Could a food crisis change an alternative protein? | news | environmental business

Eat Just is looking to install a 6000 liter bowl in its new plant by early 2023 to supply the Singapore market with cell-based chicken products. Photo: Eco-Business/Liang Lei.

Singapore is the only country that has approved the sale of lab-grown meat; Eat Just is the only company to supply it since 2020.

The ceremony for the establishment of the company’s new facility took place in June at a time when Singapore was losing a third of its supply of chicken – the state’s most consumed meat – as neighboring Malaysia banned the export of birds amid soaring prices.

“I wish we were producing thousands of pounds right now, this would have been a window of opportunity,” Tetrick said. As it stands, total production will be under 2,000 pounds this year, and sales of Eat Just’s chicken products will be limited to a few pop-up restaurants and kiosks.

While cell-based meat may still be a decade away from reaching price parity with animal cuts, the current food landscape has some things in favor of the industry.

For example, commodity prices for common crops used for plant protein, the most established and generally cheaper form of processed meat alternatives, have been through the roof.

Soybeans are now more than 20 percent more expensive than last June, while the price of wheat is 60 percent higher – both have risen in cost after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Both countries are agricultural powerhouses.

The pea crop in Canada, the largest producing country, also declined last summer due to the drought, driving up prices to rise.

“In some regions, such as Europe, there is certainly a threat to the potential of plant protein,” said Dr. Harini Venkataraman, senior food and agricultural analyst at Boston-based consultancy Lux Research.

Companies in the industry say the effect has been manageable.

“We have seen increased transportation costs due to higher fuel prices, increased prices and a scarcity of some goods that we use in relatively small quantities,” said Ethan Brown, founder and CEO of Los Angeles-based Beyond Meat. earnings call Last month.

Beyond Meat offers vegetarian meat alternatives with protein from peas, beans, beans and rice. Brown added that the company has recently been able to source cheaper pea proteins.

Andre Menezes, co-founder and CEO of Singapore-based Next Gen Foods, which produces a brand of soy-based chicken products, told Eco-Business that it has been able to avoid price increases so far amid supply chain disruption and commodity price inflation. .

“We are actively looking to lower our prices in the near term, as we continue to benefit from our growth,” said Menezes of Next Gen Foods. The company launched in Germany last week, its eighth since 2021.

California-based Impossible Foods, which makes soy-and-potato burger patties, did not respond to inquiries as of press time.

However, higher commodity prices, combined with a general slowdown in the vegetable protein industry attributed to market saturation and lackluster customer response, could shift investors’ attention to technologies such as cell-based, microorganism-derived meat alternatives.

“This paves the way for other alternatives to get more funding,” said Venkataraman.

It is a trend that has already begun. Last year, plant protein companies received $1.9 billion in investment, $0.2 billion less than in 2020.

Funding for other technologies jumped from less than $1 billion to $3.1 billion over the same period, according to data From the Good Food Institute (GFI) alternative protein pressure group.

According to Professor William Chen, director of the Food Science and Technology Program at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, fungal protein-based products, which derive protein from fungi, could have more room to grow as well.

“It needs very low levels of technology, low levels of energy, low everything. But you have a very high yield in terms of fiber and protein,” Chen said, adding that technology is not underrepresented in Singapore – a country – a city that considers protein The alternative is a cornerstone of food security, offering grants to a local startup-UPS working on technology.

GFI found that most of the funding for fungus-based foods last year went to Europe and the United States.

“The level of consumer acceptance is very high. Asian consumers eat mushrooms. But you talk about bacteria-derived proteins, people will think twice. You talk about microalgae, people will think twice, not to mention lab-grown meat,” Chen added.

Common challenges

Non-plant-based alternative proteins are still affected by supply chain disruptions, although they are less affected by price fluctuations. Tetrick said Eat Just is looking at a 4 to 6 percent increase in equipment costs.

While Forbes had mentioned Last year Eat Just was looking to go public by early 2022, Tetrick said the US stock market situation was not optimal, and he will reassess his prospects at the end of the year.

“There are some milestones that we want to continue to pursue internally,” he added.

If cost is an issue for plant proteins, it will be even more of an issue for cultured meats and fermentation-based food products.

“Capital investment is sometimes very high, in the form of research and setting up of manufacturing facilities,” said Venkataraman.

“Microbial protein is not low-tech. You cannot set up such bioreactors everywhere. You need skilled people to operate it, even if the level of automation is high,” Chen added.

Meanwhile, a 2021 industry report found that cell-based meat is 100 to 10,000 times More expensive than animal meat currently.

There is also no clear indication that another country will follow Singapore to agree to sell cell-based products, although the United States is considered to be in the lead. Regulations regarding microbial protein vary even more across markets, according to A GFI . Report.

Likewise, consumer support is not guaranteed for any new protein products.

“More research needs to be done to understand consumer preferences,” said Associate Professor Sonia Akter of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore, adding that cultured meat could take years before it becomes acceptable to the general public.

Policy

More governments, especially from rich nations, are throwing their weight behind the development of alternative protein, as concerns about food security mount.

The European Union is Heating for the idea of ​​a regional protein strategy, following calls from member states such as Austria and the Netherlands to boost plant protein production amid the Russia-Ukrainian crisis.

Holland is committed 63 million US dollars To research and produce cultured meat in April.

In Asia, China’s economic development plan 2021 to 2025 called for research into alternative proteins. China is the world’s largest food importer, and domestic pork production has been halted since 2018 due to an outbreak of swine fever.

“With advances in technology and growing consumer demand for sustainable foods, alternative proteins have the potential to complement Singapore’s agricultural productivity and contribute meaningfully to our ’30 x 30′ goal,” Singapore Minister for Sustainability and Environment, Grace Foo, said at the Eight Just to Cut the Ribbon event. Singapore will produce 30 percent of its food by 2030, up from 10 percent today.

Experts said alternative protein is one of many tools to ensure food security, among other things such as precision farming, climate-resistant crops, and ensuring equitable food distribution. They added that solutions should be tailored to the local population, the economy and tastes.

The simplest way to boost protein security, Akter said, could simply be to get people to eat more legumes and pulses — essentially raw materials for plant-based meat alternatives.

“If we include more of these proteins in our diet, we can reduce our dependence on any one type of protein and improve the flexibility of our diet,” she said.

But Akter added that she couldn’t say yet what would be the most feasible route – persuading consumers to change their often stubborn preference for meat, or to opt for heavily processed plant-based products, which look a lot like nuggets and burgers, to achieve price parity faster.

In addition to financing, governments may have to do more to ensure that sustainability promises for alternative proteins are fulfilled – such as preventing price fixing if the alternative protein industry grows too large and oligopolistic.

“In the United States, you have pricing issues with the meat industry all the time,” said Dr. Jan Dutkiewicz, a food researcher at Harvard Law School. US legislators Requested Its Federal Trade Commission is investigating large beef companies for price-fixing last month.

Dutkiewicz said antitrust measures could help, along with efforts to keep some intellectual property in the public domain, in the case of alternative proteins.

“Given that alternative protein is largely a consumer-centric technology, governments will have to contend with various push and pull strategies in order to get the public good out of it,” he added.

How about the promise that alternative proteins are more efficient than livestock farming, and can free up more land?

“What is done with this extra land is entirely a matter of policy – ​​whether that land is used to produce more crops, whether it is used to set aside land or for rebuilding schemes.And the Or whether it will be converted into a parking lot,” Dutkiewicz said.

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