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🍏 "Alternative Protein: It’s What’s For Dinner"

Catalyst with Shayle Kann

Photo by Robert Bye / Unsplash

Host: Shayle Kann
Guest: Dr. Liz Specht | VP of Science & Technology | Good Food Institute
Category: 🍏 Sustainable Food | Alternative Protein

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[5:14] “We've definitely seen an inflection point [in alternative protein]. […] 5-6 years ago is when that really started to take off. […] Not the old school veggie dogs or black bean burgers […], but really companies that are trying to truly mimic the full sensory experience of meat products. […] This is a field that's still relatively small when you look at share of market relative to conventional meat. Right now in the US […] plant-based meats are at somewhere around 1.5% of the total meat market. But plant-based milks are closer to 16% of the total fluid milk market.

[6:58] “Another really big trend that's been happening […] probably last 3ish years, is the big major meat companies jumping into this space and […] launching their own plant-based meat brands under their flagship brands, or creating new product lines, investing in or wholesale acquiring some of these plant based meat companies, making investments into the cultivated meat space as well.”

[8:38] “In terms of the motivations, I think the strongest ones on a global level are certainly the climate and environmental benefits. We're looking at basically 20% of contribution to global greenhouse gasses coming from the livestock sector. […] There's also really substantial public health benefits associated with moving away from animal agriculture. A recent UN Environment report titled […] “Preventing the next pandemic” identified intensive livestock agriculture and growing demand for animal protein as two of the seven biggest drivers for risks of zoonotic diseases, which are viruses or other infections that emerge in animals and then make their way into human populations. […] And then I think there's a lot to be said from a strict market efficiency and resiliency and food security perspective. […] There's a huge economic advantage and market advantage to folks moving towards alternative platforms that are just more robust, more resilient, less prone to those sorts of volatility and disruptions and more quickly responsive to shifts in consumer demand.”

[14:59] “In plant-based products there's a lot of low hanging fruit still and unexploited territory from a R&D perspective. […] If you look across ingredient labels for these products, almost all of them are working with a pretty limited ingredient stack in terms of where those primary proteins are coming from. So almost all of them are either soy protein based or wheat protein based, or a fair number in this sort of latest generation of products are pea protein based. But that's just a small number of all plant proteins out there. […] And so there's a fair bit of work to be done on that crop selection and crop optimization side of things, to just identify either cultivars of these major crops, or newer crops, or more niche crops […] that might provide better and neat functionality.”

[18:06] “We don't quite know where the ceiling is. We don't know to what extent across every product category, could plant based products truly foool even the most discriminating consumer. Cultivated meat, the advantage there is that it is essentially identical to animal muscle tissue. So those cells are producing the exact same suite of proteins, the exact same suite of lipids. You can't get any closer to the real thing. It is the real thing. […] In the fermentation realm. A lot of the advantages are really from this sort of enabling capacity, so producing some of these so-called superstar ingredients like heme protein.”

[20:51] “The cost of plant-based meat products […] currently sits at usually anywhere from 2 to 4x on a per pound basis relative to conventional meat. And relative to cheapest commodity versions of conventional meat, it's often on par with higher end or premium meats, like grass-fed or organic. […] The animal agriculture industry has had 100 plus years to become extremely consolidated, extremely big, tapping into massive economies of scale, and is 100% commoditized. Whereas the plant-based meat industry, that 1.5% of the market, is divided up among several companies versus conventional meat, there are really four main players for the most part. And each of those companies are manufacturing at a scale that's orders of magnitude smaller.”

[35:23] “Lab grown meat is the term that causes folks in this industry to cringe the most. Cultured meat, cell based meats are definitely terms that certain players are using. Cultivated is the one that's recently emerging as a term that both makes this process familiar and approachable to consumers, but also describes what's going on, which is really the process of cell cultivation or cell culture. So this is essentially growing all of the various cell types that comprise actual meat products, so predominantly muscle cells, fat cells […] and essentially assembling these cells into a spatial arrangement and getting that muscle fiber alignment, such that you're creating a genuine meat product without the animal involved. And this is building off of decades of work in the biomedical engineering and tissue engineering realms, mostly for the purposes of things like organ regeneration and testing of biopharmaceuticals.”

[37:44] “I think there's enough evidence that a significant fraction of consumers do want the “real deal” that it's worth pursuing. It's worth having in this portfolio. […] Some people think plant-based is really kind of a bridge to get us to a totally cultivated meat future, because there's just some sort of evolutionary X factor that really drives us to crave meat as humans. And then you'll hear other folks who think that cultivated meat is simply a bridge to get us to a plant-based future. We all grew up eating conventional meat, that flavor profile is kind of imbued in our culture and in our ingrained tastes preferences. But that eventually, as we get closer to meat from the plant-based world, or even just kind of move past this concept of mimicry all together, that cultivated meat won't be necessary. I tend to think that both of these approaches will continue to be attractive to different groups of consumers for different reasons going forward.”

[46:40] “We're starting to see national governments start to prioritize alternative proteins. In China's recent five year strategy, they called out cultivated meat explicitly as something that is a priority area. Just late last year, we saw the announcement of the USDA investing into the very first National Institute for Cellular Agriculture. […] I think another big development will of course, be on the regulatory front. […] Cultivated meat is only available in Singapore at the moment. But we know that that is working its way through regulatory assessment and food safety assessment in multiple other countries at present. And then same on the fermentation side of things, getting approval for some of these precision fermentation ingredients.”

Rating: 💧💧💧💧

🎙️ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify | Google
🕰️ 51 min | 🗓️ 04/14/2022
✅ Time saved: 48 min

Additional Links:
Article: “Chart: Which foods are worst for the climate?” (Canary Media, 2022)
Article: “You think the energy problem is hard? Meet the food climate challenge” (Canary Media, 2022)