On September 4-6, the Good Food Institute held their second conference celebrating and accelerating the burgeoning plant-based and cell-based meat industries. Hundreds of scientists, founders, food companies, retailers and advocates gathered at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco to connect and share insights on this transformative industry.
As an enthusiast in plant-based products and innovations, I was thrilled to be in North America to travel to this relatively new and exciting conference. The two-day jam-packed agenda covered all developments in the industry from sustainable seafood, to commercialising cell-based meat products to the possibilities of fermented proteins. Oh and it would be remiss of me not to mention the incredible food on offer with many brands providing taste tests of their products to attendees.
From the delicious taste tests to the compelling pitches from startups, it’s clear that it’s an incredibly exciting time to be involved in the alternative protein space.
Here are some of my key takeaways from the two days;
Taste will drive success
While the plant-based and cell-based meat sector has grown in response to a need to consume foods more consciously, the overwhelming theme from the conference was that taste is key. Panellists repeatedly said that the success of plant-based products will come down to whether they taste great. In fact, it’s the goal for the team at Impossible for their patty to taste better than the meat alternative. So, unless plant-based products taste good, it won’t matter to the masses that they’re better options for the world.
Meat eaters will drive plant-based growth
Flexitarians and meat eaters are predicted to drive the growth of this category. Brands are already seeing this trend. Panellists in a session entitled ‘Marketing to Meat Eaters’ revealed that 93% of people buying Beyond Meat burgers in the supermarket are buying meat proteins at the same time while only 17% of consumers purchasing MorningStar Farms products (a Kellogg's-owned vegetarian brand) identify as vegetarian or vegan.
It’s therefore no surprise that plant-based meats are being strategically placed in the supermarket next to their protein analogues. These products are being designed for people who eat meat and like the taste of meat but are looking for other options. This is especially true for younger generations whose food preferences are preferencing less meat and older consumers who are being told to reduce their meat consumption for health reasons.
Developments in sustainable seafood
While burger and meat alternatives have seen a surge in the last couple of years, seafood made from plants and cell-cultivation is starting to kick off. A panel talked to this subject and explained the challenges this category faces due to the relative infancy of this industry as well as taste and texture challenges - i.e. do you make a fishless fish as fishy as it’s counterpart? But the need for solutions is clear with global seafood demand at an all time high and a prediction that we’ll have a 30% increase in seafood globally by 2030. Seafood alternatives are therefore much needed and very timely, especially considering they would be free from mercury, micro plastics and antibiotics.
Meat companies are diversifying
Many of the new players and investors into plant-based and cell-based industries are traditional meat and agricultural companies who are intent on not having their Kodak moment.
We heard from Tyson Ventures, JBS and Perdue Farms all of whom are diversifying into alternative proteins. Tyson has nine investments in alternative meat companies and announced they are investing in the plant-based seafood company New Waves Food. A number of these companies also spoke to their own plant-based lines or their blended products, which mix meat and plant-based proteins.
Fighting for true and fair labelling
To policy wonks like myself, hearing about the regulatory issues was the most fascinating part of the two days. A number of US states have or are in the process of banning the use of certain words such as ‘meat’, ‘sausage’ or ‘burger’ in relation to the labelling of plant-based alternatives. Groups including The Good Food Institute and the Plant Based Foods Association are backing plant-based companies like Tofurky to have these laws overturned arguing that they are unconstitutional.
The panel talked to standards of identity which are being used by industry incumbents to restrict plant-based labelling. But as all panelists agreed, labels are for consumers and labelling laws should reflect the changing nature of our food supply, not outdated standards of identify. This is already the case with many products like goat milk, peanut butter and rice noodles using terms that do not adhere to traditional standards of identity.
The future is bright
The overarching theme of the two days is that we are at a tipping point. Plant-based products are becoming mainstream while cell-based innovations are moving at a rapid pace to compete with animal-derived proteins. It’s certainly an exciting time and as the multiple foods I tasted revealed, it can’t come soon enough!
Interested in more? Visit the Good Food Conference webpage for more information on the panels and speakers; https://goodfoodconference.com/.