Meat: one of the most discussed food topics of the last years.
I’m not a doctor, neither am I a scientist, so I don’t have the appropriate skills to confirm or deny what the various world associations share daily about meat consumption, but one thing is certain – meat consumption hurts the animals and causes pollution. The FAO estimates that 14.5% of CO2 issued comes from livestock farming. Whenever you eat meat, think for a while about the cost to the environment, in terms of water, feed, and pollution.
What if I told you you can now have a juicy hamburger, and soon even a grilled pork chop, an healthy chicken breast or a tender beef steak, without hurting animals and with a much lower environmental impact? You think I’m crazy? No, I’m not. The so-called alternative meats are already available and will even gain more popularity as time goes on.
But what exactly does “alternative meats” mean? We could briefly classify it into two big macro areas: the plant based-meat and the cell-based meat.
NATURAL INGREDIENTS FOR A NEW IDEA OF BURGER
The so-called plant-based burger can somehow be considered as the natural evolution of the soy-burger, quinoa-burger and so on - 100% vegetal, high protein content, but frankly speaking, often looking and tasting like a wet card box.
These patties, instead, look, smell and taste exactly like an “authentic” beef burger. How is it possible? Through an awesome food engineering job.
The full recipes are of course precious assets and jealously guarded, but summarily these patties are made of:
• Peas and/or wheat extract- to get the same protein content as real meat
• Coconut oil - to give the “juicy” look
• Beetroot juice - for the red color
• Heme - for the meat taste
One further detail making these patties absolutely amazing is that while cooking, they develop the Maillard reaction and caramelization of the crust, just like the “real” meat. Doesn’t it sound fantastic?
Beyond products have been on the shelves and in restaurants in the USA for some months. They’ve also been in Italy, thanks to Well Done Burger, since last October.
Mr. Chuck Muth, Chief Growing Officer of Beyond says “
“We believe there is a significant opportunity to expand Beyond Meat well beyond our current retail and restaurant footprint. Our early focus was to establish a presence in the US Food Service and Grocery Retail channels, where we have successfully expanded into almost 30,000 points of distribution. In addition to further growth within the US, we have developed relationships with international partners representing distribution opportunities in over 50 countries. ant new opportunities. We believe increased distribution will lead more consumers to purchase our products and increase the overall size of the plant-based protein category as more consumers shift from animal-based proteins.”
How did the Italians react to Beyond Burger? “In our stores, says Mr. Andrea Mangelli, CEO of Well Done Burger, Beyond proposal aroused so much curiosity both in vegan/vegetarian customers and regular customers who usually eat meat hamburgers in our restaurants.
After tasting Beyond Meat for the first time, most customers get information about the product’s features, recipe, and nutritional value, commending Well Done Burger for bringing such an innovative product to Italy.”
In particular the customers, after the first astonishment for Beyond Meat tasting, get informations about product features, recipe and nutritional value, commending with Welldone to have brought in Italy such innovative product.”
Nick Halla, Senior Vice President of Impossible, has been so nice to give me a quick update on the company’s status “Impossible has seen explosive growth in the United States, Hong Kong, and Macau with approximately 5,000 outlets now serving; this is up from 50 outlets just over a year ago. The demand has been so strong that we will be launching the Impossible Burger in US retail next year along with expanding into Singapore to continue our rollout in Asia. While we don't have any announcements specifically for Italy, we are excited to expand Impossible globally quickly."
The plant based patties do not need regulation as they are just products of “recipes” for natural and already known ingredients. They aren’t subjected to any FDA restriction and are not included in the EU regulation for novel food – they are sold freely.
A recent study of Nielsen and published by The Good Food Insititute estimates the total worth of the plant-based products retail market to be over 3.7 billion $. This data included the worth of the plant-based meat market, 767 million $; over 157 million units of plant-based meat were sold in the past year.
Switching to cultured meat, the matter is completely different.KNIFE AND HOOK? NO MICROSCOPE AND PETRI
The cultured meat is meat grown in vitro, cultivating real animal cells with a process similar to the tissue regeneration — a job for biomedical geeks rather than food scientists.
From a regulatory point of view, we are talking about brand new food, subject to an approval process by the authorities, so it would take a lot of time before we start having our barbeque with cultured pork chops, lab-grown steak or in vitro chicken breast...or maybe not?
