Future Food-Tech Alternative Proteins Summit

Who wants to eat cockatoos? Exploring alt-protein’s future beyond the analogues

By Ryan Daily

- Last updated on GMT

Source: Ryan Daily
Source: Ryan Daily

Related tags alternative protein Future Food Tech

Alt-protein startups have unlocked the potential to create a range of novel meat products — from cell-cultivated mammoth meatballs to tiger meat — with the help of biotech processes. However, companies should think carefully when developing products too far outside of cultural norms, a panel of experts urged at the recent Future Food-Tech event in Chicago.

“Who wants to eat cockatoos? We can do that, but who wants to eat that? That is a question we need to ask ourselves. Do we want maybe the 1% of the world that really wants to eat turtle [or] frogs ... or do we want consumers who want to take a product, cook it at home and create memories with the family,” said Miri Eliyahu, consultant of syndicated research for Euromonitor International, during a breakout session panel.

Creating alt-protein products that fit into consumers’ lives

Several cell-cultivated meat companies have explored in recent years producing one-of-a-kind meat products that are not typically seen on the market.

Last year, Australian food-tech startup Vow created​ a cell-cultivated mammoth meatball and followed it up this year with the Forged Parfait, a cell-cultivated meat based on the Japanese quail.

These unique-to-market products — which are often only available in fine-dining establishments — might attract certain premium-focused consumers searching for unique experiences, but most consumers would not even consider trying these products because of the price and lack of cultural familiarity, explained Eliyahu. 

Despite recent category headwinds, consumers still want alt-proteins, including breakfast options and whole-cut meats, said Fazeela Abdul Rashid, partner at venture capital firm Revolution.

“We have played with everything from [alternative-protein] breakfast hams to deli meats to jerky because it is a byproduct of the whole-cut, as opposed to how do I create a new product for the shelf, which is kind of an interesting flip on the innovation conversation and where the new SKUs are going to come,” Abdul Rashid said. 

‘Would you make rabbit again?’

The price of alternative-protein products is also important to drive consumer trial and spur further innovation in a category, noted Elysabeth Alfano, CEO of Vegtech Invest.

The Good Food Institute says​ it is taste, price and convenience, and I have come to the conclusion that it is price, price and price. When the prices are low enough, people try, maybe they like it, maybe they include [it in meals],” Alfano said.

Echoing Alfano’s comments, Abdul Rashid added, “If you are too expensive, forget it. You are not going to get someone to taste it. ... With a new product in the space, you truly have to look at is the need high and is the need sticky enough that someone is going to use this on an everyday basis. How often would you eat [cell-cultivated] rabbit? Would you make rabbit again?”

The pros and cons to going B2B: ‘There is actually a very long sales cycle’

Alt-protein startups seeking growth opportunities should also consider the business-to-business (B2B) route, which does not have the same challenge as operating a brand, said Eliyahu.

Earlier this year, food-tech company ENOUGH expanded its partnership with Cargill​ to use and market its ABUNDA mycoprotein. Additionally, alt-protein companies like Before the Butcher​ and Tofurky expanded their businesses to support private-label and foodservice.

“We see a lot of good ideas and then their investors say we want you to be the next Beyond, and now they have to create their supply chain from zero when actually [they] have a really good product that could augment a different product. The other form of innovation that I see is the ingredients play that we are seeing some of it right now led by very established companies. A lot of startups should enter that space and should consider becoming either an ingredient to an intermediate product or blend,” Eliyahu said.

However, alt-protein startups might struggle to gain a foothold in the ingredient space, given the longer sales cycles and not having the connections to make in-roads in the market, noted Jamie Valenti-Jordan, CEO of Catapult Commercialization Services.

“When you are selling ingredients to another company, you are waiting for a project to come along to justify the existence of your product into their ingredients, into their products, which does not come up every day. There is actually a very long sales cycle that will take two or three years to get really any volume moving into that B2B play, which is longer than some of these folks have runway for,” he added.

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