Deep Dive: Nutrient Density & The Food System
For those new to our Deep Dives, iSelect is a venture capital firm in St. Louis focused on companies in food, agriculture and health. iSelect invests at the forefront of innovation, seeing emerging problems, solutions, and technologies in their infancy. We use these Deep Dive presentations not only as a way for us to better engage with and understand new science and technology, but also to engage with the experts and entrepreneurs who are driving change and innovation in their respective fields.
One theme that we have been researching is Nutrient Density in the Food System. Contrary to what we see on the surface, food can vary widely in its nutrient density. Variables including how a food product is bred, how and where it’s produced, how it’s transported, how it’s processed and how it is prepared can all have a significant impact on how nutritious a given product actually is. Historically, it has been extremely challenging and expensive to measure nutrient density effectively, making much of this information inaccessible. However, that is changing — emerging tools and technologies are making it easier to measure and understand what is actually in our food and what drives better nutrition from our food system. In today’s Deep Dive, we explore the drivers of nutrient density, the emerging technologies to help measure it and the business models that may emerge with this data in hand.
iSelect is a venture capital firm in St. Louis focused on companies in food, agriculture and health.
iSelect invests at the forefront of innovation, seeking emerging problems, solutions, and technologies.
iSelect uses these Deep Dive presentations not only as a way to better engage with and understand new science and technology, but to also engage with the experts and entrepreneurs who are driving change in their respective fields.
Welcome to iSelect’s Deep Dive series. My name is David Yocom. You may have seen me on a handful of these in the past. I’m a principal here on the iSelect investment team.
I’m excited to walk you through our discussion today. One thing that we’ve been researching is nutrient density in the food system. And we’ll explore the definition or the definitions of nutrient density. But set the stage contrary to what we see on the surface, food can vary widely, in terms of how much, how rich and how diverse nutrients are in that food complex. Variables including how a product is bred, how and where it’s produced, how it’s transported, processed and how its prepared can all have a significant impact on how many nutrients actually make their way to our mouths.
Historically, it’s been extremely challenging and expensive to measure nutrient density effectively, making much of this information inaccessible today. However, that’s changing. Emerging tools and technologies and initiatives are making it easier to measure and understand what is actually in our food and what drives better nutrition in the food system. So in today’s deep dive, we’re going to explore the drivers of nutrient density.
We’re going to explore some of the emerging technologies to help measure it and some of the business models and opportunities that may emerge once we have this data available to us. So to set the agenda for today, we’re going to start off with some speaker introductions.
I’m going to walk through a key definition of nutrient density. We’re going to talk through some of the core issues, and we’re going to bring in perspective from the innovators we have on the call today, and we’ll save you time for the questions at the end.
With that, I’d love to start off with some brief introductions, Eric, if we could start with you, then go with Bruce, and then Paul, that’d be fantastic.
Eric Smith: Hey everyone. Thanks for joining today. It’s great to be here with the iSelect team. Been following them for years.
I am a co-founder and CEO of Edacious. At Edacious, we’re looking to bring new tracking data to life. We’re working to solve two problems, which is one driving down the cost of measuring nutrition and then to translating that information so that the nutritional composition of food can be benchmarked, so that we understand relative quality.
My background is actually in venture capital. Spent the past five years, driving a portfolio called neglected climate opportunities with the Grantham Foundation. As an early stage catalytic Climate investor, we helped to seed the landscape, in terms of carbon removal and across the food and ag system. I’m part of that. Just been in the environmental finance and sustainability space.
Working to connect dots. Actually, I worked in certification for a long time and had been trying to figure out how to properly manage outcomes, and that’s what brought me to the world of nutrition.
David: Amazing. Thanks, Eric. Bruce.
Bruce German: Also delighted to be here. I’m the academic geek on this panel.
I’m a professor at the University of California Davis. I direct the Foods for Health Institute, and we basically have asked evolution, how to nourish humans. We study lactation biology and how milk influences the success of breastfed infants. We’ve taken the discoveries we’ve made scientifically into various ventures where we thought appropriate as a venture.
I’m also senior advisor to the Periodic Table of Foods Initiative, a very bold and ambitious initiative out of the Rockefeller Foundation to begin to build a complete and comprehensive database of food composition around the world.
David: Wonderful. Thanks, Bruce. And, last but not least, Paul.
Paul Grieve: Hey, guys. Paul Grieve, token farmer on the panel, started out as a college athlete, and then went into the Marine Corps and caught lyme disease during sniper school. That kinda led me down the food path, studying food and trying to source better food. Started a little tiny small farm in our backyard in Southern California.
Finished my MBA and worked as a CPA for a while also in the venture industry.
We raised some money and spun up a company called Pasturebird that built some really unique technology about how to move large flocks of chickens to fresh pasture every day. And we sold that to Purdue Foods back in 2019.
And I’m continuing to help out there. So that’s a little background. Excited to chat today.
David: Awesome. Thanks, Paul. And if you’re curious to know what Paul’s operation looks like at Pasturebird. You can just look at his screen and the background behind him.
Really awesome. Excited to hear. We’ll talk more about that today. Alrighty. Well, I’m going to speak briefly here, and then we’re going to bring in some of the speaker involvement and expert opinions. Setting the stage, I want to talk a little bit about ways to frame thinking about nutrient density. Sort of how we think about that in the context of what we’re focused on here at iSelect.
So I want to draw your attention initially to this this left side and sort of these three systems that we talk about here. We talk about System A, System B, and System C when we think about food systems. It’s reflective of what has happened in the last hundred years, particularly moving through the green revolution and the way in which yield absolutely exploded across the world.
But that nutrition didn’t necessarily follow in the same way. And so the way we think about this is that initially there’s a food system called Food System A that is focused on plentiful and cheap food, but is not necessarily high in nutrition.
