Investors, brands look beyond finished plant-based meats to supporting ingredients, technology

By Elizabeth Crawford

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Getty / marilyna
Source: Getty / marilyna

Related tags plant-based investors

As plant-based protein gains acceptance with mainstream consumers, manufacturers and investors are looking beyond the flash of new brands to consider the needs – and marketing opportunities – around services and ingredients that support increased production and distribution of finished products.

“There are a ton of ancillary and support services that go along with this sort of protein palooza that’s going on. Everybody wants to put a new protein out, whether it comes from fungus or air or carbon dioxide, and it is all really exciting, but they all need some of these support services,”​ Nick Rosa, co-founder and managing director at Sandbox Industries told attendees at last week’s virtual Future Food Tech Summit​.

As a venture capital firm focused on helping disruptive startups, including those creating plant-based alternatives to animal products, Rosa said that Sandbox Industries is looking closely at what adjacent services, ingredients and additives are needed or already available for mass plant-protein production and their potential impact on the cost of final products.

“The people who figure out the scaffolding [for cellular meat], the people who figure out how to make protein at the lowest cost possible are going to be the winners,”​ he said.

Nadav Berger, founder and managing director of Peak Bridge Partners, adds that he is particularly interested in “smart ingredients that actually will simplify those complicated lists”​ of ingredients of some plant-based proteins. He explained that many consumers are turned off by extensive processing and ingredient decks filled with unfamiliar or “unnatural” components.

Plus, he added, “if you find something which is unique and proprietary, that can take out three, four, five ingredients, then it is also cost effective because you can charge more because it meets two goals: one simplifying or [creating] maybe a clean label … and it makes it healthier.”

Dependable supply chains

In addition to reducing costs and cleaning up labels, a sufficient and stable supply of key ingredients and services also is important for the long-term success of new plant-based proteins, added Erin VanLanduit, managing director at Tyson Ventures.

“As you increase what you have in your portfolio that is plant-based, you need to figure out where [key ingredients] are coming from … the type of farming methods that are used, the type of plants that are being grown, how those are being basically used in these plant-based meat analogues,”​ she said, adding that her team places a heavy emphasis on the entire value chain.

“Instead of just what the consumer facing product looks like, [we are looking] further upstream at what’s going on in ag-tech as well as what are some of the new and emerging protein forms and types on a global basis – not just domestically in the US,”​ she said.

Maximizing distribution and channel impact

Tyson Ventures also is looking more closely at difference in shopping behaviors of plant-based protein consumers versus animal product users to see if and how brands need to adjust distribution to maximize access and sales, VanLanduit said.

She explained that plant-based proteins may have different shelf lives and different quality-control needs, such as temperature, compared to animal products, and therefore may require different shipping parameters. These also will impact how much product a retailer can store and what velocities at the shopper level.

Finally, she said, Tyson is considering whether plant-based products might be more successful in different channels from animal-based products. For example, she noted, direct-to-consumer may be a better way to reach shoppers who are more likely to buy plant proteins.

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