Next-generation production methods, such as precision fermentation, cell-culturing, and plant molecular farming, are creating novel ingredients in laboratories and factories rather than the field, such as dairy without cows and chicken meat without hens.
Some of these ingredients are already on the market. Perfect Day’s animal-free dairy whey protein is being sold in the US while Just’s cell-cultured chicken has been approved for use in Singapore and is on the market in the city-state.
However, brands using such ingredients must think carefully about their positioning and branding. Although many precision fermentation and cell-cultured meat companies promote their ingredients as ethical and environmentally friendly solutions, Schofield notes that price is key and tends to be more important than other attributes such as those linked to sustainability for the mass market consumer.
Mintel data shows that 73% of UK consumers agree price influences their choice of flavoured milk, compared to 21% for how ethical the brand is.
“If precision-fermented proteins can deliver milk and dairy products at cheaper retail price points than the current products that are ‘made by cow’, those consumers who are particularly price sensitive may be drawn to the cost-savings of these products,” says Schofield, who will be giving a presentation at Fi Europe in December on the topic ‘Sustainable ingredients of the future’.
Positioning ingredients that are ‘without heritage’
She also notes that new food production techniques like precision-fermentation are “without heritage” and therefore may not be welcomed by consumers who seek ‘authentic’ foods with provenance. Such origin claims are important for many consumers. Over half (53%) of Italian consumers agree food is the main way they stay connected to their culture and heritage while 68% of Northern Irish consumers agree they prefer to buy milk sourced from local farmers.
With this in mind, one key focus area for precision-fermented proteins is the large market for milk-derived ingredients outside the dairy category, Schofield says.
“In many other categories like bakery or chocolate, milk is not a key or base ingredient that consumers focus on, but rather a behind-the-scenes ingredient whose properties or selling points are not discussed or promoted on pack as they are with many dairy products.
“In such products, premium attributes linked to cow’s milk, such as heritage or tradition, are not important to the product, and precision-fermented proteins that deliver cost-savings may be attractive to produces and end consumers who seek price as a priority to other more premium attributes.”
Some major consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies are already using this strategy. In June this year, confectionery giant Mars launched a vegan chocolate bar made with Perfect Day’s animal-free whey protein. Nevertheless, Mars has not opted for a completely stealth strategy; the lactose-free chocolate bar, called CO2COA, bears a front-of-pack claim: ‘Made with animal-free dairy’.
Targeting younger generations could be important for companies using ingredients produced via novel techniques, such as precision fermentation, gene-editing, or cell-culturing, Schofield suggests. According to Mintel data, 12% of UK consumers aged 16 to 34 say they are interested in buying milk that is ‘lab-made’, compared to just 2% of consumers aged 55 or over.