Then we think about Food System B, which is really focused on high quality produce, high quality meat products, ultimately, products that do embody when we think about nutrient density, but that those products are really only available to a small portion of the population. That may be due to geographic limitations that also may be due to socio economic limitations and other structural barriers that keep people from consuming high quality, fresh, nutritious foods.
That’s Food System B. It’s nutritious, but it’s not plentiful and it’s not accessible.
Then we think about this sort of future vision of a Food System C, and Food System C is really focused around food that is nutritious, plentiful, cheap, and I’ll also throw in sustainable. It’s food that gets produced within the broader more ecological sense of how food should be produced, and less of an industrial focus around food, combining the concepts of yield and the concepts of nutrition into one.
And so there’s a lot of different companies that we’ve invested in that we’re working toward here going forward that are chipping away at the solutions that will become a part of that future vision of System C. Now within that, there’s an important concept which is thinking about nutrient density. And I think there’s a lot of different definitions. I emailed with Eric a little bit about this in terms of how they’re also thinking about defining nutrient density.
I think there are a few different ways of thinking about it through reading a few different definitions and just doing some background research. Ultimately, what I think it boils down to is thinking about the quality, quantity, and the diversity of healthy nutrients that are found in food, a food product or a combination of foods that are consumed in the course of a meal. I think you can’t just have one of those. If you have just quality but a low quantity, it may not really have a health impact that’s meaningful. If you have just quantity, but not quality, then you’re not really getting any nutritional benefits.
And if you don’t have diversity, you may just be getting a lot of one nutrient and not a lot of the other ones that may be important to a functioning body, and in a functioning life.
That being said, this is sort of my definition of how I’ve been thinking about nutrient density in the way that I want to frame the conversation today. But, Eric, I know you spent a lot of time thinking about this core definition. Is there anything else that you would want to add in terms of how you guys are thinking about the real definition of nutrient density before we sort of move into why this matters?
Eric Smith: Yeah. I should kick it over at Bruce. I still want the academic speak before I offer my own insights, but I think the point is that it is undefined and that is the problem.
Just, like, regenerative. What does that mean?
So I think there’s historically been one definition, which is the concentration of nutrients per unit of energy and that’s well thought out. But what that really has focused on is apples to bananas comparisons between food. And hasn’t allowed for depth in apples to apples comparisons, which is where we’re all trying to head.
The community that has certainly sought to define it has been academia. And that has been all over the board. So there’s a lot of great papers that propose different systems with different frameworks. The next evolution has been nutrient profiling systems, which I think are doing a much better job because they’re actually taking a quantitative approach to it.
The dietary guidelines of the Americas, they have sought to define it, but without any quantification.
So again, you’re seeing, the preponderance of views on nutrient density has led to where we are today, which is that no one can make apples to apples comparisons, which is what we’re working to solve. So I’ll take it over to Bruce. I’d love to hear his thoughts.
Bruce German: Yeah. Actually, I highly recommend anyone go on Eric’s company’s website to look at the description of what calories have done to the food supply.
Historically, foods were actually low in calories and high in nutrients. With modern agriculture and the ability to formulate foods, pne of the things that has been very successful is simple calories.
We have to get all of our essential nutrients. Every day. And we have to do that in this food supply that provides the number of calories we need. No more, no less. That’s extremely difficult to do. It’s even more difficult when there are some foods in the marketplace, especially for serving an uneducated and low socioeconomic sector that are almost pure calories.
And if you consume fifteen hundred calories as empty starch, sugar, and fat you’re going to have to make all your nutrients in a tiny subset of, of the rest of your diet. And it’s practically impossible to do that. So we really need to start thinking about exactly as Eric suggests. How do we get a comprehensive view of nutrition, making sure that we do that without excessive calories?
David Yocom: Got it. Really good point. Thanks, Bruce. And hopefully that gives anybody listening, a good sense of the framework of how we’re going to be talking about nutrient density today.
With that in mind, I want to talk a little bit about sort of why it matters. And there’s multiple reasons why this matters. These are just a handful of components to this.
I think in some ways, framing nutrient density there’s a little bit we don’t know what we don’t know in that it’s been really challenging to measure this to date. So it’s a little hard to know exactly what some of the consequences have been, but initially, there are some areas in which it can have a lot of relevance. One is that, there is documented micronutrient deficiency in the US and globally in different quantities in different parts of the world for people consuming different parts.
Eric Smith: Now I think we lost you there, David.
Bruce German: Yeah. I’m not hearing him either.
Eric Smith: Yeah. He looks good, but I can jump in for him here and go for that point. What’s fascinating about the micronutrient deficiencies is we actually don’t even have the underlying data to say whether or not those deficiencies, the extent to which those deficiencies are real, or even worse than we think. And that is all based on data sets that are poorly understood and calculated because we don’t have the underlying data of what’s actually in the food to begin with.
David Yocom: Hey, everyone. Sorry about that. It looks like my internet decided to throw in a fun technical difficulty.
Fortunately, it’s not the first time that’s happened in my life. So, you guys hear me okay now?
Paul Greive: Yeah. You’re good. And don’t worry. Eric just picked up the baton and slayed the micronutrient deficiency bullet. So you’re good.
David Yocom: Thank you. Well, that’s super helpful. I’m sorry I missed it. I’ll look forward to hearing the bullet points on the recording.
