How humans and AI are solving the food industry's problems 🍔
Can NotCo fix the food industry?
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Story: How NotCo is trying to fix the food industry
The major problems facing the food industry
Why NotCo has an advantage over Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods
How AI and humans at NotCo combine their strengths to create plant-based foods unlike anyone else
The Kraft Heinz and NotCo partnership that could change the food industry for the better
Recommendation: The Novelleist – Why EVs aren’t the future
Further reading: The Future of Food
How NotCo is trying to fix the food industry
The food industry faces major problems
We use half of the planet's habitable land for agriculture.
But I found a more surprising statistic:
Livestock dominates 77% of agricultural land, but only contributes to 18% and 37% of the global calorie and protein supply, respectively.
Meanwhile, crops and plants use the remaining 23% while accounting for 82% and 63% of the global calorie and protein supply, respectively.
Some converging problems are keeping the food industry awake at night:
Rising populations = rising food demand. The world population could reach nearly 10 billion by 2050, requiring a 60% increase in food production per the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Pressure to reduce emissions. Agriculture accounts for almost 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Livestock is a significant contributor of methane, which has 80 times the warming power of CO2 in its first 20 years in the atmosphere.
Resource scarcity: Using more land for agriculture will further strain ecosystems and threaten the species that make it their home. And let's not forget about the recent droughts and water shortages.
These are difficult things to balance on a global scale while providing better alternatives at affordable prices.
New Zealand’s government even proposed taxing emissions from farm animals.
We’ve been told to eat less meat and introduce more plant-based alternatives into our diets.
Plant-based food giants like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have risen in popularity recently, but there’s a company that doesn’t get enough attention. And I think they have the technology that could be the Tylenol to the food industry's headache.
NotCo, a food-tech startup born in Chile, is making a name for itself in the plant-based food industry.
Since its founding in 2015, it has raised a whopping $636 million from the likes of Jeff Bezos and Lewis Hamilton (the 🐐).
The company’s pride and joy is Giuseppe, an AI system that creates plant-based recipes to replicate animal-based products like milk and burgers. It's named after the Italian painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo who painted portraits in the form of fruits and vegetables during the 1500s.
NotCo already sells milk, burgers, ice cream, and its other products across South America and North America.
If you compared NotCo’s plant-based milk to regular milk, it uses 74% less energy and 92% less water to produce than regular milk. And it generates 74% less CO2.
On the nutritional level, their 2% milk is comparable to the one I have. The biggest difference I found was that NotCo’s milk had lower calories, carbs, and protein. But it has more potassium, vitamin D, calcium, and iron.
But how do they make this happen? Let’s find out.
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At NotCo: AI 🤝 Humans
One of the reasons I wanted to talk about NotCo is that it’s a great case study of why AI can’t operate in a silo.
We’ve seen some pretty wild things that AI can do recently, like art and music. But when given to highly-qualified individuals, AI can do even more wonderful things. When they work together, AI and humans combine their strengths and complement their weaknesses.
Giuseppe is a tool used by NotCo’s team of chefs, food scientists, and sensory experts to create the plant-based recipes behind their products.
The end-to-end process is complex and iterative, but can be summarized in three steps:
Generating and prototyping recipes
Developing a functional and scalable recipe
Finding flavour additives
(This is based on a 1-hour seminar from NotCo’s CTO Karim Pichara.)
#1: Generating and prototyping recipes
NotCo’s chefs start by typing a food target they want to recreate (milk, for example) into the Giuseppe interface, which looks similar to Google Search.
The chefs can also define their desired levels of macronutrients (carbs, fat, protein), exclude specific ingredients, and define the flavour (sweet or salty, for example).
Giuseppe uses these inputs and analyzes the molecular structure of the food target to generate a list of recipes with different ingredients that can replicate the nutritional levels, flavour, and texture.
The chefs then try out these formulas and provide their feedback into the system: they upload a photo of the sample and document characteristics such as colour, smell, flavour, and texture, which helps Giuseppe learn and improve the next time they use it.
