More companies, more investments, and many more scientific breakthroughs. Those are just a few predictions for the future of alternative protein the Good Food Institute (GFI) sets out in its latest State of Industry reports. Three different papers — one each on plant-based protein, fermentation, and cultivated protein — go in-depth into the trends that drove alternative protein in 2020 and what we can expect for the rest of 2021.
As we’ve written before, investment in alternative protein topped $3.1 billion in 2020, which is more than three times the amount raised by the sector in 2019. Driving those investments are, says GFI, numerous developments across the commercial landscape, investments, scientific and technological developments, and regulatory and government activity.
The State of Industry reports cover the obvious developments, such as the world’s first sale of cultivated meat and plant-based meat’s $7 billion in retail sales. But more interesting now is what we can expect in the future — that is, for the remainder of 2021 and on into the next few years. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of some of those developments:
Expect lots more pilot production environments for cultivated meat. Reaching pilot scale could be seen as the step that bridges a company’s proof-of-concept phase with its commercial phase. GFI notes that at this stage, companies would be producing “hundreds or thousands” of metric tons of cultured meat. (Millions would be required for a company to scale to an industrial level.) Reaching pilot scale would mean being able to supply “a limited number of high-end restaurants in the coming one to three years.” (Read more on why restaurants are critical to cultivated meat’s growth.)
As GFI points out, multiple companies are now transitioning into this pilot-scale phase, including BlueNalu, MosaMeat, and SuperMeat. The latter even turned its pilot production site (pictured above) into a restaurant where consumers can taste the company’s cultured chicken in exchange for leaving detailed feedback. Elsewhere, Aleph Farms and MeaTech 3D plan to have facilities running by 2022 and Avant Meats recently announced a pilot production facility for Singapore. UPSIDE Foods, formerly Memphis Meats, has also just broken ground on a facility.
Cellular agriculture will become its own field of study. One PhD candidate at Tufts University noted that we can expect cell ag to get its own degree program at universities, and have a “separate and distinct curriculum.”
Fermentation production will increase. “If we believe in the projection of 25%-30% CAGR, then for fermentation to even maintain its share of the market, there is a need for a 10x+ increase in capacity by 2030,” Jim Laird of 3F Bio states in GFI’s fermentation report. Of course, needing to increase and actually doing it are two different things, but one of the advantages of fermentation is that it is already seen as a ost-competitive, scalable, and validated process. Many, including the GFI, have begun calling it the “third pillar of alt protein.”
Meanwhile, a number of companies, including Solar Biotech, MycoTechnology, and Nature’s Fynd are developing technologies and processes that will make fermentation even more cost-effective, which could in turn increase companies’ ability to produce.
Fermentation could “revolutionize” the entire alt-protein landscape. It has the potential to influence other areas of alternative protein. As GFI’s report notes, “Fermentation can enable a new generation of proteins, fats, and other functional ingredients that combine with plant-based and cultivated components to create biomimicking whole-cut meats, egg replacements, animal-free dairy proteins, seafood products, and more.”
Along those lines, the next few years could see hybrid blends of meat, where fermentation-derived protein could also include plant and animal cell components. Fermentation is also already part of a number of other “alt” products besides meat, including cheese and bee honey.
More restaurants will go plant-based. We’ve been mulling the future of the plant-based restaurant for a while. Now that the world is beginning to come out of its various stages of lockdown and people are returning to dining rooms, there’s an enormous opportunity for plant-based foods to take center stage at restaurants. More restaurants will move to full plant-based menus, such as those seen from Canada-based Copper Branch and, most recently, Eleven Madison Park in NYC.
Plant-based chicken will be a big part of this shift. Right now there’s a distinct lack of choices, both in restaurants and grocery stores, when it comes to poultry. Expect this to change rapidly, starting with restaurants.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. It is also important to keep in mind the many challenges the alt-protein sector still has to face, from improving the taste and texture of plant-based meat to bringing down the cost of cell-culture media. There are also heaps of regulatory approvals to be obtained before many of these companies and solutions can actually reach consumers.
Some of these challenges will be solved in 2021; others are years away from solutions. But if there’s one overarching takeaway we can glean from GFI’s report trio, it’s that everything — from number of companies to production levels to investment dollars — is going to increase astronomically this year for alternative protein.
MeaTech 3D Will Produce Cultivated Fat, Whole Steaks at Its Forthcoming Pilot Facility – The Israeli bioprinting startup this week announced a pilot production facility where the company will scale up production of its cultivated fat and continue work on whole cuts of cultivated steak.
Memphis Meats Rebrands as UPSIDE Foods, Announces Cultured Chicken Product – The company rebranded and also announced that its first consumer product, cultured chicken, will be available to customers this year, pending regulatory approval.
Solar Biotech Raises $2M for Its Fermentation Tech – The Raleigh, North Carolina-based startup will use the $2 million in a debt-financing round to scale up its renewable-energy-powered fermentation technology, which it licenses to other companies.