So moving beyond micronutrients I think one of the challenges, and this is this sort of centerpiece in the data I’m about to share is really just around calories. It’s well understood that caloric content on food labeling can vary by at least twenty percent, on the top end or the bottom end. I think it’s safe to say that that’s also true for the variety of other nutrients that are listed as in a food product. And part of that’s around measurement challenges, and the other part of that is around the level of granularity you want to get to. This is going to relate to a slide that I’m going to show on Pasturebird in in the future, but there’s a lot of micronutrients that we understand today or may come to understand more in the future that may play a very vital role in certain health functions that aren’t even listed on some of these food products that can be proven to be important.
And I think that’s just another component of that we don’t know. It’s not just about fat. It’s not just about calories and carbohydrates.
There’s a lot of other components that are really important. We think about what it means to really have a healthy diet that is truly nutrient dense and it’s beyond the items that we can see here listed on this yogurt cup.
Paul Greive: Can I add a quick anecdote to that, David?
David Yocom: Yeah, please.
Paul Greive: I learned recently that the last time they checked the nutritional facts panel for poultry was in 1999. So you can imagine how much has likely changed since then.
David Yocom: Yeah. No. It is amazing when you think about how outdated some of these things are, but also how uninformed the consumer is generally about what those updates are. It can be really opaque about what some of this information really means and how to think about it, which I think is why nutrition is often viewed so much as a pseudoscience and often viewed as confusing for so many people. I mean, I run into this a lot. I run a fitness community in San Francisco and a lot of people, their biggest questions are how do I eat healthy? What things should I eat healthy?
And, it’s amazing, like, with all the information out there today, how much true confusion there still really is about what that means and how many different takes there are on that.
The last piece that I want to highlight here is thinking about the relationship between nutrient density and the climate impact of the food system. And I think this is an interesting point and something that I’ve heard Eric speak too many times, through his career and his work at Edacious. On the surface, it’s not abundantly clear to someone necessarily that there’s a relationship between why nutrient density and nutrition matters as it pertains to the impact of the food system on climate change and the food system on the environment. Eric, do you want to speak a little bit to sort of what that relationship is and how you guys think about that?
Eric Smith: Yeah. Absolutely. This is key. And so I, as I mentioned, I was in climate, venture and climate investments for the past five years. And so I was really just asking myself, what is the connecting thread between climate, agriculture, and human health? And what are the actual mechanisms to pull regenerative agriculture through the food system as a climate solution? Because just paying farmers for the value added services around ecosystem services was going to be an immense challenge, and it wasn’t the primary thing that they were producing. They’re producing food.
So in terms of trying to connect the dots between the climate impact of our food and the nutritional composition of the food, if we have a good link to show best management practices that are mitigating excess greenhouse gases, sequestering carbon and establishing resiliency in those systems, we have a real tool for incentivizing behavior change at the farm level. And you have to do that through better tasting high quality food. And, you know, Paul’s a living breathing example working on that. But it’s really hard to get producers moving that direction and to have actual data points that connect those dots. That’s what this initiative is trying to do.
David Yocom: Yeah. I think that’s a really good point. I think it’s another lever in the toolbox that we have for incentivizing a move to practices that are ultimately better for the planet.
I always say we just preach, you know, all the regenerative, and I see a bunch of them in the attendees list too. But it’s like we all preach soil organic matter and carbon sequestration and water holding and pasture stuff. And then what we get back from the consumer is like a collective Clark Gable. Like, frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn, you know.
We care a lot. They don’t care at all. So, what they do care about, though, is feeding their kids the healthiest food that they possibly can. So I think, in my opinion, it’s the most important lever that we have to push forward regenerative.
So the next piece that I want to talk about here is around drivers of nutrient density, and I want to preface it by saying that the drivers of nutrient density are still things that are being researched and explored. There’s some data out there that’s both academic. There’s some data out there that’s more anecdotal but there’s sort of a general framework for understanding things that can be done to drive different nutritional outcomes in food production, and then food consumption.
So this is an equation that Eric has put forward, in terms of thinking about some of the core principles. And I’ve added some of these additional considerations on the right side. And so the real core driver’s nutrient density in terms of, you know, the baseline of what a food product could be and then the environment we put it in, how we grow that product ultimately drives an outcome that is the combination of yield and nutrition. So the genetics, whether or not these are bread, whether or not this might be a CRISPR product or a GMO product, Obviously, Golden Rice is an example of something where the genetics have been altered in order to drive a certain nutritional outcome is one piece of the puzzle in terms of saying how can we make foods that are more nutrient dense or that have a a specific desired nutrient outcome.
The second is obviously the environment which can relate to the physical geography of where a product is produced. The soils that it’s grown in. The local climate of where that product is produced. And then obviously the management practices, which may include traditional, more conventional agricultural practices that apply chemicals, pesticides, herbicides, etcetera.
They could be more regenerative organic types of production methods that include, no till, low till, cover cropping, and a variety of other other methods that can be used to preserve soil health in some way. All of these combinations end up driving the shifts that work. It was what you think about going to a System C view, the sort of future state of the world. The other way that I’ve seen Eric describe this equation is g times e times m equals nutrition instead of yield. I know that has shifted sort of being yield times nutrition.
But it’s about shifting away from that pure yield focus into looking at these drivers around how we can get to nutrition as well. I do want to just mention briefly, around the additional factors is that, practically these are farm gate on the left side. These are farm gate types of drivers, but other components matter too.
It matters whether or not there’s degradation during a product’s transportation. It matters whether or not there’s degradation of a product’s nutrient quality through processing, which certainly happens to a lot of food products that we consume today. You know, I think about whole fruit versus fruit juices just as a great example of that. There’s been a lot more awareness around over the last five to ten years.
That’s something where you lose a lot of nutrients or you take nutrients out of context, and it causes a completely different metabolic and biological response in the human body. And last thing is obviously preparation, how food is produced, what it’s consumed with. These are other factors that are more external and harder to control.