Memphis Meat can be considered the pioneer of such technology, as they started the R&D in 2011 and plan the commercial release for 2021.
America works hard, obviously, but in Europe, we don’t sit back. Giuseppe Scionti, an Italian biomedical engineer and founder of Novameat, developed an innovative cultured meat, 3D printable. The Dutch startup Meatable has just closed a round of 3.5 million to develop its cultured meat project.
Benjamina Bollag and Stephanie Wallis are the founders of Higher Steaks, one startup located in the UK. Benjamina was very helpful by providing me with some information I needed for this article, and she was recently interviewed by Forbes. Full interview available here.
GREAT INVESTMENTS FOR GREAT RESULTS
Whether your mindset is “If someone more important than me believe in something, I will do it too”, consider the first clean meat projects have been backed by trustfull and respectful backers such as Bill Gates and Richard Branson, may it be enough?
These kind of projects, due to the strong technical expertise and the long time-to-market required, need huge capital investments, so the big investors such as venture capitalists play a crucial role.
To know more about the relationship between alternative meats projects and investors, I reached Dan Altschuler Malek - Sr Venture Partner at New Crop Capital - USA, who have been so kind to reply to my questions
Can you tell us how much your company already invested in cultured meat projects and if you plan to invest in the raising startups, even on early stage.
During the past 3 years, New Crop Capital has made almost 30 early–stage investments worldwide primarily in companies developing plant-based and cell-based alternatives to animal protein products. These startups are in various stages, some in the earliest stages working on R&D such as Memphis Meats, Aleph Farms, and BlueNalu, others that recently launched into market like Fora Foods, Good Catch and Ocean Hugger Foods and another groups include companies in high growth mode such as Beyond Meat and Alpha Foods.
We are supportive of our entrepreneurs and excited by their continued progress.
Being a sector in which the founders have mainly a technical background, do you think the VC, more than in other cases and besides the financial aspect, can be a valid support for the strategy elaboration and the business management.
As a VC, I provide startups with the resources and guidance needed to succeed. Each has their respective challenges to overcome, and I see my role as helping them understand what are their areas of strength and where they can benefit from assistance in everything ranging from R&D, Manufacturing, Marketing & Sales, Operations and Strategy.
THE IMPORTANCE OF PEOPLE AWARENESS
Clean meat is much more than a product, a brand or a company, anyway.
Talking about clean meat, we refer to a true lifestyle, to something disruptive that can change the world.
For this reasons, it will be very important to develop people awareness, spreading the word at a global level about the aforementioned revolutionary technologies.
Something similar has been done by the vegan movement, though with plenty of contradictions. What a pity that something as noble and respectful as animal welfare and ethics, is sometimes completely distorted and ruined by a small bunch of idiots, that fortunately represent the minority of the whole movement. Due to these “bad guys,” in most cases, the veganism is perceived as something negative, at least in Italy. A vegan is not identified as a girl who doesn’t eat meat or a man who wants to change the world but instead as a hooded guy spraying “killer” on a butchery window or with a mum sending her daughter to school with nits because she doesn’t kill animals, c’mon.
It is mandatory for people all over the world to understand the importance of starting to rely on an alternative source of proteins: insects (as discussed in the previous article) but even algae, mushrooms, and of course, clean meat.
Olivia Fox Cabane, leader of International Alliance for Alternative Proteins, can be considered as a real guru in this field. She regularly gathers information, creates networking opportunities, and organizes events focused on the technologies and the people shaping the future of proteins.
“I live in the heart of Silicon Valley, she says, my biggest clients are tech giants like Google and Airbnb; and yet I have never seen an industry grow this fast.
I have never yet seen an industry where there are twice as many VCs trying to give startups money, as there are startups to take it. If you dream of becoming an entrepreneur, forget social media - alternative protein is where you should focus your efforts!”
The spearhead of her job is undoubtedly the “New Proteins Landscape”: a picture representing all the companies and associations involved in the alternative proteins field.
The future of food and the food of the future means obviously Seeds&Chips, the global food innovation ecosystem culminating every May with an awesome 4 days summit in Milan.
At last May summit, a really interesting panel was “Food&Health: Pioneering New Products” with a speech of Beyond Meat chairman Seth Goldman.
What do we expect in this field at the next May summit? Surely something exciting.
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