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Alternative meat shouldn’t have to be ‘a choice between taste and the environment’: Air Protein CEO

In this article:
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Air Protein Founder and CEO Lisa Dyson joins Yahoo Finance Live to talk about the company's alternate protein foods created by air, contributions to sustainability, and its presence in the alternate meat space.

Video Transcript

RACHELLE AKUFFO: Creating a sustainable and climate friendly food supply has led to the rise of a number of alternatives, especially when it comes to meat. But what about creating it out of thin air? And our next guest, Lisa Dyson, is the founder and CEO of Air Protein. And she's joining us to share more about this process. So, obviously, this is fascinating, but it is a little bit hard to wrap your head around. Walk us through what that process looks like, to go from air to meat?

LISA DYSON: Absolutely, and wonderful to be here. So we grow our protein just like you grow plants. We apply culinary techniques, and then we create meat out of it. That's how we go from air to meat. We make air meat. The process is very similar to doing fermentation. So think of making yogurt, but instead of starting with milk, we start with elements of the air. And instead of ending up with yogurt, we end up with a protein-rich flour, essentially. And then applying those culinary techniques, we're able to recreate the textures that you experience when you bite into a juicy steak or a chicken breast.

RACHELLE AKUFFO: So what is that growth process like, in terms of, like, getting it from air to, like, a full-sized steak, for example?

LISA DYSON: Well, it's very-- you have to do it very carefully. But the process itself is-- so when you're making yogurt, you're using cultures, probiotic cultures, really nutritious cultures. We similarly start with nutritious probiotic type cultures, and we add elements of the air into this process. And that's able to then create this really rich flour as our core ingredient. And now this flour is actually carbon negative. From cradle to great, our process is actually carbon negative, which is really beneficial for the environment because the problem we're trying to address is the fact that we need a food system that can feed 10 billion people by 2050 in a way that doesn't harm our planet.

And then we apply-- think of your wheat flour. And then you take wheat flour, and then you're able to apply culinary techniques to make pasta. We apply different culinary techniques that allow us to create the textures that you're used to when you're biting into meat. And we are defining ours as meat because we're recreating that experience. That's what's important to us-- recreating that experience that you have when you sit down to bite into a juicy steak.

SEANA SMITH: So, Lisa, two questions here. One, how do you cook it? Do you cook it the same as you would chicken, beef, anything else that you typically make? And then, two, what does it taste like? Does it taste very, very similar to chicken? Or does it have its own little flavor going on?

LISA DYSON: Well, I'll talk about the second one first because that's the important thing. We're targeting meat eaters. We want to make this something that's not really a choice. Or it's not a choice between taste and the environment, taste and nutrition. We want to give people great tasting products that allow them to experience that same experience that they're used to when they're eating the traditional meat, let's just say animal-based meat, but without the carbon impact, without the environmental impacts.

So it tastes just like-- our chicken tastes just like chicken. We're working on air scallops. We're working on air halibut. There's a lot in the works. We have our beef platform that we're working on, our pork platform. But the goal is to create things that taste like that meat that you're used to.

RACHELLE AKUFFO: So then, in terms of the things that are going into the input cost then, how expensive can we expect, say, an air steak to be for your average consumer when it's available?

LISA DYSON: Well, the way that we make steak today is actually hugely inefficient. It takes two years to grow a steak. And the technology that we use, which is a cow, has the same greenhouse gas footprint as a car. It's eating a lot. We're growing soybeans in Brazil. We're tearing down rainforests in order to eat-- in order to feed that technology, we'll call it. And so it's a hugely inefficient process to finally get to that steak on a plate.

Conversely, our process is able to go from air, elements of the air to steak in a matter of just a few days. And so, it's an efficient process. The economics are very attractive. And ultimately, we want to be able to bring access to the masses this really nutritious, carbon negative meat that would give you the same experience you're used to.

SEANA SMITH: Lisa, what's the approach here amongst some of your competitors out there? Because, yes, your product is very different than anything that's available right now. But I think a lot of people would categorize it or have it fall under this meat or this protein alternative. So you have competitors like Beyond Meat, Tyson Foods, some of the other bigger names that are in this space. How do you carve away at that marketplace, and really, I guess, attract some of those users out there?

LISA DYSON: And I'd say that there's two ways. One way is that there's two reasons why consumers shift to alternative meat, two main reasons. There's a host of others, but the main ones are for nutritional reasons, as well as for the environment, environmental reasons, your flexitarians that have Meatless Mondays. And so we stand on the shoulders of giants. We're excited by the industry, the fact that it's taking off.

And we're able to go a step further than others by creating a protein ingredient that uses zero arable land. So there's no arable land required whatsoever, which means this is a rainforest friendly ingredient and is carbon negative from cradle to gate. So our sustainability metrics are unparalleled. And that allows us to make the world's first carbon negative meat, essentially. So that's one key thing.

And then we focus on nutrition. The ingredient that we start with, that we create from elements of the air, has 80% amino acids, all your essential amino acids. So it's a complete protein. And then it's rich in vitamins and minerals, including B vitamins, B12, which is lacking in a vegan diet. So we start with this core ingredient, and then we're able to make the different types of meat because of the functional properties that we're able to adjust.

So for instance, the oil holding capacity, the water holding capacity, these things are important as you're trying to make chicken on the one hand versus beef replacements on the other. And then, finally, one way that we're quite different is that our unit of innovation starts with that ingredient. So we can offer this ingredient to the marketplace, and we can help the industry become carbon negative.

RACHELLE AKUFFO: And obviously, a lot of people are wondering, when can we expect this to actually hit the market? And just as a skeptic here, in terms of other things that are in the air, how do you keep the stuff that's not so great out of it and just make it something that is not containing bacteria and other sort of the other elements in the air as well?

LISA DYSON: This has oxygen. You know, oxygen is something we breathe. In fact, if you think about the origins of our technology, it was actually originally thought up by scientists at NASA, who were trying to think about how to feed astronauts on long space journeys. And so they would catch-- one of the concepts was to capture elements of the air and feed them into these cultures, create these nutrients that the astronauts would then eat. And so, it's a really interesting kind of origin story for the technology that we're developing, commercializing now.

But yeah, we have kind of really pure elements from the air, oxygen. You need a nitrogen source. You need carbon dioxide. These are elements of the air. And then we use renewable power. So it's a really clean, pure input that we're excited by, taking this to the next level and turning it into the food that we eat, nutritious ingredients and then nutritious meat.

SEANA SMITH: Well, Lisa Dyson, I think we're all very excited to potentially try it sometime soon. So whenever you're ready to put it out there, you have to come back and visit us. Lisa Dyson, Air Protein founder and CEO, thanks so much for joining us.