NEW YORK — Panelists were asked to give predictions for the alternative protein category by the year 2050 at the Future Food-Tech Alternative Proteins event June 21 in New York. Forecasts ranged from making up 30% of the total protein category to overtaking the meat protein category in sales.
Growth over the next 30 years will depend on investments, sourcing from nearby areas and recruiting talent.
Investments may boost precision fermentation since those facilities can run as much as $100 million, said Matt Gibson, chief executive officer and co-founder of New Culture, which uses precision fermentation to produce animal-free dairy alternatives.
“There are not many companies that can pay $100 million for a facility right now, and there are not many $100 million facilities out there,” he said.
Scaling production of plant-based alternatives will require investments, too.
“If we had a product that truly worked on taste, price and availability, we would have a lot better market penetration,” said Aylon Steinhart, co-founder and CEO of Eclipse Foods, which offers plant-based dairy alternatives.
Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have brought down the price of plant-based meat alternatives, but large food manufacturers know they cannot swap meat products for meat alternatives one for one, he said.
“The margins are just not there yet,” Mr. Steinhart said.
The Russia-Ukraine war focused global attention on food security, making countries want to be more independent and produce their own food supply, said Thomas Couteaudier, chief strategy officer for the Louis Dreyfus Co.
“Ukraine has been a very tough wake-up call,” he said.
Pressure on food companies to reduce their carbon footprint has affected sourcing as well. Consumers do not want to eat a product that was produced 20,000 miles away from where they live, Mr. Couteaudier said.
“I think these trends are going to push for shorter production value chains,” he said. “It’s a world that is de-globalizing quite fast, and I think this is going to last for a long while. So, what you are going to see is more regional production.”
Finding talent for the plant-based industry may be difficult, too.
“We compete for the same talent pool as the pharmaceutical industry: process engineers that do our fermentation and process optimization,” said Miller Tran, PhD, vice president of research and development for Triton Algae Innovations. “That’s a problem if you don’t have the dollars to compete.”
Collaborating with universities might help.
“Maybe you have to partner with universities and try to build the skills needed for actual corporate work as well,” said Lalana Thiranusornkij, PhD, head of innovation and new product development for the CPF Group, which works with pigs, chickens, ducks, shrimp and fish in the feed, farming and food industries. “The way we hire the new talent may be on a different model from a normal corporate hire because they are different types of people.”
Every panelist saw potential in the plant-based category.
“White space is like everywhere,” Mr. Steinhart said. “It’s like eggs, everything in seafood, everything in meat, even dairy.”
The panelists were asked if large consumer packaged goods companies eventually might ditch animal protein and focus mostly on plant-based protein.
“Once we reach a certain price-point, yes,” Mr. Gibson said.
The plant protein segment might become just another part of the business for large companies, Dr. Thiranusornkij said.
“Animal protein won’t disappear, but there will be more of a share for the alternative protein,” she said. “Maybe I’d say in the future, maybe by 2050, there will be around 30% share of alternative protein and the other 70% animal protein.
Mr. Couteaudier said plant-based meat alternatives will continue to make gains in the Western world, but growth will be slower in emerging markets where meat consumption is rising.
Dr. Tran said, “I think if the startups in here (at the Future Food-Tech event) live up to the dreams that we’re promising, then there will be that shift. It really is up to the innovators in here to do that.”
Mt. Steinhart said, “Once it is indistinguishable, once the price is right, once it is better in every way and consumers want it, then I think we will see a largely alternative protein world.”