This is sort of the ways in which we might think about why we would start to see so much variation. Variation in terms of nutrient density and nutrient quality, in food products.
Eric, I don’t know if you want to add anything or talk about sort of how you came to the conclusion around this sort of simple message between genetics, environment, and management, maybe how you guys have observed that for some of your work in Edacious.
Eric Smith: Well, one, first, I think it’s incredible the amount of capital that we’ve poured into genetics. And Genetics are always going to be a driver, and there’s no doubt about that. And good genetics and a good environment with the right management practices is going to deliver you the best result. But without good genetics, it doesn’t matter how big your environment is.
You’re going to continue to get poor results. But historically, we’re just focused on that part of the equation, or the chemical synthetic paradigm that goes into acting upon those genetics in that environment, and everything’s been built around that system. So the yield above all paradigm based on calories is exactly how we’ve gotten to where we are. Again, no one’s fault.
That’s what we designed for. That’s what the intent of the USDA has been for the past forty, fifty years was maximizing caloric output and maximizing export of calories to developing countries.
And we’re here suffering as a result. Both environmentally and our health because of those decisions.
So to change that, we need to start measuring nutrition, and that’s what we’re here to talk about. Yep. The one thing I will add back to connecting the dots of climate — food waste is a huge problem and cannot be ignored. But the funny thing about food waste and nutrient density is the focus on yield has increased the number of carbohydrates in boot. More carbohydrates is more sugar, more sugar is higher degradation.
Less nutrients means things rot and go bad a lot faster. When you think about the food you could put food in your basement cellar and it would be good for a year because it had its own metabolic pathways for keeping itself intact.
And now you put food out on the shelf and those microbes and decay processes begin immediately because it’s just sugar pointing to get consumed.
David Yocom: So moving with these drivers in mind, I want to walk through a couple examples of just, certain outcomes that have been observed in the field. And, you know, one thing that I’ve talked to Eric about in the past is about just the amount of variance that can occur and and the variance that they’ve seen in terms of measurements. So again, I want to explore this data with the lens that this is an evolving field that we’re starting to see some signals of what these drivers can look like but that there’s a lot of factors to take into account here including the ones that we have here on the screen.
This is some data that Eric shared with me. The study here in the bottom left corner. And it’s comparing regeneratively grown, pastured, beef products with more traditional, feedlot, conventional beef products and compares the ratios of, of essential of essential fatty acids, that are associated with health, including ALA, EPA, DPA, THA, which are all known to have, beneficial impacts on on cardiovascular health, brain health, and a variety of other factors. And we can see that there is some evidence here, in this explicit study that there can be times at which these regenerative practices lead to significantly higher ratios of these products. Now Eric, I’d be curious to get your comment here, but I think we’ve seen also that for regenerative, the range can be very wide, right, as opposed to conventional, which is more narrow and makes sense that it’s more narrow because we’re dealing with a more industrialized conventional practice.
How do you guys think about these types of results versus the types of results that might occur across the field with more measurement?
Eric Smith: Well, of course, it’s going to be highly variable. I mean, you could have a regenerative ranch with you know, raising grass fed beef on one percent organic matters is kinda getting started on this regenerative journey, or you could have somebody that’s doing it for sixty, seventy years with eight percent organic matter and a really nice wide variety of, you know, grasses for those cattle. I think it’s going to be really hard slapping regenerative on and thinking things are going to follow in some linear pathway because there’s a big breadth of different production styles and systems out there that might qualify as regenerative. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, but it’s going to be hard. Yeah. Absolutely.
So kudos to, you know, David Montgomery and Ann Billk for for starting some of the conversation and research that basically you know, preliminary in the sense where they did pair trials. They they gathered food from two different systems where genetics were controlled. Similar environmental conditions, but totally different management practices, and said, look at the differences you’re getting.
And that’s where this data comes from. And it really just shows, what Paul is elucidating and showing, that you can’t generalize about the system because the results are going to be highly variable no matter what the system.
The fact is, nutrition is an objective measurement that we can all agree on and look at because it is quantifiable. And so that’s where we’re trying to head.
The one thing I would say, The Bionutrient Food Association with Utah State, work that we funded at Grantham. Their preliminary results are starting to come out, and they’ve done a great job. But what they show is that variability on grass fed looks like this. And the variability on corn, and/or grain fed systems looks like this. So there’s asset systems that are producing a lower quality product than a good old case. So you can’t make these generalizations based on that serving issues and master practices.
David Yocom: With all with all those in mind, my my takeaway is is that there certainly can be outcomes that are outlier and really positive nutritional outcomes. But it does require us to measure, and we need to reduce those barriers to measurement, which we’re going to get to with Eric and his work with Edacious, as well as Bruce’s work with the Periodic Table of Food Initiative.
I want to jump now to a slide that’s on, Pasturebird, and I encourage anyone, after the fact check out this LinkedIn post that Paul shared. It might have been two or two or three months ago. I also encourage you just to follow Paul on LinkedIn because he has super awesome, LinkedIn posts and posts cool videos and, is always sharing the real, like, facts that they’re uncovering at Pasturebird. Paul, you guys actually went through the exercise of comparing barns.
It’s interesting in the context of you talking about the nutritional guidelines that were put out in 1999 for poultry. And then you guys doing an updated study. I guess there’s a lot of information here. How did you guys go about exploring this for anybody else out there who might want to ask these types of questions?
What did that process look like? And when you got the feedback back, how did you start to think about how you’re going to use this information? Because it’s really interesting. It’s super valuable.
It’s meaningful nutritionally. But it’s also potentially super confusing and beyond the scope of how a lot of people right now think about poultry, which I think most people look at poultry and they go okay. It’s low in saturated fat. Mhmm.
