Sustainable solutions for the world's growing protein demands
Rainer Schindler is a management executive with track record of more than 25 years. Since 2016, he has supported SternMaid America by providing sales insight, marketing strategy support and project management to expand the company's U.S. market relevance.
By some estimates, 30% of the calories we consume globally come from meat products. This translates into a staggering number of animals bred purely for food. For instance, there are more than 30 million beef cows in the U.S. alone, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Population growth and sustainability are just some of the reasons for the shift toward a more meatless future. The world's population is expected to surge to 9.6 billion by 2050, leading to a 61% increase in food production, according to data quoted by CB Insights. Emerging markets are driving this growth: China, in particular, is the world’s largest consumer of meat, with protein consumption expected to grow, thanks to a rising middle class. This begs the question of how society will sustainably feed future generations.
Environmental impact is also driving demand for alternative protein sources. Reducing livestock numbers could lower greenhouse gas emissions, free up cropland and relieve pressure on the world’s water supplies. One unlikely sounding potential source of protein that is gaining ground is the humble cricket. It is now known that raising crickets results in 100 times lower greenhouse gas emissions than beef cow production, according to data quoted by CB Insights. Additionally, these insects contain higher proportions of protein than both beef and chicken. Insect-based protein products such as bars could eventually displace meat-based snacks by offering healthier and more sustainable options. But to make consumption more palatable, the latest trend focuses on using insects to create alternative ingredients.
Growing consumer interest in healthy lifestyles is also encouraging the food industry to look for meat substitutes. There has been a strong move toward targeting the vegan and vegetarian markets and, in terms of ingredients, plant protein is definitely trending. Many of the new products being developed today contain one or more of the most popular plant proteins, such as pea, lentil or fava beans. Startups are experimenting with protein from plants and fungi, leading to manufacturing innovation that may bring these ingredients further into the mainstream. Developers are targeting both plant-based and meat-based diets by widening the variety of options for vegetarians and vegans and enticing meat-eaters to consume environmentally friendly meat without compromising on taste. From beef-free burgers to pea-based “chicken” chunks, there are more plant-based meat options available than ever before.
Lab-grown or “cultured meat” could provide a bridge between real meat and plant-based products. But costs remain a prohibitive factor, with these products currently priced as luxury goods. In the next few years, however, we can expect to see the cost of lab-grown meat decrease considerably. From there, it will just be a matter of which companies will position their products best in the market.
As a contract manufacturer, our job must be to provide our customers with solutions that are right on the pulse of the time. For instance, we have developed hundreds of different recipes for meatless meat. The successful companies will be those who recognize the current needs of consumers at an early stage and quickly transform these into solutions. This requires flexibility, state-of-the-art equipment and complete control over recipes as well as the production process. Our facilities are able to compensate for process changes and ingredient variability quickly to maintain taste results and consistency.
Despite the fact that health attributes affect consumer choice when buying products containing plant-based proteins, it ultimately tastes that is the driving force behind purchase and eating decisions. Continued advances in genetic engineering and plant-based innovation will enhance taste, flavor and health benefits to incentivize consumption of meatless meat in the future.