If it looks like coffee, smells like coffee and tastes like coffee, can it really be coffee?
Consumers are becoming more receptive to the notion of lab-based foods, but how far can food scientists go with concocting alternatives to everyday, staple food and beverage products before consumers push back? We may soon find out. 
There is perhaps nothing more sacred, or more in demand, than the ubiquitous morning cup of coffee. As recently reported by NPR, a Seattle-based startup is out to reengineer the coffee bean. The startup, Atomo, has “reverse engineered the coffee bean” by separating and cataloging the over 1,000 compounds that give the drink its “aroma, mouthfeel, color and flavor” — including flavonoids, antioxidants and caffeine. 
Atomo’s cofounder and food scientist Jarret Stopforth, having worked for other brands including Chobani and Soylent, sees opportunity in “beanless” coffee, as the coffee plant faces growing supply challenges brought about by rising global temperatures and deforestation. 
With heightened consumer acceptance of lab-based solutions to products such as dairy and meat — solutions that we explore in our just-released Food & Technology 2019: From Plant-based to Lab-grown report — the question is whether similar market potential for beanless coffee exists. 
Like with other tech-driven food and beverage products, environmental sustainability factors could provide consumers a hook for beanless coffee should coffee bean prices skyrocket; but unlike with meat and dairy, we see few other factors (e.g., animal welfare and personal health) to give consumers strong reasons to believe in the product. 
According to our Food & Technology 2019 report, for example, consumers see food technology as both the cause of and the solution to some of the most significant challenges of our time. Despite the prominent role of science and technology in the world of food today, production methods leaning heavily on these types of innovation can seem to be out of step with consumers’ idealization of more “natural” ways of making food.
A mature marketplace of distinction in coffee (bean varietal, origin, flavor profiles, processing methods, convenient formats, etc.) is addressing a widening variety of consumer needs, and we see a tough road ahead for Atomo in making headway in this space.
Learn more about the science and technology of food creation. Read about the report here: Food & Technology 2019