Fun story: the first time Giuseppe tried making milk, it turned out green. While this is a fun story to tell, it shows how AI needs humans to evaluate its output and give it feedback.
#2: Developing a functional and scalable recipe
Food companies usually source ingredients from local suppliers to make the food we eat every day.
Not all suppliers have the same ingredients, so there’s no one-recipe-fits-all that we can use across different countries. And slight variations in plant-based protein can alter the final product, so finding the right alternatives is crucial.
NotCo's food scientists step in once the chefs selected and refined Giuseppe’s best recipe. They start looking for alternative ingredients to ensure that the recipe can be produced at scale in different regions based on local supply.
Giuseppe has a protein search tool that can dig through an enormous database of ingredients with their nutritional and chemical properties.
#3: Finding flavouring additives
To avoid a surprise visit from Gordon Ramsay, NotCo needs to add flavour. Flavour (and price) ultimately decides whether people will keep buying their products.
Usually, food companies use animal-based products to flavour food. But Giuseppe can also search for animal-free compounds to replace them.
NotCo 🤝 Kraft Heinz
Food companies are jumping on the plant-based food train, which is a good thing.
NotCo’s products show us how we can reduce energy, water, and emissions from food production. And Giuseppe can be a valuable tool for other food companies trying to maintain the look, feel, and taste of their original products while switching to plant-based alternatives.
Any slight change in flavour is enough to drive customers away. Anyone remember New Coke?
NotCo made enough waves to get the attention of one of the biggest food companies in the world: Kraft Heinz.
Earlier this year, Kraft Heinz and NotCo announced a joint venture, the Kraft Heinz NotCo, which will develop co-branded plant-based products at scale.
Kraft Heinz chefs and food scientists will get to use Giuseppe and create plant-based recipes for their famous mac & cheese, dressings, and other products.
The global scale of Kraft Heinz combined with NotCo’s technology is a perfect match:
Kraft Heinz can:
Accelerate the development of plant-based alternatives for its vast portfolio of products.
Produce plant-based alternatives at an affordable price, which can be the deciding factor when people are shopping.
Encourage people to switch to more sustainable products thanks to their strong brand loyalty.
Unleash its patent-protected Giuseppe to help a behemoth in the food industry solve an important problem.
Improve the Giuseppe AI through the various experiments and products that will be developed under the joint venture.
Grow the NotCo brand with Kraft Heinz's backing through co-branded products. This can drive more sales to NotCo's products, like burgers.
“When we started NotCo, it was our goal to make our technology a catalyzer for a more sustainable food system not only for us, but for other brands and manufacturers who share the same ambition. Today is an exciting milestone for the plant-based industry and shows the power of technology’s role in driving mainstream adoption.”
– NotCo Co-Founder and CEO Matías Muchnick, to Food Dive
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If you enjoyed today’s story, I’ve compiled some additional links to satisfy your curiosity:
Data Explorer: Environmental Impacts of Food (Our World in Data) – highly recommended if you’re interested in visualizing and comparing the emissions for different foods.
Explore how Giuseppe works (NotCo) – highly recommended
Poll: Plant-based food
How much of your diet would you switch to plant-based alternatives if they had the same price and nutritional value?
(You get to see the voting results after you vote)
Recommendation: The Novelleist
Last week, she interviewed David Gobel, founder of The Methuselah Foundation. The organization funds health and longevity research that plans to “make 90 the new 50 by 2030”. You can read the full interview here.
Next week, she’s publishing a piece on why EVs aren’t the future and why they won’t solve all of our problems.
If you don’t want to miss it, subscribe to The Novelleist for free here.
Further Reading: The Future of Food
I’ve written some other articles about the future of food. If you want to understand the other emerging trends and technologies affecting the industry, you can read them for free:
You can also check out all previous Year 2049 articles to learn about other technologies shaping the future of energy, transportation, the internet, and more.
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