Alpha Food Labs and the Future of Food

At its core, Alpha Food Labs has a simple mission: research, invest in, and create innovative foods that are more sustainable, healthy, and tasteful than what currently exists today. And co-founder and co-CEO Mike Lee is committed to bringing the conversation around the future of food and its current problems to the community.

“The future of food is everything,” says Lee. “We want to inspire and educate the food industry on where the future of food might go. We’re not dictating what the future of food will be—we’re offering opportunities for conversation and inspiration.”

While growing up in Detroit, Lee loved to go to The North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) every year. He most loved to see the cars that were not going to be for sale: the concept cars. Lee eventually began to ask himself: “Who is doing concept car level stuff in food?” Concept cars are designed to inspire other automakers; he wanted a food company that did the same for the industry.

And consumers are asking for it. “People have woken up to the fact that food impacts your body and the environment in very profound ways,” says Lee. Plant-based has become a billion dollar industry, and what started as a niche market is becoming a key investment for companies like Tyson Foods.

Alpha Food Labs also includes companies Food+Tech Connect and The Future Market. Food+Tech Connect specializes in providing the most up-to-date research on what is currently happening in food technology, while The Future Market offers concept food products and experiences largely based on that research.

Lee and his company have been involved in flavor development for a number of products, including plant-based yogurt Lavva. The yogurt uses plant-based ingredients—including Pili nuts, young plantains, coconut, and cassava—that together create a creamy, delicious taste eerily similar to that of animal-based yogurt.

Lee does not advocate for any particular diet, and is determined to maintain a critical eye on all types of products—whether animal-based or plant-based. “There is no such thing as one optimal diet,” adds Lee. “At the end of the day, it’s not about the right diet. It’s the diet that’s right for you.”

Listen to the above episode of Food Out Loud to learn more about the future of Alpha Food Labs and the ever-evolving problem of sustainability.

Produced by:

Nathan Mikita

Producer

Summer Fancy Food Show Highlights Plant-Based The Little Beet

The Specialty Food Association (SFA) annually hosts the Summer Fancy Food Show in New York City. The largest specialty food and beverage event in North America, the Summer Fancy Food Show features a growing number of restaurants and organizations focused on providing innovative menus and products.

This year, host Paul Barron interviewed a number of leaders in the industry. Becky Mulligan, a former Starbucks executive and the new CEO of The Little Beet, offered her perspective on the growing consumer demand for plant-based products.

After spending sixteen years overseeing thousands of Starbucks units, Becky Mulligan switched gears in 2018 and joined The Little Beet team.

The fast casual veggie restaurant chain just seemed like a perfect fit. “It was perfect for my lifestyle,” says Mulligan. “I was drawn to the concept immediately.”

The Little Beet recently expanded its offerings to a full service gluten-free restaurant: The Little Beet Table. According to Mulligan, the two branches work in tandem: customers continue to go to The Little Beet for a quick, healthy breakfasts and lunches, and they go to The Little Beet Table for dinner, drinks, and special occasions.

“People are becoming more educated about what they consume,” notes Mulligan. “It’s helped us to have a broader platform to talk about why it’s good to have a plant-based diet.” While she emphasizes that plant-based foods should make up the bulk of your diet, balance rather than guilt is ultimately the goal. “We want consumers to have accessible food that is good for you—and that you want to eat.”

All food at both The Little Beet and The Little Beet Table is made fresh everyday. All vegetables and ingredients are prepared from scratch, and the company avoids added sugars and non-blended oils. These prerequisites can be challenging for staff in terms of ensuring everyone is served in a timely fashion, but rewarding for the brand and customers alike.

The Little Beet currently consists of ten units, and there are four The Little Beet Table locations. Mulligan says the company hopes to double those numbers by next year. The chain is also developing a beverage platform.

Check out the video above to learn more about the future of The Little Beet and the company’s plant-based mission.