And it’s high in protein. And ultimately, it’s a lean protein. Something I feel good about feeding my kids, but there’s a lot more to it than that. So help us understand how you guys went about understanding this and how you’re thinking about using that information?
Paul Greive: Yeah. I mean, I’ll answer the first one first. I don’t know how to use it. That’s the million dollar question right now, because I’m half farmer, half marketer. And you get all this great data back, and it’s like, well, this is too much for most people to really care about.
So how do we wrap this up? What things do I even test? What matters to people? You know, everybody knows about omegas. Very few people want to talk about n a d h. Like, their eyes kind of start to glass over. So I don’t know yet how to talk about this stuff or how to roll it up or how to kind of explain it in a succinct way. The way that we went about it was, we pulled six samples, from six different flocks.
So, thirty six birds, from our system, across a full year so that we get all the different seasonal variations stuff like that. We pulled the same six samples on six different flocks, from just a standard kind of barn raised, really common conventional system. We sent it to HRI labs, which I thought was doing some really interesting work, testing all across, I think, twenty five hundred different micronutrients and spectrums. A lot of stuff that I don’t understand.
And we had them test the white meat, and we had them test the dark meat. And, these are just a really tiny sample of the results that we got back. I I found it interesting.
But again, going back to how do we communicate this to a consumer? I don’t know yet, you know. I I think that’s what we’re trying to figure out.
David Yocom: Absolutely. Bruce, I saw you nodding a bit during some of what Paul was talking about there. Do you have any commentary you want to add?
Bruce German: Oh, yeah. It’s wonderful to see. Paul and his vision has already anticipated what the critical dimension that we have to add is that basically is peak Periodic Table of Foods Initiative as one of the initiatives going forward is we have to know what’s in food.
It’s just bizarre that in 2023, we’re talking about building databases of what food is.
And I I think we’ve seen already in the time today that the entire enterprise is based around agriculture push. The farmers grow, harvest commodities, they’re processed in your ingredients, they’re formulated to products, packaged and put into the marketplace.
What we really need is a complementary approach with the consumer in mind. What is it that the consumer needs?
If you were to establish the consumer driven approach, then all of the things that Paul has recognized as assets to his agricultural practices could be matched to people for whom those components are valuable.
Actually, the metaphor we use is Google Maps.
Very simple value proposition.
Where am I now?
Where would I like to be? How do I get there?
And because of a magnificent digital database in the cloud of all the streets and roads and highways, it’s possible for your simple computational device to interrogate that database.
It knows where I am.
I tell it where I want to go, and it uses that data to solve for the trajectory of how I’m going to get there.
And, of course, Google Maps has transformed the world.
Now take the same approach to diet. What’s my diet or what’s my health status now? What would I like my health to be? How do I get there?
And I would be able to access a database that would give me the metaphorical equivalent of all the components that should be in my diet with the appropriate amounts.
Eric has already raised this issue. We are not quantitative in our data.
As individuals, it’s vital how much of everything we get. Once we have the data on which we can base that kind of computational solution, then we can solve for everyone’s health aspiration.
Get everyone to where they want to be through diet. Now once you compliment it, the agricultural push with the consumer pull in knowledge space, then it will be a very different value proposition.
David Yocom: Yeah. Yeah. No. It’s, you know, putting all that into context thinking about Paul’s comments initially and your comments now, Bruce, I think it is both a very high value mission, but it’s also a long term vision. And we’ll talk about what some of these opportunities look like, but needing the consumer to understand all this information and to value this information to make purchasing decisions off this information is something that takes time and takes work and a lot of education. And I think we’ll talk about what some of those needs are and where some of those gaps are.
So we’ve talked a lot about what, what nutrient density is what some of those core drivers are, why we need it. And what some of the results can look like depending on which of those drivers are applied depending on the agricultural system.
Now what I want to highlight in this next piece is what some of those challenges are that exist today, in terms of really understanding what nutrient density is, how we think about what molecular components make up food, and some of the challenges that have kept us from measuring and understanding this more quickly. From there, we’ll talk a little bit more about what we can do with that information a little bit more depth and, you know, Eric’s working a lot of different customers around, these problems and their interest in this information on how they might use that.
So I think the way I want to frame this is how do we understand what food is and that’s really what PTFI is working to solve, what is food?
And how does that relate to human health more broadly? And then Edacious where we’re thinking about we have these challenges around measurement, but if we could solve those measurement challenges to more rapidly, more easily characterize the molecular components of food? What can we do with that information in terms of driving both human health outcomes? But also better environmental outcomes from agriculture.
So maybe Bruce, can you can you talk a little bit in more depth around what PTFI is building, what you guys have built so far, and sort of how you guys are actually going about building that molecular characterization of food products today.
Bruce German: Sure. Yeah. Both Paul and Eric have hit on this already. We measure historically a tiny subset of the composition of foods with any accuracy. Basically the essential nutrients, the vitamins, minerals, that are in your food supply without which you die. Those are necessary but not sufficient to help. There are thousands of compounds in foods, and we select from thousands of possible food items around the world.
Right now, there is no accurate quantitative database of what is in foods.
The periodic table of foods initiative has an extraordinarily bold ambition to measure all components of all foods in the world.
And that sounds like it’s, I mean, just literally impossible.
However, once you decide that’s the goal, then you go about the process in a very different way. So first, establish standard methodologies.
So every time you measure something, in a lab anywhere in the world, they verify that they are accurately measuring every component in it. That requires a different approach to methodology.
That means that every lab that’s running samples is running standards at the same time. So that the accuracy, both quantitatively and qualitative can be verified. Once that’s in place, you then start to disseminate that. Around the world. Those methods can now go into labs in every country in the world. Each lab is then building a database and feeding it into the larger publicly accessible database. So we are truly building a legacy database.
