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The Business of Food

by Jennifer Barney


Plant Proteins are Thirsty
2-min read

With the drought happening in California, water is getting lumped into the sustainability conversation. Sustainability is the end-game for food producers, researchers and startups who are innovating like crazy into protein alternatives. The main focus is climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. 
But now water is top of mind. 
How much water do plant proteins require? 
In the last 5 years investment into sustainable and alternative protein topped other types of deals in food and beverage.
Many people choosing plant-based diets over animal-based are the same people seeking high-protein diets. The pressure is on for more protein options coming from plants. 
Multi-national food brands with their sustainability goals want to know all about the resources used to grow crops and that includes irrigation practices - never mind that California generated 38% more gross agricultural product in 2015 than in 1980, while using 14% less water - they still want to know. 
In recent weeks the media has spotlighted farming woes because of the drought, and it’s no joke.

Rex came home the other day and said “the Merced River is drying up” and showed me this photo. 
But the water you put on the land is just one part of the story – what about how much uptake the crop requires?   
You’ve probably heard the claim, “it takes a gallon of water to grow an almond”. This factoid, from an article by Mother Jones, went viral as an indictment against almonds: almonds being one of the more popular protein alternatives. While not off base, this claim is not put into greater context - as compared to what?
When it comes to plant-based proteins, what do we really know as it relates to water usage?
In an article written by Nancy Ervin of Harrison & Co, she says, “When compared with the amount of water needed per gram of protein to grow or raise every other major plant or animal protein source, growing almonds is an incredibly efficient use of water.”

Just look at this chart comparing popular proteins, both animal and plants, by gallons of water per gram of protein:
Whoa lentils. 
But not all proteins are created equal. We cannot, in fact, live off of just any kind of protein. The question then becomes, what proteins are best for health and least water intensive?
More on this next week. 

All my best,


SKU, the nation's first CPG accelerator, is looking for innovative, emerging brands for its fall cohorts in Dallas and New York. Apply here

Barilla's venture group is partnering with KitchenTown on Good Food Makers accelerator Apply here

Pistachios, now a complete protein, got hit hard by coronavirus and the USDA has forked over $40 million for them
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