Dimitris Karefyllakis van de Time Traveling Milkman ontvangt de publieksprijs. © Marli Klok
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Why we write on this topic:

Right now, there are around eight billion people on Earth. In order to be able to continue feeding everyone without causing any more damage to our planet, we need to come up with sustainable innovations. A start-up competition is the ideal way to discover which new products will shape the future. That’s why editor Wesley Klop dropped by to cover the event.  

People had the opportunity to taste what you will be eating in the future at the Brave New Food Challenge in the Dutch city of Utrecht last week. One of the aims of this competition is to draw attention to alternatives to animal proteins in our food. Needless to say, a sustainable challenge like this also calls for a sustainable award: this one is made of mycellium; the fungal threads of mushrooms.

Food issues

The start-up challenge focuses on various issues surrounding food, such as food waste, unhealthy eating habits and high emissions from production processes. This is how Brave New Food aims to discover more healthy and sustainable food products. During the finals, participants pitched their sustainable ideas to a jury and an audience of major players in the food industry, including Foodvalley and Redefine Meat.

We have to do away with animal protein and plastics in the food chain and we have to move toward a circular food system,” says Milo Laureij, program director of Brave New Food. “The importance of this kind of competition is that smaller parties with a good product are given a platform to grow. Larger parties can discover what else is happening in the food industry during this event.”

The innovation platform holds a broad range of competitions, such as this one. It also organizes competitions to solve a company’s specific problem or on a theme, e.g., seaweed.


The audience award was won by the Dutch Time Traveling Milkman, a spin-off of Wageningen University, which received almost fifty percent of the votes. The company processes seeds like those of the sunflower and other plants from Europe. They make ingredients from these that companies can then use to make their plant-based dairy products creamy. “Cream is made by separating fat from milk. You can also make it by extracting the fat from sunflower seeds. So without resorting to the use of animals,” says co-founder Dimitris Karefyllakis. “We can no longer use animal products with the same level of intensity. We have got to switch to more sustainable solutions. Our cream has already been launched on the market and is now also being used by high-end restaurants here in the Netherlands.”

The American start-up Peelon was the overall winner of the Food Challenge Award. The company makes biodegradable packaging for fresh produce such as fruit and vegetables. According to the judges, this company stood out because their product helps the company counteract not only food waste but also plastic usage.


Start-ups and scale-ups from the food industry showcased their innovative food at a market during the event. For example, the pulled pork from De Krekerij. This looks like pork, yet is actually made from crickets.

“In fact, only twenty percent of it is made out of crickets,” says Mitali Poovayya, who is busy frying the “pulled pork”. The rest is made up of plant-based ingredients. Our goal is for everyone to eat insects once a week. Crickets are most suitable for making protein-rich food,” she explains.

“Crickets need 85 percent less feed to make a kilogram of protein compared to beef from cattle,” she continues. “Less land is needed and insects also eat food scraps, such as broccoli leaves. In some parts of the world, eating insects is also commonplace, but not yet here in the western world. Why are we constantly using resources we need to be economical with, when we already have a sustainable alternative?”


Another major issue that start-ups are coming up with solutions for is food waste. For example, tens of millions of bananas are disposed of in incinerators every year. They are the most discarded fruit in the world. There’s often nothing wrong with those bananas, except that they are overly ripe. After all, a banana has to be unripe before it can be imported into Europe.

“Throughout the chain, from grower to consumer, as much as fifty percent of all bananas go to waste,” says Thomas Reitsma of start-up Sunt. The company has found a solution to this. The company turns these discarded bananas into a new ingredient for a range of new products, such as doughnuts and banana bread. 

The company recently opened its own ‘Banana Factory’. “This is where we now process our own banana puree. We use some of that in our own products and we also resell it to ice cream and smoothie makers. We hope that we can really make an impact this way.”

The bananas Sunt uses are now still coming from Belgium. “At the moment, we have to pay import duties if we want to buy those written-off bananas in the Netherlands. That’s not profitable for us. But this is not the case in Belgium. So there is no uniform European legislation in place.”

Sunt’s products are already on the shelves of AH To Go and COOP supermarkets. Reitsma plans to supply its products internationally next year.