At AltProteins 23 Thomas King, Founder and Chair of Food Frontier, presented his six primary focus areas for maximising growth in the alternative proteins industry.
These priorities encompass genuine collaboration among stakeholders, innovation tailored to consumer preferences, government support, increased private sector investment, straightforward marketing, and an ongoing commitment to health and environmental considerations.
1. True collaboration
No single company, investor, research group or government is going to solve the challenges within the sector. A huge level of genuine collaboration is required and a collective impact mindset will yield greater results. The idea that every cellular agriculture company can successfully develop end-to-end production, or that every plant-based business can own and run their own major facility is simply unrealistic.
Rapid innovation often comes by climbing on the shoulders of others. Mergers, acquisitions and partnerships are a sign of a maturing market, and it is much easier to accelerate growth by using the proven capability of others, whether IP, infrastructure, or distribution networks.
2. Innovating to meet consumer tastes
From seeds and cells to supermarket shelves, vast opportunities exist across the value chain for R&D to improve taste, texture, and performance—things that most consumers simply will not compromise.
The advancements in plant-based products in recent years are clear, but there’s still progress that can be achieved by innovating in crop optimisation, ingredients, product formulation and manufacturing. While some formats like burgers are now arguably over-serviced, other categories have far fewer offerings, meaning there is scope to both improve existing offerings and create completely new ones.
3. Government backing and enabling policies
Only with proactive government support can forecasts be achieved. A report commissioned by the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office found that global public spending on alternative protein R&D and commercialisation would need to increase to at least $10.1 billion USD annually, and we’re far from that.
Policymakers have a fundamental role in enabling development of innovation and industry that benefits businesses and communities and alternative proteins are a prime example. With a changing climate and growing global protein demand, policymakers must look at food security as a challenge—one that Australia and New Zealand are perfectly positioned to address by investing in even more resilient, productive and profitable food systems.
State and federal governments are presented with many under-leveraged opportunities to foster and accelerate new alternative protein IP, business and job creation. These opportunities include helping unlock the potential of our scientists and attract more talent into the space, de-risking the scale-up of critical infrastructure for new supply chains, attracting greater inbound investment, and boosting our international attractiveness and competitiveness.
4. Greater investment and later-stage financing
Continued private sector investment is needed, as are more investors who understand the timelines involved in scaling new food and bio-technologies. A field like cellular agriculture presents immense potential, but it’s not without technical complexity, scale-up and regulatory hurdles, and public education requirements, all of which require considerable time, resource and commitment.
Not all companies will succeed but at the same time, the field has some excellent talent and IP that we will begin to lose to other markets unless both private and public support increase. As capex requirements increase, larger financial institutions also have a greater role in enabling the scale-up of these new forms of food production.
5. Simple, consistent marketing and messaging
Food choices are driven by emotion, not logic. Many of us might view alternative proteins as technology, but to the consumer, it’s food.
Messaging and marketing need to be informed by social researchers, creatives, food culture influencers, and leaders in gastronomy, to help educate, excite and delight. Efforts have been underway to bring greater consistency to terminology in both plant-based and cellular agriculture, as well as working on the potential for collaborative, category-wide marketing to drive education, trial and repeat-purchase.
6. Continual focus on health, nutrition, and environmental credentials
On average, current plant-based meat offerings provide various nutritional and environmental benefits, and health is the top motivator for many flexitarians.
New research, formulations, manufacturing tech, and culinary innovation present further opportunity to reduce ingredient lists, degrees of processing and enhance nutrition while enabling things like better carbon measurement and more sustainable packaging. Cellular agriculture has similar scope for continued health and environmental focus which requires further research, as well as clear, consistent, data-driven messaging.
Everybody has a crucial role in driving smarter strategies, greater investment and partnerships, and the settings to enable these new industries to scale and flourish.