Typically, consumers do not seek out a specific ingredient.
“Only a small minority does this [...] oat milk is an exception,” said Floor Buitelaar, managing partner of Bright Green Partners, who will be speaking at the Fi Europe 2023 conference.
The upshot of this is positive for the alternative ingredients sector.
“Companies are looking for cost-effective, alternative functional ingredients to replace traditional functional ingredients with increasingly higher prices,” Buitelaar adds. There is a strong demand for cheese, for example, "where microbially produced casein has the potential to substantially improve the current plant-based cheese offering currently on the market.
Precision fermentation allows alt protein products to replicate animal milk and meat more accurately. Other applications are promising here, too, such as adding fats that mimic the animal fat taste. Consumers are generally trending towards protein-rich products that match their taste, price, and convenience expectations. “These are the three most important factors in widespread consumer adoption.”
Case study of egg prices
For instance, as egg whites have a highly complex composition of 150 proteins, these enable a broad range of functionality in food and drinks, including emulsifying, binding, gelling, foaming and other properties that can be brought forward by inducing either physical (mixing, whisking, whipping), thermal (heating or cooling) or chemical (combining with other ingredients) reactions.
“Replacing egg white is a challenging task many companies have ignored due to the historically low opportunity cost of developing alternatives,” says Buitelaar.
“Due to record-high global egg prices, unstable global supply chains and upward inflationary pressures, CPGs are looking to decouple supply chains from external risks by investing in precision fermentation. This enables the development of lower-cost alternatives that can match the complex functionality of eggs or egg white to maintain profitability in the long-run.”
“The price dimension has come into the forefront recently, with global inflationary pressures pushing traditional product prices ever higher.”
Formulating to meet consumer needs
Research and development (R&D) professionals and manufacturers respond to these consumer trends and needs in several ways. There are many investments and partnerships in this space, including New Culture’s partnership with ADM, Kraft Heinz, and CJ ChielJedang, to name a few.
Companies look to identify ingredients with promising business cases to learn from before expanding their product ranges. “The best way to go is by looking at high-value, functional ingredients instead of bulk components,” says Buitelaar. “It is about bridging the valley of death to bring technologies that are now proven at pilot scale to commercial production.”
Much research is needed on an ongoing basis to lower costs and improve scaling across fermentation and cultivated meat. R&D focuses broadly on various aspects of the bioprocess, such as better microbial strains, cheaper feedstocks, and cheaper bioreactors moving from pharmaceutical to food-grade products. They are also focusing on downstream, like increasing the efficiency of product recovery with improved membranes and filtering out relevant co-products, better product formulation and improved sensory properties.
Regarding precision fermentation in particular, R&D professionals and manufacturers are looking to: lower overall costs, improve the ability to produce at scale by developing suitable bioreactor types and straining systems, come up with new ways of high-throughput biological screening and testing, as well as downstream processing expertise, which Buitelaar says is “relatively more ‘art’ than science”.
Progressing alt ingredients and proteins
Today, producers can explore and leverage several opportunities in the sector. For one, they are seeking second-mover advantages by avoiding significant up-front investments for R&D.
“For example, for companies to pioneer cultivated seafood, they must invest much more into research than cultivated meat companies who can rely on decades of pharmaceutical experience with Chinese hamster ovarian (CHO) or other mammalian cells,” she says.
These companies can also leverage partnerships to find complementary capabilities. For instance, one partner has capital expenditure (CapEx) and a facility, while the other has some key capability/knowledge.
Several core challenges, however, do remain in developing alt ingredients and proteins for food R&D and manufacturing, namely, consumer acceptance, scaling and profitability, supply chain resilience, and maintaining a competitive advantage.
About the Speaker
Floor Buitelaar is co-founder and Managing Partner of the global consulting house, Bright Green Partners, which specialises in alt protein strategies for corporates by leveraging insights of their world’s largest alt protein expert network. The company aims to contribute to a better environment by transforming the animal-based activities of the largest corporations and governments into profitable and sustainable alt-protein activities.
Floor has directed over 25 projects for global clients like Ajinomoto and Kraft Heinz within the alternative protein industry and is an honoree of the Forbes 30 Under 30 2023 European Manufacturing and Industry list.