Factors Enabling the Success of Alternative Protein Products

What are the biggest enabling factors of the success of alternative protein products?

Alternative protein products have the potential to succeed if they can match all of the following factors relative to traditional food, and exceed traditional food in one or more of these factors.

  • Total environmental impact
  • Energy consumption
  • Cost
  • Availability
  • Nutritional value
  • Health and safety (real and perceived)
  • Societal impact
  • Appealing appearance, texture and taste
  • Factors 1, 2 and 3 indicate the overall efficiency of the entire food production process. This includes the complete process: from obtaining the raw source materials, to growing the food, dealing with byproducts [waste?], packaging, presenting and transporting the finished product to the consumer [and their waste?]. What is the total energy requirement, and what is the total impact on the environment? Also, can the process deliver food at a lower cost?

    [Note: Although we can seek an efficient process, we also have to be mindful of the fact that on a finite planet there is a limit to the size of population it can support (for a given quality of life). So initiatives that consider issues around population growth and quality of life are also helpful to the big long term picture, e.g. Population Matters.]

    Availability: will the proposed solution be available to everyone at an affordable cost? Will the intellectual property be open to everyone, or controlled by a handful of global corporations? Can every small village on the planet benefit from this new approach? Would it be feasible for every household to adopt the new technology?

    [Perhaps a solar powered fresh food factory will replace the refrigerator in the kitchen.]

    It is theoretically possible that this approach delivers a high quality food in terms of its nutritional value, as the process can be precisely monitored and controlled.

    Equally, as we have seen, it is possible that businesses cut corners and deliver processed foods of lower quality; or employ dubious processes and chemicals.

    The solution to this might be relevant education, adequate regulation, quality certification, and transparency.

    The quality of the solution might have a significant impact on the consumers’ health and safety (real and perceived). With such a radical approach it is vital that we get this right, if the approach is to be successful.

    For success, the approach also has to have a positive impact on society. If all of the above factors are satisfactorily addressed then this could be possible.

    An appealing appearance, texture and taste are important factors when we choose which foods we will eat. It should be possible to use the cell based foods in 3D printers to replicate the look of traditional foods; and to produce new innovative designs that excite and delight.

    Thank you for your insightful comments @akb! We agree: total environmental impact, energy consumption, cost, availability, nutritional value, health and safety, societal impact, appealing appearance, and texture and taste are all important factors to consider in the development of an alternative protein.

    What do you see as the biggest challenges to the success of cell based protein products? What are the biggest enabling factors?

    Similarly, what do you see as the greatest opportunity for the future of plant-based protein products when addressing a growing population’s consumption demands?

    I agree with my colleague Kathleen that your comments are extremely insightful @akb. Can you please provide us with some insights on the role of government in the alternative protein space? Should government have a role? If so, what should it be please?

    Hi @cnatan
    Yes government should have a role. The existing organisations should be able to deal with this new food type, e.g. health bodies, food standards agency, and environment agency. They might have to modify existing regulations and/or create new ones; but overall a similar approach to that of today might be adequate. Although society might want additional assurances, and clearer information.

    @arshimehboob and @Pasi, I would like to ask for your take on this question.

    We are now designing a prize competition to increase access to nutritious alternative protein products, which is a direct outcome of the Alternative Proteins discussions we had in the Future of Food Impact Roadmap. What do you see as the main factors potentially driving the success of alternative protein products? Do you agree with @akb’s list? Would you add or change anything?

    Also, per @cnatan’s question, what do you think governments can and should do about this?

    Thank you for your comments on the role governments should play @akb. Just to clarify, when we say government we mean federal not individual states? To move consumers to alternative proteins the federal government would have to set the tone and not leave it up to individual states to set their own guidelines?

    Let’s look at maize. Its principal seed storage is zein. Zein is very low in essential amino acids. Lysine is low and tryptophan (a precursor of serotonin) is absent. The technology to remove zein and insert a super nutritious protein. This would probably triple the nutritional value and impact of maize, and in the same way, it will also be applied to other crops such as rice, wheat, and legumes. Animal feeds, human foods, these can be greatly improved, and they can be grown everywhere. We have a chance to produce much more nutritious foods in an open source manner. Bring it on.

    The so-called alternative sources of protein may become dietary staples in the future, but to promote the acceptance governments must outperform traditional sources through awareness programs.

    Challenges such as regulatory hurdles, high production costs and low consumer awareness or acceptance. Each factor has to be addressed parallelly and the key is not to treat it as a race.

    People eat meat as it is culturally ingrained despite how it’s produced; people are not eating meat because of how it’s produced.

    Not one organization will spark a movement globally in plant-based or clean meat-eating. Governments and businesses have to work together to foster change for the greater good of the public and environmental health.

    Thank you for your insightful comments @davidsands. What are your thoughts on increasing the amount of iron and B12 for example in alternative meats?

    Thank you for your insights comments @arshimehboob. I agree with governments and businesses should work together but how? For example, should governments invest more in R&D for example and provide incentives to businesses?

    Iron needs to be there, and it has to be available. Phytic acid (inositol hexaphosphate) in grains ties up iron and zinc, making them unavailable even though they are there.
    When grain sprouts, phytase (an enzyme that chews up phytic acid) is produced, freeing up the bound iron and zinc. B12… maybe someone else can answer this one?

    As for biggest enabling factors, I think for cell-based meat it primarily comes down to the following in no particular order: biomimicry, safety, and cost. Also, I wouldn’t personally classify cell-based meat under “alternative protein”, though I understand why one would.

    Nutrition is a function of whole diets rather than specific food types. Thus, the presence of meat as a source of vitamin B12 may be critical for a malnourished person in a low‑income country with a very poor diet, but of little consequence for someone with a more varied diet.
    In the case of iron, beef and cultured beef provide roughly the same amounts of iron, more than chicken and pork.

    Regarding the, joint public‑private investments and new platforms for innovation acceleration and market development, similar to the renewables industry was “pump‑primed” by
    some key governments in the 1990s and 2000s, with a global public good benefit in mind.
    In particular, investments in technology and production methods that can be scaled in
    ways that maximize sustainability is critical, and may not be delivered purely by the market. There is, therefore, a substantial opportunity for a smart public‑private intervention to help shape and accelerate a new protein economy.
    Also, government regulatory authorities should come with a strong spirit of co‑creation to identify and adopt the best ideas that address environmental and societal challenges to new markets.

    Thank you for your insight comments @KrisGasteratos. What about consumer adoption in terms of cell-based meats?

    @arshimehboob You have raised some interesting comments on nutrition. So, just to clarify, an individual should get their nutrients/vitamins from a whole diet and not rely on a specific food? Any examples on a whole diet please?