In a fascinating exploration of the burgeoning world of mycoprotein, we had the privilege of engaging in insightful conversations with eminent industry leaders from MyForest Foods, Bosque Foods, Tempty, Better Meat Co., and Libre Foods.
If you missed the discussion, don't worry! We have you covered with the event recording and key insights below!
Topics covered include:
P.S. If you need a brief refresher on mycoprotein, check out our recent blog.
All industry leaders underscored the importance of achieving the right price point and superior taste for mycoprotein products to appeal broadly and encourage repeat purchases. That said, consumer needs are continuing to evolve, and, as Jeff noted, there's been a growing interest in understanding elements like "natural flavors." Therefore, It is crucial to keep listening to the needs of consumers and addressing their concerns in order to maintain customer satisfaction.
While consensus leaned towards the paramountcy of price and taste, Paul from Better Meat Co. further emphasized the value of mycoprotein's rich fiber content, advocating for a shift in dialogue. While many alt-meat companies emphasize protein, the nutritional deficiency in the U.S. is fiber, with over 90% being fiber-deficient (the exact percentage is around 95%).
Paul believes the health benefits of the high fiber content in mycoprotein should be front and center in discussions, adding depth to the overall conversation around these products.
All industry leaders acknowledged the terminology challenge in describing fungi-based proteins, highlighting that companies have adopted varying terms aside from 'mycoprotein including' 'mycelium,' 'nutritional fungi protein', and even 'mushroom root', despite the lack of clarity and even inaccuracy of some of these terms.
Ana emphasized the importance of collaboration within the mycoprotein community in creating a more cohesive narrative. She sees a collective challenge and opportunity in clearly communicating to consumers about the nature of mycelium and its production process. However, in Tempty's experience, describing their product as 'fermented' and coming from 'fungi' elicits a positive response.
Key highlights from our discussion are listed below. Incorporating diverse viewpoints, it's clear that while business has competitive elements, collaboration among industry leaders in various areas can catalyze collective growth. Joint efforts can address shared challenges more effectively, especially in regulatory landscapes, consumer education, and technology scalability.
1. Education and Awareness: Leaders should educate and raise awareness about relevant industry topics. This fosters credibility and a conducive environment for all.
2. Regulatory Collaboration: Collaborative lobbying for streamlined industry regulations can be beneficial, as demonstrated by the differences in regulatory approaches between the U.S. and Europe.
3. Leveraging Partnerships: Collaborations, like those between Tempty and Quorn, can lead to significant benefits through collaborative lobbying. Like the decision to include mycoprotein in the Nordic Dietary Guidelines.
4. Shared Research and Resources: Shared research, testing facilities, and resources can benefit all. Shared facilities, for instance, promote collaborative innovation while protecting individual intellectual property.
5. Addressing Pre-Competitive Issues: Challenges that are of shared interest, such as recognizing mycelium as a dietary fiber source, present opportunities for collaborative efforts.
6. Supporting Smaller Players: Assisting smaller players through resources, mentorships, or strategic alliances ensures a thriving ecosystem for all.
7. Exportable and Scalable Technologies: Jeff particularly emphasized the importance of creating exportable and scalable technologies without heavy investment. For instance, the model "My Forest" developed allows mushroom farmers to transition to mycelium farming without significant up-front costs. This accessibility ensures that more businesses can engage in the industry, promoting growth.
Across the board, the consensus was that Mycoproteins offer significant environmental advantages over traditional animal farming regarding land use, water footprint, and greenhouse gas emissions (this is backed by industry research. For example, Quorn estimates their mycoprotein has a 90% lower carbon footprint than beef). The ability to cultivate these proteins indoors provides resilience against unpredictable weather patterns. A notable sustainability advantage is the potential to utilize waste or by-products from the plant-based industry to grow mycoprotein, effectively upcycling waste into food. For example, Quentin noted that Bosque Foods uses upcycled side streams as feedstock for their mycelium, creating high-value products from low-cost biomass.
Additionally, mycoproteins can be produced quickly, offering a solution to food security concerns amid climate change. However, while comparisons with other plant-based proteins like soy or pea were made, there's a shared sentiment that the primary focus should be on the broader goal of promoting sustainability in food sources rather than pitting one sustainable solution against another.
Quentin: Quentin believes that while it might seem trivial to some, a significant change he'd make in the global food system would be to shift the subsidies from animal meat to plant-based, mycoprotein, and cell-based alternatives. He points out that the environmental issues related to meat production are well-documented, as evidenced by numerous IPCC reports. Quentin acknowledges that such a change would have extensive repercussions, affecting jobs and necessitating systemic changes. However, he firmly believes that it would be a positive step forward for sustainability.
Sergi: Sergi expressed a desire for an easier method to test and verify the viability of mycelium strains and processes for food use. Furthermore, he hopes for a universal approach where any agricultural food side stream can be utilized as a substrate for any fungus. Sergi sees the potential in effectively using local ingredients everywhere.
Jeff: Jeff believes that products need to be made more affordable, accessible, and universally acceptable. He emphasizes the importance of overcoming the taste barrier. Instead of products being described as 'good for a plant-based option', Jeff thinks they should stand out as great on their own merit.
Ana: Ana believes that a pivotal move would be to facilitate the transition to alternative proteins within public institutions. She sees these venues as influential platforms to impact dietary habits and introduce individuals to newer, healthier eating patterns. Ana notes that currently, not enough efforts are directed at encouraging people to make healthier choices, and too many defaults to decisions based on price alone. While she hopes for alternative proteins to eventually match meat in terms of price, she acknowledges there's still a long journey ahead and hopes for more support and encouragement from the government in this endeavor.
Paul: Paul emphasized the need for government support in developing animal-free proteins. Just as there's massive funding for clean energy projects, similar investment is needed for sustainable protein sources. Currently, many companies rely on private investors for capital projects, which isn't ideal. Paul believes that switching to animal-free protein is as crucial as moving away from fossil fuels for the climate and the future of humanity. He urges policymakers worldwide to recognize this and invest in the infrastructure for a sustainable protein future.
In the rapidly evolving landscape of alternative proteins, the prominence of mycoprotein cannot be overlooked. Our in-depth conversations with industry leaders reveal that, while challenges exist, the potential for mycoprotein as a sustainable, nutritious, and consumer-friendly food source is immense. Collaborative efforts, informed consumer choices and supportive policies are essential to promote mycoprotein—and all alternative proteins—as necessary alternatives to conventional proteins.
The impact of a protein transition is profound. A recent study found that, globally, if 50% of the leading animal products (pork, chicken, beef, and milk) were substituted with alternative proteins, the net reduction of forest and natural land would almost wholly halt. Additionally, agriculture and land use GHG emissions would decline by 31% in 2050 compared to 2020.