Food From Thought: August 2022
California invests in alternative protein and plant-based meal programs, Netherlands experiences price parity, Meati debuts in Sprouts, Wicked Kitchen launches dairy-free milks, and more.
The current economy is hitting consumer wallets hard, and industries are feeling the heat of inflation and continued supply chain issues. But, with all of the negative headlines, here are four ways that the alternative protein industry continues to move forward.
1. State funding to backbone institutions is growing.
Funding has been a substantial challenge for alt proteins. Without a steady stream of monetary support, brands can’t consistently address certain product issues, achieve production goals, or reach their full consumer base quite yet.
But investments at a variety of levels are helping to change that.
The State of California, which over 80 alternate protein innovators call home, recently made a $5 million investment in three University of California campuses to support research on cultured and plant proteins. And at the end of 2021, the USDA committed to a $10 million investment over five years to Tufts University to establish the National Institute for Cellular Agriculture.
More data can translate to fewer production and product issues and ultimately a quicker, wider presence in the commercial retail market.
2. There is growing visibility and accessibility.
One of the best ways for alt protein companies to establish consumer awareness is to form partnerships with major retail chains. For instance, SuperMeat just signed an agreement with Migros—Switzerland’s largest meat manufacturer and retail supermarket chain—to boost the production and distribution of cultivated meat.
Another way these foods are becoming more normalized is through increased presence in schools. Earlier this year, the Making Equitable and Alternative Lunches (MEAL) Act required a plant-based alternative at every school meal or snack if a student requests one, at no extra cost.
California recently made an investment of public funds in plant-based K-12 school meal programs. While federal subsidization has long made animal products a cheaper option, this type of funding moves things in the other direction—and hopefully triggers more of the same.
3. Price parity is coming—and in some cases is already here.
Ultimately, the goal is for alternative proteins to out-price conventional ones,and even become the cheaper option for consumers. There have been numerous obstacles to achieving this, but there are signals it’s getting closer to reality.
Despite rising food prices globally, new data has shown that the Netherlands has actually achieved price parity for plant-based proteins. While inflation, high raw material costs, and production inefficiencies have caused meat prices to skyrocket over the last 6 months, the cost of plant-based alternatives have only risen 2%. The result: plant-based proteins are cheaper than traditional meats in The Netherlands.
4. More science has been released behind the benefits of alt proteins.
There’s a deluge of biased headlines about how unhealthy and ultra-processed alternative proteins are compared to conventional meats. News like that travels fast and can perpetuate uninformed stances just as quickly, making them tough to change.
But a new peer-reviewed study, published in Future Food in July, addresses these misperceptions head-on. In the paper, the authors reviewed 43 studies on the healthiness and environmental sustainability of plant-based alternatives versus their animal counterparts. And the science is clear.
Plant-based alternatives are more sustainable, specifically when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, water, and land use. They offer a more favorable nutrition profile that supports healthy weight maintenance and chronic disease prevention. Furthermore, cellular agriculture presents new opportunities to improve their health value even more.
Alternative proteins have faced obstacles since their inception yet have always found positive ways forward. Their continued advancement in times like these serves as a reminder of how powerful the future of food truly will be.
Black Sheep Foods
New York Times: The Future of Food
World Economic Forum: Climate-friendly foods: are alternative proteins the way forward?
Plant Based News: Vegan Brand Unveils Largest-Ever Plant-Based Meat Factory In India
The Science Times: Lab-Grown Meat: How Ready Are We to Accept, Add This to Our Regular Meal?