It has to be all components and foods. That means you have to put all of the modern analytical tools available into this process.
And the Periodic Table of Foods’s Initiative has worked with the instrument makers, the standard reagent makers so that the industry associated with analytics is fully engaged. Yeah. But we know we can do this and we can scale it.
And then you have to do it everywhere in the world. That means the methodology has to be standardized and scalable as analytics.
That is already going. The goal for year one is to measure, establish the thousand foods around the world that people recognize as being the first generation, and then the goal for tier one analytically is to measure them. And you’re on that trajectory. And then you just start scaling, broadening.
And then once that database is in place, then enterprises like Paul’s can then compare their specific products against the standards around the world. And all of a sudden now, you see everything that we know about food becomes relevant. And we just continue to build from there. The computational ability to say, the people in this part of the world seem to be living unusually good lives.
Is it about their diet that’s doing that? Yeah. Right now, we have these broad generalizations, the Mediterranean diet.
What is it about the Mediterranean? Do I? Do I have to live on crete and walk up mountains every day? That to see Probably doesn’t hurt. I have to know.
Probably doesn’t hurt.
Yeah. And just and Bruce just to put one finer detail on it in terms of the analytical methods you guys are using. These are primarily mass spectroscopy based spectrometry based, measurement tools?
Yeah. It turns out that, while no one’s been really paying attention, the field of analytical mass spectrometry has just revolutionized itself. Over the past two decades, it has become a speck tacularly accurate and sensitive analytical platform.
And you used to have to dedicate an entire wing of of a an academic facility to the instrumentation.
Now the instrumentation has been so successfully miniaturized and troubleshot so that more and more labs around the world are capable of implementing state of the art analytics everywhere. And that has to be done. We can’t just limit it to the wealthy of, of Berkeley We have to get everywhere with this knowledge. Yeah.
Well, maybe that’s a maybe that’s a good a good jumping off point for for Eric and maybe some of the problems that you guys are trying I mean, obviously, that field has come a long way, but we’re still seemingly very behind in terms of a lot of the core measurements, especially being able to do so rapidly on a per customer basis. I think some of what, you know, in a in a call we had recently. You just talked about the customers you’re working with whether they be CPGs or producers being like so curious about seeing this information because it’s really been hard for them to get ahold of maybe if you just give a little little bit of background on on what you guys are building at edacious and sort of the role that the tech that you’re building plays in sort of the context of of what Bruce has talked about here in terms of that molecular characterization.
Absolutely. So, I don’t think I think Bruce did a good job of, properly stating the, audacious vision that BTI is seeking to bring, it is critically important. And and and it’s amazing that the Rockfellers fam foundation has really stepped up to provide the resources for that initiative. It is so critical and so important.
The the key challenge that they’re facing in the standardization of the equipment, the methodologies also involves A lot of PhDs that don’t exist, a lot of labs that aren’t functioning and standardized. It is We run our own lab with a few PhDs with our own equipment within LCMS. Like, I I now fully appreciate the task that BTFI is on to try and standardize these measurements across the system.
At Edacious, our view is that that’s a critically important and their ability to measure the millions of compounds in food that are currently unmapped.
Is is important in a public good that needs to exist.
Our logic is, okay, there’s a hundred and fifty to two hundred compounds that we can see quickly and cheaply that are critically important to human health that we can, drive down the cost to measurement, for those compounds so that we eventually have these two databases, which is, you know, the full molecular composition of food of millions of compounds, but, you know, you for a few dollars of sample, you can get, you know, a hundred and fifty pound pounds very accurately at what’s inside your food. And before I keep going, I’m just curious, Paul, what did that study cost you to run thirty grand.
Yeah. So, that just gives you a second. Like, we can do that. Right? And so public good.
Rock a dollar stepping in to do a job the government should have been doing for a long time to map nutrition and talk about what’s in our food system.
That’s what PTFI is doing. We’re trying to provide tools today into the food system to help people understand the relative quality based on the nutrient composition of the food. And, so yeah, that’s that’s what we do and and so grateful for what ETFI is doing, but I see a quicker path to help getting this information in the market, which is what we’re working on. Yeah.
So just to maybe put a be a little bit more specific, I mean, that the tools that you guys are building are are allowing for just a much I mean, what’s what’s the what’s the degree of magnitude cost reduction that you guys are are proposing to to allow for? Yeah. So a thousand x, basically. So, if you want to do the study that Paul did, it runs you know, we can run from fifteen hundred to thirty five hundred dollars per sample depending on the granularity that you want to look at.
To have any number of samples. You, again, you’re in thirty, forty, fifty, sixty thousand dollars easily. And no producers who’s going to do that? And who’s going to have the granularity to understand the variability in the system? Yeah. So we use a combination of instruments that overlap to the electromagnetic spectrum.
And, we combine them in novel ways and allow us to see a a a a really good in-depth profile of what’s inside the food. And all we’re really doing is building spectral libraries. So the same chromatograph that’s generated by an LCMS or an LC time of flight, LCMS, which which there’s PTFI standardizing on, we’re generating a same chromatograph that tells you what’s spectroscically happening when you hit the white, hit the sample with some piece of the electromagnetic spectrum. And what we do is we build nutritional profiles based on that technology hit examples to say, can we accurately predict what’s inside food? And the answer overwhelmingly for, again, for a hundred and fifty compounds, a hundred fifty two hundred compounds is, yes, we’re going to be able to tell you. But what’s that list that Paul put out, that that in-depth list, that’s going to be a lot more challenging, and that’s going to be you’re going to need ETFI to to make that a possibility.
