New Plant-based Natural Food Companies

Meyer lemon tree in California in winter
What plant-based food got Mark Bittman to join a California company?. Susie Wyshak

When Mark Bittman announced he was leaving the New York Times to join a one-year old company in California that would make it easier for people to lead plant-based diets, the guessing began: What company could this possibly be?

This mystery turned out to be a fun excuse to look into the latest in plant-based food startups.

Step 1 was to eliminate the hot new startups based on foods like crickets, which of course are not plant-based, Soylent which I'm guessing is just not food enough, and Hampton Creek and Back to the Roots, which are both more than one year old.

(Even so, with Back to the Roots rolling out new cereals and kits for home planting, I've got my suspicions.)

Step 2 was to narrow in on Northern California companies — because we've heard Bittman has a thing for Berkeley.

The Slow Money / Food Funded site is like a Halloween pumpkin full of plant-based candy where I'm sure the answer lies. But I resisted looking there before making this list of my guesses:

New Plant-based Food Manufacturers

  1. A vegan cheese company like Miyoko's Creamery that combines artisanal methods with style. A vegan butcher could also have interesting potential.
  2. Kuli Kuli came to mind because of their big vision to create jobs and better health with bars and foods based on Moringa superfood. 
  3. Eatsa, which created an "automat"-like experience where you can order quinoa-based foods with very little human intervention is a strong candidate, Given a reported quinoa shortage in the countries that grow this protein-rich food, I can't imagine Bittman chose Eatsa. But...maybe he was inspired to fix this problem.

    Then there are all the coconut-based or nut-based dairy alternatives.

    On a recent drive through California's Central Valley, a number of prickly pear cactus farms lined the highway — something I'd never seen before but recently wrote about as related to the cactus water trend. Cactus water is a dark horse in this guessing game, but is certainly an important plant-based trend!

    New Plant-based Restaurants and Meals 

    1. Might Beyonce's 22 Days Nutrition Meal Kit Delivery be the ticket? 
    2. Maybe a spin off of organic, vegetarian Amy's Drive Thru is happening, where Bittman will spearhead the healthful fast food eatery for rapid growth? Maybe. Probably not. But who knows! ​

    The answer: A vegan meal kit delivery service.

    Mark Bittman joined The Purple Carrot, one of many startups in the meal kit delivery space. The startup says it is already shipping out thousands of vegan meal kits.

    This is one smart hire, in the right time and right place. The company has raised several million dollars in funding. The recent news that processed meat may be a recipe for death (not that "everything" else isn't) only adds to the appeal of vegan recipes and meals.

    Most importantly, though, Mark Bittman makes the perfect brand ambassador for this brand.

    • There's probably no more respected advocate of a healthy food system and the benefits of plant-based food.
    • His role involves developing The Purple Carrot's recipes. With a strong following of home chefs, his involvement will surely build the company's subscriber base.
    • Unlike perpetual startup company hoppers, this is Bittman's first startup experience. Like a first marriage, this leap of faith says a lot for the company.

      Thankfully he is concerned about and plans to focus on reducing the carbon footprint of meal kits. Imagine an ongoing delivery of boxed-up ingredients and recipes getting shipped around the country. That's a whole lot of packaging and cardboard.

      The Upside of Meal Kits

      Like many of the meal kit companies, The Purple Carrot says their service gives their customers the convenience and confidence to eat well. Nothing wrong with that!