The Next Alt-Protein: A Look Into The Future of “Meat”

UPSIDE Foods

Demand for alt-protein is surging.

As consumers prioritize health, ethics, and sustainability, many are turning their nose up at Big Meat. Last year, the alt-protein market pulled in $3.1B in investment, tripling any other year in its history.

But while plant-based solutions have largely dominated the landscape, consumers have grown increasingly conscious of how unhealthy and ultra-processed these substitutes can be.

Now, many are looking to diversify their plate.

White-coat chicken. Cell-cultured meat companies—real meat grown from animal cells—secured over $360M last year. The sector has gained momentum in recent months, drawing landmark funding from the USDA and attention from food giants like Nestlé.

  • Israel-based Aleph Farms completed a $105M Series B in July to bring its cultured meat to market next year.
  • Eat Just’s Good Meat brand, the first cell-cultured meat products in the world to win approval for human consumption, raised $97M in May.
  • Bluu Biosciences, a cell-based fish manufacturer, raised €7M (~$8M) earlier this year.

Fermented filets. Distinct from cell-cultured meat, scientists have discovered a way to use microbes, like yeast or fungi, to create proteins that rival the taste and texture of animal products.

A growing sector, fermentation startups often supplement plant-based approaches to boost synthetic meat flavor. The segment has had a big year:

  • Perfect Day, which manufactures animal-free milk protein, announced a $350M Series D last month.
  • Nature’s Fynd also recently raised $350M to support manufacturing of its alt-protein, sourced from fungi and produced through fermentation.
  • Motif FoodWorks secured $226M in June to produce “animal-free” egg and dairy proteins.
  • After raising more than $200M Memphis Meats rebranded to UPSIDE Foods as it scales up its cultivated chicken operation.

Bug bites. Experts project the global edible insect market to grow at a CAGR of 27% through 2027, reaching $4.6B by 2027. But most startups in this space are still dedicated to manufacturing protein for animal feed, like Protix ($18M), Entocycle (£10M/$13.5M), and Beta Hatch ($10M).

When it comes to human consumption, industry leader Ÿnsect has secured over $425M and recently broke ground on the “world’s largest” vertical insect farm, acquiring Protifarm to move into human-oriented options.

Hard to swallow. Driving adoption of new foods is no easy feat. While insects are undeniably nutritious—packing nearly 60% protein per serving to chicken’s 43%—some point out that despite cell-cultured or fermented meat being marginally healthier, they aren’t necessarily better for you than conventional meat.

Plus, many startups in these sectors must still clear regulatory hurdles, costs remain prohibitively high, and despite optimistic projections, critics remain unconvinced that we can meaningfully lower them.

Zooming out, the flurry of funding in alt-protein reflects a broader interest in food tech during the pandemic, with over $8B invested in the space in the first nine months of 2020.

Looking ahead: As the global population explodes and climate change puts millions at risk of food insecurity, there is a massive opportunity to find a meat analogue that consumers will actually adopt.

While plant-based reigns supreme, a growing cohort of health-conscious consumers are eager for a solution that is as nutritious and filling as it is sustainable.