[Venture Abroad] Food substitutes are a business for the future

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[Venture Abroad] Food substitutes are a business for the future

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Ever since Soylent Founder Rob Rhinehart described his idea of a drinkable meal substitute on his blog in February 2013 and began shipping 15 months later, the craze for the American meal substitute has pumped up the start-up’s valuation to as much as $100 million.

Its clones followed suit across the globe - in the United States and Europe, mostly - with varying ingredients, functions and, most importantly, significantly lower price tags. Some, including Soylent and Ambronite, ship internationally; others are confined to domestic markets.

Solyent’s strongest rivals - San Francisco-based Ambronite and U.K.-based Huel - take pride in organic ingredients such as brown rice, coconut, pea protein and flaxseed. They are vegan, thus avoiding the environmental stigmas surrounding meat production.

The market is getting bigger. Research and Markets said in a May report that the global meal replacement market is expected to post an annualized average growth of 7.1 percent from 2016 through 2020 - almost double the pace between 2010 and 2015, which was 3.6 percent.

Korea is catching up, and the developments are centered around start-ups. Aside from Lab Nosh, there is Meals, from start-up INTAKEfoods. Meals was officially launched through the Wadiz crowd-funding site in January, two months after Lab Nosh, and tastes very similar to a Korean traditional powder made of mixed grains. It consists mainly of grains and dried vegetables.

RealseeReal, a bar-type food that is nutritionally complete and contains zero chemical additives, is another product. Available only online, the bar is made of unhulled brown rice, almonds, cashew nuts, walnuts and dried cranberries and uses oligosaccharide and honey instead of sugar.

Local food producers have come up with futuristic alternatives catering to varying demographics.

Daesang Welllife has unleashed tasteless, odorless powder that enhances the viscosity of any liquid foodstuff so that the ill or elderly can swallow the food more easily. Daesang Chungjungwon released two types of ready-made meals in a special container with a valve that whistles when the food reaches an optimal temperature after being heated in a microwave.

Local food developers have been searching for foodstuffs that might feed humans in the future. CJ CheilJedang, a leading food manufacturer, signed a memorandum of understanding in March with the Korean Edible Insect Laboratory Knowledge Coop to jointly study edible insects as an alternative to traditional proteins such as meat.

“Our ultimate goal is to introduce edible insect products that people feel comfortable eating,” Park Hong-woo, a researcher at the food lab of CJ.

BY SEO JI-EUN [seo.jieun@joongang.co.kr]

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