What needs to happen after PTFI is the government has to start funding health studies to actually understand the forms of those compounds in the diet, which, again, if, you know, if Daria is successful in having the National Institute of Nutrition, maybe we’ll actually get to the point where we can do those studies, but that’s still, you know, years away. Yeah. Is there ultimately a way in which the data generated by PTFI would serve your work at edacious. You view them as sort of separate entities covering different levels of granularity in this system or is once they start coming out with data, is that something that Edacious could use effectively in your product?
It’s about the spectral libraries. Right? So If Bruce runs milk samples in his lab and he sees chromatograph for this profile of milk with these nutrients, and then Dasia does it very cheaply with its spectroscopic instrumentation.
It’s about machine learning algorithms that can link those signals together and say, and we get a rough profile and a good signal from very expensive mechanisms. And and that’s how our company works. We have to do the same measurements that that Bruce and Paul are doing to be able to drive down the cost of the spectroscopy. Yeah.
Okay. Awesome. Well, Please. Oh, please, Bruce.
No. I was just going to say they’re wonderfully complimentary.
And and to to to wax again on the on the Google Maps metaphor, the public database tells you what the roads are, where they connect. It has to be in place. But then real time measurement is is the value. So the the maps aren’t telling you what the traffic is. But it’s critical to know what the traffic is. So the Dacious is giving real time value, to to make the utility of the database, valuable. So I I view them as wonderfully complimentary.
You need both.
Yeah. I definitely agree.
So, we’re coming we’re coming to the last slide here and, it it touches on something that we covered briefly at the beginning or that Paul made a comment on about, like, what do I, like, what do I do with this information? Like, who who’s going to use it? Like, how who’s going to care about it, who’s going to pay more money for it.
I want to I want to hear everyone’s perspective here, but, you know, Eric, I think given how many customers you’re talking to, I think it would be great to just get the diversity of, like, what people care about.
I think the way the way I framed this, I I know there’s more stakeholders, but I sort of view it sort of three big buckets that are being producers.
These could be groups like pasturebird or someone like white pastors who’s done a really good job of like commercial, like building messaging around sustainability and nutrition in their beef products.
In in terms of being able to leverage that information at a lower cost in their messaging.
Then I think you also have the consumer, which I think is probably the most important piece here because in the end, they’re the ones who are buying these products. Like, it like, producers can care about it. CPGs can care about it, but ultimately you have to have consumers who put value on some quality attributable to the nutrition of the product. So I think that’s an area that we need to hone in more on, in this last section.
But I think also CPG is thinking about, you know, as this sort of food and health message grows and becomes more meaningful in the general population, how can they build a competitive advantage with products that likely work with key producers who have verifiable nutritional differentiation that’s proven over a long period of time or proven using their production methods that could be a very interesting way for them to differentiate. So those are some of the initial buckets that I’ve thought about, but but Eric, can you give us some examples of ways in which your your customers are thinking about how they might leverage this information for some business purpose, whether it’s serving the consumer, whether it’s serving their their ESG goals, etcetera.
Yeah. I’ll give you a quick overview of how we’re approaching this.
On the production side, you know, even if you tell someone what the nutritional composition of their food is, they need tools to do something with it. That translation piece. That’s that’s a key problem.
It’s great to also tell them how they’re performing and be able to benchmark the results. But if you can’t tell them why they got those results, and again, the genetics environmental conditions and offices, it’s only half useful to that producer. And that’s where we, you know, in our part of our mission is to serve producers to basically, you know, return power to the ends of the food system and take it out of the middle. And so producers need better tools to say, I’m doing something right. You should pay me for it, and that’s nutrition and that’s data. When you look at the producer consumer problem set, it’s what Paul said, it’s the translation. And that’s why it’s so relevant that we started this conversation of how you define nutrient density is if you don’t have quick signals, and scores and grades to actually make good decisions.
You’re going to get lost in noise, which is what we currently have. And, like, we’re working on our own concepts because we have to, and we have to have things that we can share with our customers. But we would rather be doing this in a working group with public groups to say, this is an acceptable definition for nutrient density and and we can all agree on that. And it’s no one’s label. It’s a piece of information that sits publicly that’s been verified in real time by hopefully our technology to say that, honestly. But, so consumers need the ability to make quick decisions.
CPG Challenge is is all about verification, and this goes back to the nutritional label. There’s no frequency of sampling. There’s no requirement on the number samples. There’s no it is wild west in terms of how nutritional facts panels get produced and how this information gets compared most people use calculators. They enter a few data points and a calculator generates it for them. It’s it’s unbelievable.
Like you said, plus or minus twenty percent of the nutritional facts panel is widely accepted, but the FDA doesn’t no one’s auditing nutritional facts panels. You don’t even know if you’re getting our results are telling us you’re not even getting what it says on the nutritional facts boundary to begin with. So you’re getting cheated there. It’s just like So, for us, low cost measurement unlocks that real time, you know, view and being able to see the traffic and be able to understand the flows of nutrients in the systems.
So that’s why we’re really focused on driving down the cost so that, you know, this information can make its way into the public space. Yeah. Does that give does that give you any any thoughts, Paul, in terms of how you might think about using this type of information type of meaningful advantage do you think it could give you? How long do you think it would take to to get this message out to a to a broader consumer?
How does this ultimately play into your guys’ goals?
Yeah. I mean, just a couple thoughts on that. So I I I do think we’ve treated consumers like they’re stupider, than they than they actually are. I think There’s a level of respect that we need to have as marketers.
For the type of consumer that’s going to pay more for a nutrient dense product, they want more information. They do like the data. I’ve seen, you know, maybe it doesn’t live on the front of the pack in retail, but it can live on the website and it can live on social media. And, I mean, when I post stuff like this, it does really well.
