Keeping an eye on what's happening in the alternative protein space
By Lilian Schaer for Livestock Research Innovation Corporation
There has always been a segment of consumers drawn to meat-free diets. Historically, though, that’s been a small part of the total market, with the attraction of meat holding steady.
That’s no longer the case. In western countries in particular, animal-free meats and plant-based alternatives are seeing rapid growth in popularity, especially with younger consumers.
That’s supported by market positioning as “cleaner and healthier” than conventional meat, eggs and dairy, but these products also increasingly being promoted as a way to fight climate change. Rightly or wrongly, the sheer number of weather-related disasters making global headlines this year has pushed climate change awareness to the forefront of consumer consciousness - and the idea of being able to fight back with food choices resonates with concerned citizens hoping to make a difference.
In Canada, Millennial and Generation Z consumers in particular will be making more climate-friendly food choices, noted Abacus Data CEO David Coletto during a presentation to the Farm & Food Care Ontario annual conference earlier this year.
Why does that matter to the livestock industry?
Coletto’s research shows “climate-friendly” food choices include eating less meat, which 58% of consumers do for health reasons, 43% because of animal welfare concerns, and 37% to lower their carbon footprint.
“One out of five Canadians thinks about climate change all the time and as this concern grows, so, too, will carbon neutral diets, which creates an impetus on producers to answer how they are reducing their carbon footprint,” he said.
The category of alternative proteins includes lab-grown/cultured meat (also known as cellular agriculture), precision fermentation that creates animal-based proteins without animals, as well as the more traditional plant-based meat, egg, and dairy alternatives.
Changing technologies and ingredients make these types of products tastier, cheaper, and more versatile than in the past, rapidly broadening their appeal as more sustainable alternatives.
Nature’s Fynd is a Chicago-based company that relies on naturally occurring fungi that is high in protein which it grows rapidly and efficiently in large quantities using biomass fermentation. By growing the microbes with simple sugars and foods in a controlled environment, the process only takes a few days to harvest.
“It’s a 24/7, 365 day growing season for us whereas animals take years and plants take a growing season, so we can grow large amounts of new protein rapidly,” explained Chief Marketing Officer Karuna Rawal while speaking at the recent Future Food-Tech Alternative Protein Summit.
Beef has long been a target, from early veggie burgers to the Impossible Meat plant-based burger that bleeds just like its real meat cousin. But it’s no longer the only one.
Last year, plant-based egg producer Eat Just from California, for example, became the first company in the world to sell cultured or “animal-free” chicken. Cells are extracted from a bird and fed with lipids, water, nutrients, and amino acids to produce meat without needing the live animal itself.
“We only grow the meat you eat, not the whole animal or bird, and as we scale, the promise of this technology is to find a more sustainable way to eat meat,” said head of marketing Tom Rossmeissl.
He added that the “slaughter-free” aspect of cultivated meat resonates with consumers, as do the antibiotic- and growth hormone-free labels.
Some of the bolder predictions suggest animal-based agriculture will ultimately become a luxury item with the bulk of the global market fed by plant, cellular and precision fermentation-based products.
Along with environmental advocates who lay the blame for climate change solely at the feet of livestock agriculture, it’s what raises the ire of Livestock Research Innovation Corporation CEO Mike McMorris.
Frustrated by the lack of credible and balanced information on topics like climate change and alternate proteins, LRIC launched its Horizon Series of white papers and webinars earlier this year to tackle key issues facing the livestock industry in collaboration with noted experts in the field.
The goal is to offer balanced and science-based information for consumers and policymakers, and farmers who need information to make production decisions or are looking for some points they can use when talking to people about raising livestock.
“It’s vital for the livestock industry to be aware of what is being said about our production practices and our products so that we know what we are up against and where we can continue to make improvements,” McMorris says. “We know that the livestock industry has made big strides in reducing its environmental footprint and that we are an important part of climate change mitigation, but the challenge lies in getting those messages in front of the public.”
This article was published in the October 2021 issue of Ontario Beef.