As we’ll soon report in our upcoming Africa AgriFoodTech Investment report in collaboration with FMO and BII, the trend for alternative protein products — those that offer consumers the experience of eating meat and dairy without the use of animal agriculture — is coming to the African continent. (To be one of the first to access this report, sign up to our newsletters here.)
While it’s still in its infancy and not attracting anything like the investment we’re seeing in the global north — the majority of the $4.8 billion invested in Innovative Foods globally in 2021 went to European and US companies — there are a few African startups starting to serve flexitarian consumers on the continent. Interestingly we’re seeing more African alternative protein startups focus on cultivated – or lab-grown – meat and dairy alternatives as opposed to plant-based replicas.
Read on for a closer look at the following African alternative protein startups: Mzansi Meat, Mogale Meat, Veggie Victory, Sea-Stematic and DeNovo Dairy.
Livestock farming globally already contributes as much as 14.5% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions each year and is responsible for 36% of overall agriculture-linked forest loss. And while some commentators place a lower climatic impact on small-scale livestock farming, which is prevalent in many parts of Africa, this level of demand increase would no doubt force further industrialization of the meat industry on the continent, unless alternatives are introduced.
Consumer concerns about animal welfare and the health profile of meat product also play into the trend.
African alternative protein country trends
South African startups have taken the lead in this market. This could be attributed to the diverse population in the country, but equally important is the thriving bio-economy existing there; South Africa was the first to discover the Omicron strain of Covid-19 late last year as an example of the country’s biotech prowess.
According to a survey, study, 60% of South African consumers are willing to try alternative protein options while 53% would be willing to buy them. South Africa’s younger generations were shown to be the most receptive with millenials the most accepting; 62% and 55% of them highly likely to purchase plant-based meat and cultivated meat respectively. Gen X were the least likely to try or purchase alternative protein products.
A closer look at 5 African alternative protein startups
- Founders: Brett Thompson, Jay van der Walt
- Year founded: 2020
Mzansi is an informal name for South Africa, the birthplace of Mzansi Meat.
Earlier this year, news of Mzansi Meat finally growing its first beef burger patty in a lab hit headlines. This was after two years of research after being founded in 2020 by Brett Thompson and Jay van der Walt.
The cultured-beef producer was keen on producing beef that had the exact taste, aroma and umami feel of real meat and excluded any animal harm.
In short, the startup harvests meat cells from donor animals, isolates them and grows them in a culture medium containing vitamins, salts and proteins. Thereafter, the multiplied cells are placed on an edible medium and the company adds spices and flavors to give the final product.
The startup believes that data already points to the conventional meat industry running its course.
“It’s peaked in terms of efficiency and output and we simply can’t sustain it,” the startup says on its website.
- Founders: Dr. Paul Bartels, Dr. Elize Venter.
- Year founded: 2020
The startup also plans to produce a variety of cell-based, ground and whole-cut meat products from wild antelope, poultry and free-roaming livestock.
The cultivated chicken was the first prototype from the startup which is looking to launch a ‘signature wildlife product’ later this year, according to a press release by its investor, Cult Food Science.
“Cultured meat is a giant leap forward in meat production as the global nutritional demand increasingly exceeds agricultural production capacity, placing untold strain on the natural environment and resources,” Mogale Meat says on its website.
- Founder: Hakeem Jimo
- Year founded: 2013
Veggie Victory started in 2013 as Nigeria’s first vegeterian restaurant. It later partnered with the restaurant chain and juice brand, Nuli to launch Vchunks as a preservative- and chemical-free retail product in 2016, hitting 12 states in the country.
A pioneer in the Nigerian market, the startup was launched to offer affordable yet healthy meat-alternatives. It locally produces plant-based meat dubbed VChunks which can be used in soups and stews or even in traditional meals like suya.
According to the startup, Vchunks has a strong socio-economic impact due to its affordability, a huge factor affecting the purchase of conventional protein sources.
- Founder: Marica Quarsingh
- Year founded: 2021
Sea-Stematic is an early-stage cultivated seafood startup, the first of its kind in Africa. Also based in South Africa, the startup is looking at 2024 to launch its products, developed from salmon and other high-value species.
Quarsingh in an interview with AFN said Sea-Stematic will be eyeing the global market, mainly countries that have passed policies on the cultivated meat industry after the launch.
She refers to Sea-Stematic as the “Tesla of seafood” to communicate how she believes seafood should be produced: sustainably and with the right global benchmarks and market insights.
De Novo Dairy
- Founders: Jean Louwrens, Leah Bessa, Richard Grieves, Joni Symon
- Year founded: 2021
South Africa’s De Novo Dairy is offering a variety dairy products with the same functionality, nutrition and texture of traditional dairy minus the cows.
The startup produces animal-free proteins through precision fermentation, with the aim of promoting human nutrition.
It is also branded as the first of its kind in South Africa, purporting to create animal-free dairy from scratch as its name de novo suggests. De Novo is also looking to disrupt the infant nutrition sector with baby formula production.
Prior to transitioning to animal-free dairy, Jean Louwrens and Leah Bessa had established Gourmet Grubb, an ice-cream and milk alternative producer using insects.
Investors in the space
There are a range of investors getting in on the African alternative protein wave.
Mzansi Meat secured pre-seed funding in 2021. Investors included Sustainable Food Ventures and Glass Wall Syndicate. Other investors to support the startup include Orange Light Ventures, Prithvi Ventures, Cape Innovation and Technology Initiative’s Enterprise Development Division as well as multiple business angels.
Veggie Victory had received angel backing in 2020 from early-stage alternative protein investor and Wild Earth co-founder Ryan Bethencourt, as well as Plant CEO founder Anant Joshi. It’s now part of the GROW Accelerator. [Disclosure: GROW is run by AFN’s parent company, AgFunder.]
In 2021, Cult Food Science, a Canadian-based investor focused on cultivated meat and cultured dairy invested in Mogale Meat.
In the same year, Mogale Meat and De Novo Dairy received pre-seed investment from Big Idea Ventures. The firm’s first fund is a $50 million ‘New Protein Fund’ that invests in plant-based, cell-based and fermentation-enabled startups.
De Novo Dairy later secured two separate investments in 2022. One was seed funding from Cult Food Science and the other was an investment from Kale United via the Vevolution investment marketplace.
Insect protein companies
The African alternative protein space has also seen an emergence of animal feed-focused protein producers. Interestingly, most are derived from insects such as the black soldier fly.
Insect protein is considered a more sustainable alternative to other types of animal feed which can deplete natural resources like water but also wild fish supply such as used in typical fishmeal. Some of these startups are also considering moving into human nutrition at a later stage and when regulations allow.