It gets a lot of traction. So it’s not that people don’t care. And, yeah, I do think there’s a need to, like, Get it down to a really quick and simple kind of definition maybe for on pack, but I don’t think we should shy away from giving them them be in the consumers to more that kind of hefty data to to go and chew on and read some white papers because, you know, you’re always kind of selling to the early adopters, who are then going to go and, and sell the product for you. So I think that those early adopters are really going to, be willing to dig in.
Just another thing on consumers, you know, the the original, mass spectrometer kind of nutrient density test has been in r and d for a few million years. And I always say that’s the four year old test. So you can also go feed, you know, feed product to four year old and get their feedback because they’re very unbiased and very opinionated. And, they’ll they’ll tell you if it was good or not.
You know, that doesn’t always work because if it’s very sugary or something like that, you’re going to get biased data. But, with a with a whole nutrient dense kind of raw real food, The holy grail is going to be when we can link flavor to nutrient density, and I’m sure Bruce and Eric would be able to comment on some of that work that’s probably being done already. But once we can figure out what from a nutrient density perspective, what makes it taste good and really taste different, then that’s the huge unlock because people will pay more for food to taste better. Yeah.
Looking at the clock here. I want to make sure we save some time for questions in the audience. I know that we have a couple that have filled in already. I imagine we might get a couple more.
So just jumping into that. Again, if you have any questions for any of our speakers today, feel free to type your question directly, in the question box and I’ll answer them in the order that they’re received.
I’ll ask this question and see if, what it depends whether you guys have read this book or not. So if if not, we can move on to the next one. The first question is, what do you think about Mark hyman’s proposals in his book, the Food fix? Has anybody read the Food fix?
Not enough detail to comment.
Yeah. I’m a big fan. I’d be curious what the, what the question asked her if there’s specific. Well, he recommended a lot of different things.
One of the standouts to me was trying to get land into the hands of land managers that are going to manage in a more regenerative way and produce more nutrient dense food. That’s a very complex one. Probably not one that that can take, like, a thirty second answer. So Gotcha.
Well, Tom, if you want to be more specific in your question about some of those proposals, feel free to, type those in the box.
This second question I believe is for, for Bruce.
How long will it take to fill out the periodic table of foods or at least the first thousand that you guys alluded to, is there a way for the public to track the progress of which foods and what regions have been measured and which are planned to be?
Oh, and that’s a great question. Good question. That’s exactly yeah. Why they should go on the periodic table of Foods Initiative website? Because it it it’s looking to be a very public and very transparent process.
The thought was that by the end of twenty twenty four, the methodologies would be ready and start.
We’re well over a year ahead of that schedule. So the methodologies are already being applied.
The first hundred foods are are are being posted. The the scale up is expansive.
So you can expect the next thousand, to be very few months in the future.
And the more laboratories around the world that can do this that the faster it will accelerate. What we’re basically doing is is providing the means for the agriculture and food enterprise to become a knowledge based system. That will literally change everything.
A question here from, from Rob Lustig that, I imagine some of you may agree with, but you also may disagree with. So I guess that makes it a good question.
The problem there’s a problem that flavonoids, polyphenols, and other micronutrients, they they don’t taste that good.
And that’s why they were bred out in the first place. And that’s why sugar was added. Any thoughts on how to fix that problem or any or any potential disagreements with that statement?
You’re with the hell, Rob Lust. That’s not true.
That’s not why they were bred out. That has little to do with why they were bred out.
I I I don’t know that I disagree.
I mean, I agree. So first off, If you haven’t read his Robert’s boss book, it’s called Metabolical, and it is fantastic, and you should definitely read it.
But I I think once Rob, you take sugar out of the diet, ace butts have a ability to reformulate pretty quick and then better things actually become good again. And so I think the first is just policy to remove sugar from the phone system, which is, you know, we need more of that. There’s I think we’re pretty much out of time here for further questions.
There’s one sort of more of a comment that’s around wanting to form a, a Senate ad committee focused on this topic, for the for the next farm bill negotiations.
Michael, why don’t you fall up with with us over email after this, and I can figure out how to get you in touch with, with some of our speakers.
Before we drop off here today, opportunity to plug any of the work you guys are working on. Paul, Eric, Bruce, any any final thoughts you guys want to want to leave us with. Any and and and any ways in which the audience can help you guys out.
I’ll just end by saying as a producer, you know, representing kind of land and end products. I’m really excited about what air and Bruce are both working on. I think it has a chance to really change the game, for people like me that are trying to raise these types of food. So kudos to you guys.
Thanks, Paul. We’re, we’re we’re looking for customers. So if you are working in grains, meat or milk.
And we started with animal products actually in grains because the variability is well understood.
It requires on label packaging already.
And there’s very different outcomes in the system. So, we’re we’re, kinda open for pilot customers to come and work with us. So feel free to reach out. Thanks, sir. Bruce, anything you want you want to throw in the mix?
Yeah. The most important diet in your life is your first one.
We need to help mothers and babies post op. Everyone should be actively engaged in making sure every mother is well nourished and every baby equally so.
Awesome. Thanks, Bruce. Well, Eric, Bruce Paul. We sincerely appreciate your guys’ time today. Your insights, really happy with the way that sort of diversity of perspectives came together, on this panel today.
For anybody listening, we’re participating in the in the discussion either actively or listening. Thank you so much for being a part of this. This is an important part of our mission towards driving towards more sustainable, more nutritious food system. And each of the people we’ve had on the call today are playing a really critical role, in serving that mission.
This, recording will be emailed to you. If you registered and it will also be available on YouTube, for anybody, who wants to watch it there. Lastly, I’ll mention if you want a copy of this presentation, you can reach out to our team at Iselect And I’m happy to send you a copy of the PDF. Otherwise, thank you all for your time, and we look forward to seeing you next time.