Mar 31 2021

The importance of plant-based alternative protein and cell based products in the future of the global food system and its impact in gastronomy

The protein revolution is shaping the future of the food we know. Meat that is not meat, milk that has not come out of a cow, textured soy protein steak...the future of an important part of the food industry lies in the development of new protein products with higher performance, lower production costs and less environmental impact.

The importance of plant-based

What is the protein revolution? 

The global crisis has uncovered a vulnerable food system and exposed the many pitfalls of conventional animal meat, which alternative protein companies can offer a solution to.

By changing the way we produce food and offering consumers more sustainable options, we could save the crisis from buckling our food supply chains completely.

The need for more sustainable-based products has created a new gap in the market for innovative startups with new solutions. Even larger companies aren't shying away at their opportunity to get their foot in the plant-based door. Industry pioneer Cargill is focusing on the US and Chinese markets, which have been showing huge consumer interest for alt proteins in the past few years.

As the resources are limited decoupling land and food is one of the first ways of disrupting the food system as we know it. Protein is the most limiting macronutrient. It has been two years since Google listed plant-based proteins as the most important trend in technology, noting that the industry is entering a revolution of replacing livestock with plant-based proteins.  The way consumers see proteins has changed and startups have adapted to the different necessities: Sustainability, Convenience and Nutrition Value.

When it comes to protein revolution there are three main categories defining the scope of it: plant-based, cultured meat and fermentation  


The importance of plant-based

This particular segment of the plant-based meat industry is redefining “meat” as a product defined by its molecular structure and composition rather than its animal origin. Start-ups try to appeal to meat-eaters who don’t want to compromise on taste, and to vegans and vegetarians who want more options.

Cultured meat

Cultured meat is produced by in vitro cell culture of animal cells.

There have been a few new players in the cultured meat space
demonstrating the importance of this type of meat substitute.. However,
before you get excited about seeing it on your shelves there are a few
more barriers to be knocked down before startups can even consider
commercialisation; 1. How do they reproduce the taste and texture of the
"real thing"? 2. How do they market it at a reasonable price? The truth
is it won't be cheap, so how do they reach consumers?

The third pillar -- as so called by Good Food Institute --  to the alternative protein space alongside both cultured and plant-based meat is fermentation. But what is fermentation? Fermentation uses microbes to produce proteins and other functional ingredients used mainly in plant-based meat and dairy-free products. Fermentation is now powering a number of startups to leverage new sources of proteins and create products with greater flavor and production efficiency. 

In the last few years there has been an explosion of new companies in
the meat-free segment.  Now, by 2021 there are over 44 startups from
around the world working on alternative proteins.

Consumers are now looking for foods that are better for the planet and
are more conscious than ever of how their food is made and where it has
been before they end up on the supermarket shelf. Fermentation offers a
more transparent process, leveraging science and technology to provide a
more sustainable product - without sacrificing taste.

The impact of the protein revolution in gastronomy

The importance of plant-based

Singapore and Israel have positioned their ecosystems as the spearhead of the alternative protein revolution thanks to their forward-minded governments.

As a result to the world first regulatory approval of the Singaporean government Eat Just announced that it has now made the world’s first-ever commercial sale of cell-based meat for human consumption to a restaurant in Singapore.

As close in time as last November 2020, the Israelian restaurant The Chicken incorporated to the menu “two burgers made of “crispy cultured chicken fillet” grown from cells” becoming the world’s first lab-grown meat restaurant, launched by the mother company SuperMeat, a Tel Aviv-based food tech company working to supply the world with high-quality chicken meat grown directly from chicken cells. 

Not only Singapore and Israel are confidently approaching the alt protein space when it comes to innovation applied to gastronomy.

In Spain there are major examples of innovation and disruptive startups taking the ‘plant-based and cell based meat’ to another level. 3D printing pioneer Novameat  is one of the most outstanding ones.

As mentioned in the last published article, Novameat recently announced their plans to collaborate with renowned chefs Oriol Castro and Eduard Xatruch, experts in molecular gastronomy and owners of a 2 Michelin star restaurant positioned among the ten best ranked food establishments in the world.

Also Biotech Foods, a company that develops technology to produce cultured meat, has gained an international following for its innovative cell culture creation technology applied to its cultured meat brand Ethica Meat.

These products help open new challenges to haute cuisine, offering new sources of ingredients, tastes, textures and contributing to the development of a more avant-garde food portfolio for the country.  

And the revolution continues: latest trends

As 2021 slowly unfolds some of the trends tracked in late 2020 are emerging as relevant game changers in the alternative protein ecosystem.

Consumers request on

Less processed food with clean labels and non-GMO`s continues to be on top of mind

Food at affordable prices

Sustainability as the most powerful driver of the industry across all value chain and especially focus on the circularity of the product packaging.

Vegan is in vogue and although plant-based products has made its way to the mass market there are still a vast number of opportunities arising according to the latest investments observed. 

Cost reduction in alternative proteins, specially in the  meat sector shall  lead to a price parity with traditional meat options, making this option more available to final consumers willing to adopt those alternatives.

According to The Spoonthe market for alternative protein, including meat, eggs, dairy, and seafood products, could reach at least $290 billion by 2035”.

Plant-based pioneers Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat have slaughtered prices dramatically meanwhile cost reduction in cultured meat .

Investment in the alternative protein sphera

Despite the early adoption of these new technologies by the market the investment movements around the alternative protein have reached unprecedented records.

Plant-based investments hace scooped.

Pioneered by Beyond Meat’s record-breaking IPO in 2019 in more than $760 million, proved that the plant-based meat market can attract mainstream consumers and investors alike. 

When it comes to cultured meat the Spanish startup Biotech Foods stands as the leader of a government-backed project aiming to develop healthier and more sustainable alternative proteins sources. Other relevant agents included in this project are BDI Biotech, Neoalgae, the Autonomous University of Madrid, Oviedo University, Barcelona Science Park, University of Seville and University of Granada among some of the other consortium partners.

And as recently as late March, the Dutch cultured meat startup Meatable has closed a $47 million series A round to enhance its proprietary technology on pluripotent stem cells to produce both muscle and fat cells.  

Although plant-based and cultured meat companies getting most of the press attention of late, fermentation companies are actually driving a lot of capital;  they have already managed to secure record investment totaling over $435 million this year alone. With brands tapping into the fermentation segment, Perfect Day has come out on top as the most funded startup, representing almost half of the total investment for fermentation companies. Perfect Day makes delicious plant-based foods that don't contain any hormones or cholesterol and deliver the same taste and nutritional value as conventional dairy produce, without the environmental or welfare issues attached. 

All of this being said, the context of traditional protein production is no longer sustainable. For 2050 alt protein production is going to be double of what it is today.

Startups are fulfilling new consumer needs across three main areas:
taste, nutrition and sustainability by offering new, innovative solutions and now larger companies want to be a part of it by investing in them.