Entrepreneurs to seek to revolutionize the food industry

Entrepreneurs from around the world descended on Syracuse this week for the Grow-NY Food and Agriculture innovation competition that helps fund a company to grow their startup in Central New York.

The winner of the competition will receive a $1 -million prize to invest locally. There are 20 finalists, and many of them have new technology or products in the plant-based food market, which has seen a growth in popularity in recent years.

Kathleen Hefferon is the CEO and co-founder of Ithaca-based Forte Protein, which creates animal proteins using plant-based ingredients to add more nutrients and protein to a variety of foods.

Nico Riggio presents his pitch for Unnico. (Emily Kenny/Spectrum News 1)

His product is considered a vegan product because they do not use DNA from animals. Instead, Forte makes the same proteins using gene sequencing in a lab.

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Hefferon said many people are switching to a plant-based diet because of environmental concerns and their health, but also because of interest in new technology.

“We’re at a stage where we have new technologies coming in, and people are curious, they want to try these new food products,” Hefferon said. “So, they’re willing to try things, they’re willing to spend a few extra dollars to try something that they think is going to be healthier for them and more sustainable for the planet.”

According to research from the Plant Based Food Association, 29% of Americans are now flexitarians, or people who eat meat and animal products but are trying to eat less of them.

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Impossible Foods, the maker of the plant-based Impossible Burger, reports that sales of plant-based meat globally increased 45% in 2020 alone.

Another finalist in the Grow-NY competition, Unnico, based in Westchester County, makes vegan yogurt, gelato, and cream cheese with probiotics and no added sugar. Nico Riggio, the founder of the company, also came up with a way to sell their products in clay containers instead of plastic to reduce waste.

Riggio says the plant-based food market continues to grow over time.

“Consumers are younger, and they really want to see products that are good for their health, good for the planet and good for animals,” Riggio said. “Another reason it’s growing is because these products weren’t available before, you didn’t have a lot of these options.”

Jenn Smith, program director for Grow-NY, said that plant-based products are not new, but they are increasingly seeing the growth of new technology used to develop these products.

“I think that’s really exciting,” Smith said. “It’s nice to see the diversity of products on the market, too, but when you get into technologies that will change the way these foods are made, it’s very important because the sensitivity to price and taste is a big factor to resist. the products of the market.”

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