For ecological and above all demographic reasons, the proportion of animal-based ingredients in our meals will have to make way for more plant-based products. But the market for plant-based alternatives extends to more than just plants, and is expanding with numerous options and resources.
Trying to find a balance between the maturity of the consumer, the profitability of alternatives and clean label issues makes it a complex market.
People and the planet: one health
One thing is certain: we will have to change the way we eat. But let’s not see it as a burden. The health of the planet and our own health are closely linked to one another: this is the One Health concept. In other words, what the planet tells us to do will be a positive development for us. This search for alternative proteins (since it is essentially about sourcing proteins) has therefore begun, and we need to work quickly: the changes must be effective and immediate. From now on, our mission is to build a new food offer with less animal products, which is at least as healthy as the previous version.
The matter of meat is crucial: what we eat is the second biggest source of CO2 emissions, just after transport. Within this “brick”, meat ranks in first place, ahead of beverages, followed by milk and eggs.
Encouraging protein resources
Here is an initial finding: we now admit that the plant world can partially cover our protein needs, whether or not the products are processed. In fact, recent research has shown that if we take nutritional AND environmental issues into account:
- The ideal amount of plant protein as a proportion of overall protein in our diet falls within a relatively wide range of 25 to 70% to cover our nutritional requirements and become part of a long-term health approach.
- At levels above 80% of protein coming from plants, supplementation is necessary, which suggests that a diet devoid of all animal protein is not ideal. This data has been confirmed
by a second study which shows that increasing the amount of plant proteins improves long-term health if it is supplemented by animal protein intake.
To bring about this change, what sources of proteins, other than animal, can we rely on?
- Plants of course. It is estimated that the global market for plant-based protein food will triple by 2030 (according to Bloomberg Intelligence). In 2020, we estimated this at ~€4 billion. Cereals and pulses that can be eaten raw are another source, as well as seeds and oilseeds, potatoes (despite their low protein content, they are formulated into some finished products), mushrooms and micro-algae. This is the most developed area, with some very well-known brands (Beyond Meat, Impossible Burger) and a history of successfully raising equity (La Vie, Umiami).
- Precision or biomass fermentation. In 2020, companies specialising in alternative fermentation raised USD 837 M.
- Insects, for which regulations are making slow progress.
- And finally, cell culture, which is still in the development phase as it is not currently authorised in most countries.
The market is extremely dynamic. Regardless of the raw material or technology, the number of meat-substitute start-ups globally is estimated at 800. However, this is both good and bad news: of course this density boosts innovation, but not all of these companies will be able to survive. According to the investor Tyler Morgan, a partner of Boulder Food Group, which supported Meati, “the market cannot sustain 100 alternative meat companies. It is struggling to sustain that many animal meat companies, and this industry is 30 times larger.”
Developing finished products for every category?
Some categories are better suited to this than others.
- As we saw above, meat substitutes are the most relevant.
- Substitutes for dairy products, especially milk, constitute a much older and therefore more mature market. Cheese substitutes represent a more recent market, but the organoleptic results suggest they have a promising future.
- Egg substitutes meet the needs of the move towards plant-based products, also catering to allergy sufferers. The global vegan egg market is predicted to be worth USD 2.6 billion by 2026, compared to around USD 650 million in 2019. All kinds of eggs are appearing (hard-boiled, scrambled, etc.) with brands such as Yo!, VegWhite or Wunder Eggs.
- Finally, seafood alternatives, which represent the smallest market, as they are less consumed globally. Nonetheless, to meet the needs of a vegetarian diet and to protect ecosystems, start-ups like Plantish are working on developing fish substitutes.
The clean label issue
The issue of ultra-processing is at the centre of debate. To develop substitutes that are as close as possible to their original version (taste, texture, appearance), it is often necessary to use additives and other ingredients that are sometimes lacking in naturalness. The authorities (WHO/Europe in this instance) have now declared a “lack of information on substitutes to be able to make public health recommendations and therefore to create the necessary knowledge base.”
So, what are the ways of making “cleaner” finished products and ingredients?
- Reduce ingredient lists, just as Excellent® The French start-up has developed an organic vegan “steak” formulation that is GMO-free and additive-free with organoleptic qualities very similar to those of beef meat.
- Source or develop natural additives.
- Communicate about ingredients: if not everything is completely clean, at least it can be explained. Yo ! fried eggs are made of a combination of plant proteins, water, sunflower oil, soy, flour “and a few other simple ingredients”, all 100% vegan.
- There are also innovation opportunities with hybrid products: combining animal and plant proteins, they respond to a less restrictive (and who knows, cleaner?) formulation thanks to the presence of animal flesh.
- Work on new processes, like Heura. “Instead of focusing on extracting and isolating proteins from pulse seeds, we are exploring solutions based on using the whole plant, in their natural structures.”
- Envisage stopping the use of foetal bovine serum (FBS) for cell culture. Opalia, formerly BetterMilk, makes whole milk using mammary cells and recently announced a breakthrough which makes it possible to eliminate FBS from its manufacturing process.
Lastly, we must consider not exceeding our needs for finished products, in other words, mixing them with unprocessed raw products (pulses and cereals mainly) which we need to learn again how to cook. Public health authorities are warning about the proportion of ultra-processed foods in our diet, and the PNNS (French national nutrition and health plan) has set the target of limiting their consumption to 20%.
To sum up, we will have to learn to live and work with new uses. The best is certainly still to come.