Dariush Ajami

Chief Innovation Officer, Beyond Meat

Dariush Ajami, Ph.D., is the Chief Innovation Officer at Beyond Meat, a company that aims to create mass-market solutions that perfectly replace animal protein with plant protein. Dariush leads creative research and development teams from ideation to scaleup processes in the creation of new plant-based meats.

At Beyond Meat, we believe there is a better way to feed the planet by replacing animal protein with plant protein. We are dedicated to improving human health, positively impacting climate change, conserving natural resources and respecting animal welfare. We want to make the world a better place and we’re starting one delicious plant-based meal at a time.

Prior to joining Beyond Meat, Dariush was Assistant Professor of Molecular Assembly at the Scripps Research Institute (La Jolla), where he worked on fundamentals of molecular assembly, natural products and their applications in drug discovery. Dr. Ajami has published over 150 scientific publications, several book chapters and has given lectures at universities and research institutes in the United States and internationally. He is a strong advocate that scientific and technical innovations can effect real changes in the food industry that can be accomplished using all natural and plant-based foods.

Dariush will be giving the opening keynote session at the World Food Innovate Summit in Amsterdam (13 - 14 May 2019). Find out more about his session "The Future of Protein: Why do you need an Animal to Create Meat?" here.

1. Why did you choose a career in the food industry?

I have trained as an organic chemist and have worked on biomedical research as a faculty member of The Scripps Research Institute before joining the Beyond Meat team. At the molecular level, basic science has the same rules whether it’s for biomedicine or food. Protein structure-function studies and characterization of ingredients plays a role in developing innovative food products. So, I viewed working at Beyond Meat as a natural extension of my background but just applied in a new direction. The idea of preventative medicine is prevalent in today’s health sector and I believe that improving the nutritional aspects of the food we eat to be an important part of that narrative. My belief in our mission to improve human health, positively impact climate change, conserve natural resources and respect animal welfare was a major factor in this choice, and the food industry is uniquely positioned to effect such goals.

2. What are your main responsibilities in your role?

We have a very talented and passionate team at Beyond Meat innovation group. My main responsibility is to steer them in the right direction and make sure they have all required elements to succeed.

3. With regards to your Beyond Meat, why do you believe the “meat alternative industry” has gained such momentum and media attention recently?

Beyond Meat’s mission is to create mass-market solutions that perfectly replace animal protein with plant protein. The fact that we have created plant-based meats that begin to replicate the properties of animal meat such that plant-based meats are now sold in the meat isle is a potentially paradigm-shifting event and has attracted considerable attention. At Beyond Meat, we figured out how to use natural, plant-based ingredients in new and innovative ways.

4. Has Silicon Valley become the hub of food innovation and investment in the food industry in the US? And if so, why?

Beyond Meat is located in the Los Angeles area, although we received investments from Silicon Valley investors. The tech sector’s view of food is different to how the sector has been traditionally viewed. I think this is in part why they have funded unconventional and innovative ideas. There is a sense that the food sector is poised for new innovations and technological advancements spanning ingredient and product development, quality control, marketing and commercialization of products. Overall, I believe the tech sector recognizes the need for innovation in food to achieve sustainable sources of protein for a growing world population and the potential impact to global climate change, conserving natural resources, health benefits and animal welfare.

5. What key innovation or trend do you see as having the largest impact in the food industry in 2018?

There are a lot of important trends in the food industry as a whole, but in our sector, availability of diverse plant proteins at large volume is anticipated to have a large impact in 2018. We believe that there is a lot of innovation that we can make in further collapsing the differences between animal meat and plant-based meats, and new sources of plant proteins may provide opportunities in this area.