Alternative proteins are flavour of the month as plant-based burger patties hit the market looking and tasting almost the same as their meat-based counterparts.
The two big players in the space – Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat – are both now ramping up seriously in the US food service market.
Adding weight to the trend is the rise of a new breed of producers creating high-protein food and feed ingredients from single-cell proteins (derived from cells of yeast, fungi, algae, and bacteria) and insects (from crickets, fruit flies, grass- hoppers, and mealworms).
Although still in their infancy, market growth in these industries is high, and experts are urging the world’s meat manufacturers to prepare now for inevitable disruption.
“In line with their processing partners, meat producers need to recognise what is driving these substitutes, and do what they can to tap into the desire for healthy, sustainable and novel products delivered through a supply chain that consumers trust,” Rabobank’s GM of Food & Agribusiness Research in Australia and New Zealand Tim Hunt says.
US meat giants Cargill and Tyson Foods are taking heed. These companies have taken strategic stakes (alongside the likes of Richard Branson and Bill Gates) in California-based cultured meat company Memphis Meats. This company, and others like it, are preparing to scale up lab-grown meat products in coming years.
Mark Post, the co-founder of a Netherlands-based cultured meat startup Mosa Meat, says the use of this technology in Australia makes sense in light of our harsh weather conditions, our proximity to Asia, and to ease animal welfare concerns.
“Australia is ideally positioned to be a big producer, and an exporter to Asian countries ,” Post says.
Unlike its overseas counterparts, however, the Australian red meat industry has yet to adopt a position on alternative proteins, notesBrett Wiskar, the R&D and innovation director at design build and consulting business Wiley.
“There are numerous companies now trying to synthesise protein products outside of an animal. Whether they take two per cent or 80 per cent of the market, and if it takes five or 50 years to get there, the industry needs to figure out what it wants to do about it,” Wiskar says.
Wiley recently created a short, animated video entitled Cows Might Fly that presented an (albeit unlikely) technology-focused future for the meat industry. The video aimed to provoke conversation, and to remind us that change and disruption is inevitable, according to the company.
According to Wiskar, the evolution of lab-grown meat could have potential advantages for traditional meat companies as an add-on to their operations.
“For a meat processor with a value-adding facility, lab-grown meat would be the ideal complementary product, as these companies already have the capability to keep their products cold and the packaging know-how.”
Moreover, he says, alternative protein production could provide processors with cost benefits when it comes to its lower requirements for land, transport, water and power.