Panera Bread Rolls Out Climate-Friendly Dinner Options

Lunch hotspot Panera Bread is adding dinner to the menu this summer. The sandwich chain is currently testing a menu featuring hearty meals available from 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. in Jacksonville, Florida, and intends to test the “dinner-centric” menu in nine additional locations in Lexington, Kentucky beginning next month.

In a news release, Panera Bread also noted the company’s goal to continue to provide customers with healthy options for themselves and their children — including for dinner. “Panera’s craveable new dinner options are helping to meet guests demand to eliminate the trade-off between good for you and ease. Like all Panera menu items, all offerings are 100 percent clean with no artificial preservatives, sweeteners, flavors, or colors from artificial sources.”

The meals are still designed to be quick. Sara Burnett, the vice president of wellness and food policy for Panera, emphasized that the company is endeavoring to balance the ideals of fast and healthy for busy individuals and families. “People are often challenged by the dichotomy between convenience and quality,” she says. And the chain does not want its customers to “have to trade one for the other, especially dinner on the go.”

By sales, Panera is the tenth-largest chain in the United States. And dinnertime purchases provide, on average, about a quarter to a third of the company’s sales. According to Panera’s chief growth and strategy officer Dan Wegiel, customer feedback suggests that the light soups, salads, and sandwiches currently provided by Panera Bread make for a healthy, but unsatisfying dinner.

The new dinner options include more sizable and satisfying meals, including flatbread pizzas, bowls, and meatier sandwiches that still utilize popular Panera flavors. New vegetable sides have also been added.

One noteworthy addition is the Chipotle Chicken & Bacon Artisan Flatbread, featuring smoked pulled chicken, chopped bacon, garlic cream sauce, fresh mozzarella and fontina, red grape tomatoes, fresh cilantro, and the chain’s classic chipotle aioli.

With food production contributing up to a quarter of the world’s total carbon emissions, chicken is becoming an increasingly preferred protein option for restaurants and customers alike. When compared with plant-based foods, animal-based food production necessitates a much larger carbon footprint.

Beef production uses, on average, about 20 times the land that plants necessitate, and results in at least 20 times as many carbon emissions as the average plant. And cows, goats, and sheep alike emit the highly potent greenhouse gas, methane.

For concerned meat lovers, there is a more carbon-friendly option than beef. According to a study conducted by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey examining the average daily eating habits of over 16,000 participants, chicken is a drastically better option than beef when it comes to carbon.

Of any type of meat, beef has the heaviest footprint, regardless of how it is cut. Chicken, in contrast, has one of the lightest footprints of animal proteins. Chickens are a surprisingly efficient source of protein, requiring far less fertilizer and land acreage.

Diego Rose, the lead author on the study and a researcher at Tulane University, stresses that every person needs to be proactive in combating climate change. “Climate change is such a dramatic problem,” he says. According to Rose, the only way to curb destructive increases in global warming is to curb the global beef, goat, and lamb consumption. “All sectors of society need to be involved.”

In another study using the U.S. Healthy Eating Index, Rose found that people who maintained a healthy diet typically have low carbon footprints. Plant-based diets consistently correlate with improved personal health and positive environmental effects.

Panera Bread does offer a plant-based menu for climate-conscious consumers. The menu includes sandwiches, bowls, soups, and a number of fresh smoothies. According to Noel White, the current president and CEO of Tyson Foods, plant-based and alternative protein menu items have been “experiencing double-digit growth.” Tyson Foods just added a plant-based brand to its product line.

Panera’s Wegiel maintains that the chain is looking toward the future. “We stepped back about a year ago ... to say, ‘Over the next five years, where are we going to grow? Where are we going to get most of our value creation?’”

In regards to growth, Panera Bread has already added to its menu options this year: the chain successfully expanded its breakfast menu with new egg wraps, bakery items, and a remodeled coffee program. Restaurants and fast food chains like Taco Bell have instituted similar menu updates to boost sales.

