meat alternatives tend to rely heavily on sodium and fats to replicate the conventional versions. In order to advance in XPRIZE Feed The Next Billion, teams will need to achieve a 90% equivalence in nutritional value to conventional chicken and fish.
The competition also focuses on cultivated meat made from animal cells, which faces unique challenges. For one, it’s more expensive to create, especially in large cuts, and even more difficult to scale production. Additionally, XPRIZE Feed The Next Billion teams are expected to solve for food safety issues too, including microbiological contaminants (like listeria or salmonella), mycotoxins (toxic compounds naturally produced by certain types of fungi), and heavy metals.
Ultimately, the solutions the teams present will help improve four key areas: food safety, animal welfare, economic viability, and environmental footprint.
Who are the semifinalist teams?
The competition officially opened in December 2020, and 28 semifinalist teams from around the world have already been chosen. "Anyone is welcome to join an XPRIZE. The current group of semifinalists includes startups, university groups, and small to mid-size companies," says XPRIZE Feed The Next Billion program lead, Caroline Kolta. The current semifinalist teams include groups that are innovating ways to create meat from air, as well as those leaning into mycelium alternatives at scale, to experts using fermentation to create animal-free meat. To learn more about them, check out their websites below:
- Air Protein, United States
- Another Fish, Canada
- Atlast Food Co, United States
- BlueNalu, United States
- Boston Meats, United States
- Brew51, India
- CELL AG TECH, Canada
- CellX, China
- DiverseFarm-Structured Meat, Japan
- ENOUGH - NO LIMITS, United Kingdom
- GOOD Meat, United States
- IntegriCulture, Japan
- Kernel Mycofoods, Argentina
- Kuleana, United States
- MeatOurFuture, South Africa
- Meati Foods, United States
- MyoWorks, India
- Novel Farms, United States
- ProFillet, Canada
- Revo Foods, Austria
- SeaSpire, New Zealand
- TFTAK, Estonia
- The Better Meat Co, United States
- The PlantEat, South Korea
- Umami Meats, Singapore
- Umiami, France
- Whiteboard Foods, Canada
- Wildtype, United States
Where does the competition stand now?
Now that semifinalist teams have been chosen, the next major milestone is semifinalist testing, which will take place in late 2022. After the semifinalists’ innovations are tested, up to 10 finalist teams will be chosen, and they’ll move on to an even more rigorous round of testing and judging. The grand prize won’t be announced until 2024, when the first place team will receive $7 million, second place will receive $2 million, and third place will receive $1 million. A $2 million bonus prize will also be awarded to the team that develops a whole-animal-origin-free growth media at the lowest production cost. You can follow along with the competition, and learn more about XPRIZE Feed The Next Billion at xprize.org/feed.