Voyage Foods uses an innovative blend of art and science to create nutritionally identical, sustainable alternatives to various products, including peanut butter.
OPINION: AHEAD OF WHAT'S NEXT
We all know that plant-based foods are gaining in popularity for both health and environmental reasons, but how can a company differentiate itself in a sea of competitors citing similar benefits? Oakland, Calif.-based Voyage Foods has done so by using an innovative blend of art and science it’s dubbed “food architecture” — a combination of analytical chemistry, process chemistry, flavor science and data analytics — to transform natural upcycled ingredients such as seeds and grains into nutritionally identical alternatives to various products. The company has developed three patented products — all-natural, allergen- and nut-free peanut butter (launching this month); cocoa-free chocolate; and bean-free coffee — with more to come, as evidenced by Voyage’s $5.8 million in venture capital backing.
When it began, the company “was looking at the food tech sector as a whole and being confused as to why the innovation was in taking all animal food products and making them vegan,” CEO Adam Maxwell tells Progressive Grocer. “Those companies are doing a fantastic job, but there are countless other commodities that either have huge environmental, health or long-term sustainability issues. We aim to tackle those problems cross-commodity and make food that is available for everyone forever at a cost affordable today.”
Taking on the World
Among the specific issues that Voyage aims to address are deforestation related to cacao and coffee bean farming; water pollution caused by wet-process coffee manufacturing; the impending extinction of wild coffee beans by 2080 if production isn’t reduced by 50% before 2050; unethical labor practices on cacao farms in West Africa, including, slavery, child labor and inhumane working conditions; and peanut allergies, which are responsible for 62% of allergy-related deaths in the United States.
To do so, the clean-label company is literally inventing new technology to re-create any nonfibrous food material and leveraging cost-effective ingredients to ensure that its products are competitively priced against their counterparts.
When asked about specific ingredients in Voyage’s products, however, Maxwell responds: “There are multiple angles we look at, and some of that is very much a trade secret. In broad strokes: product performance, availability and sustainability. We look at ingredients which have somewhat similar molecular precursors and could potentially be transformed to have the same organoleptic properties. We are making foods to be available for all forever, so we also have to index on a large enough supply to still be able to source at scale. Thirdly, we look at the environmental footprint of those ingredients.” All of the development and sourcing efforts undertaken by Voyage Foods are in support of a brighter future, not only for the planet and those with peanut allergies, but also for a growing industry.
“Plant-based foods will definitely continue to rise in popularity and acceptance,” asserts Maxwell. “There is a clear consumer want for more of these types of foods. Also, as the plant-based industry continues to mature, the prices will keep coming down closer to parity of the products they are emulating, which will only increase their ubiquity.”