At present, the majority of Panera’s delivery orders occur around lunchtime. And the chain has rebuffed any suggested partnerships with third-party delivery services: Panera Bread handles all delivery needs itself. With new dinner options, the company may need to rethink its delivery strategy in order to accommodate an increase in evening orders.

This post is brought to you by Tyson Foods. To learn more, visit The Modern Chef Network.

Tyson Foods Launches Plant-Based Brand Raised & Rooted

Tyson Foods, the second largest meat packer in the world, will unveil its first plant-based nuggets and burgers this summer and fall, respectively. These products will be released as part of Raised & Rooted, the corporation’s new plant-based and blended meat brand.

Instead of chicken, the nuggets will be largely composed of pea protein. The burgers will be a blend of Angus beef, plants, and pea protein. The nuggets promise 30 percent less saturated fat than traditional meat, while the burgers guarantee 60 percent less. The nuggets also feature five grams of fiber.

Alternative protein is “experiencing double-digit growth,” says Noel White. White has served as president and CEO of Tyson Foods since late 2018. “It could someday be a billion-dollar business for our company.” He also affirmed that the company would continue to be “firmly committed” to its original meat-based products.

Raised & Rooted will face fierce competitors, including Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat—and Tyson Foods only recently divested from the latter. Tyson Foods has previously invested in other alternative protein companies as well, including Future Meat Technologies, Memphis Meats, and Myco Technology.

After its announcement, Tyson Foods shares climbed three percent while Beyond Meat fell four percent. Beyond Meat ceased production of its plant-based chicken strips earlier this year. Kellogg’s currently offers vegetarian chicken nuggets through its Morningstar Farms division.

Tyson Foods intends to offer additional alternative protein products through its other divisions, and Raised & Rooted is not the first of the corporation’s numerous brands to offer plant-based products. Aidells currently features all-natural sausage and meatballs composed of blended chicken and plant proteins.

Research by:

Paul Barron

Paul Barron

Editor-in-Chief/Executive Producer


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Dig Inn Raises $20 Million in Funding Round Led by Danny Meyer's Investment Group

The farm-to-table fast casual Dig Inn has secured $20 million in a funding round, led by Danny Meyer's Enlightened Hospitality Investments.

Dig Inn founder and CEO Adam Eskin announced the latest investment in a post on Medium where he also shared what the company plans to do with the additional funding.

The fast casual has been expanding rapidly. With 26 store locations in New York and Boston. But the latest funding round will help the brand launch in a new market- Philly and the company is also aiming to open an additional 10 stores.

To do that, the chain is going to need more manpower. So the restaurant will be ramping up its hiring.

"We’ll hire another 300 men and women, many of which have never stepped foot in a restaurant kitchen, and teach them that knife skills are life skills, and how learning how to cook can change everything," writes Eskin for "Medium."

The chain has now raised $71.5 million total. Dig Inn, which was founded about 7 years ago, is one of the leading trendy concepts aiming to bring healthy, all-natural food with fast service to customers.

With its new partnership with the Danny Meyer team, the restaurant will also be ramping up its supply of healthy vegetables.

"We’ll supply our restaurants with over 8 million pounds of vegetables from the 80+ farmers that make up our growing community, including 100,000 pounds from our own Farmer Larry Tse, his team, and his newly launched Young Farmer Incubator Program," writes Eskin.

The chain will focus on not only expansion and increasing food supply but it will be expanding it's delivery service and opening a full-service concept in New York City's West Village as well.

Read more at "Restaurant Dive" now.

Chains like Dig Inn with veggie-forward menus that deliver are going to stand out in today's market. Plant-based consumption was up 300% last year. Although the demand is high for these menu items, there aren't that many restaurants offering delivery of plant-based meals. Watch the On Foodable: Industry Pulse episode below to learn more about how consumers are wanting more plant-based food delivery options.