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Are you keeping up with the plant-based revolution?

Food_Manufacture_Sponsors_2020_Business Leaders_781x285The food and drink industry has always been a hot-bed of innovation and 2019 is proving to be no different. Two areas which are currently evolving very quickly are the search for plastic-free packaging and the growing trend to eat less meat. The answer to both could lie with plant-based alternatives.

Plant-based meat substitutes

Numerous food companies, ranging from start-ups to global players such as Nestlé, are currently looking at ways to produce meat substitutes from plants. For various reasons, such as health concerns and the environmental impact of animal agriculture, more people are choosing to eat less meat and the food industry is keen to tap into this lifestyle.

Plant-based meat substitutes are made from mixtures of pea protein isolates, rice protein, mung bean protein, coconut oil, and other ingredients like potato starch, apple extract, sunflower lecithin and pomegranate powder, with a range of vitamins and minerals. With some clever science, plants can be turned into meat substitutes.

The Meatless Farm Co, a British start-up which produces plant-based fresh mince, burgers and sausages is one of the market’s front runners alongside Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat. Morten Toft Bech, the founder, started the company after being inspired by his wife, a vegan who was struggling to serve up quick, easy and tasty meals that the whole family could enjoy.

Toft Bech, a flexitarian, argues that plant-based meat alternatives aren’t aimed at vegans, they are aimed at meat-eaters who are looking to reduce their meat consumption.

“We’ve all faced the dilemma of having to cook different meals at home for guests or family members depending on their eating habits. We wanted to create a plant-based meat alternative that unites meat eaters and vegans.

There is a global need, especially in developed economies, for everyone to look at how they can reduce the amount of meat they eat. Intensively farmed meat contributes a huge amount of environmental burden. Our research showed that the biggest barriers for consumers who are making the swap was being able to replicate the taste and texture of meat, alongside bettering the nutritional benefits and environmental impacts. Our fresh plant-based mince contributes 94% less environmental impact than its beef equivalent and looks, cooks and tastes just like meat. In many cases retailers are positioning it in or near the meat aisle.

At the Meatless Farm Co, we wanted to develop products that could help people make the swap easily. Our first innovation was our fresh plant-based mince, it took two years to perfect. Unlike Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, who both focus heavily on indulgence moments with burgers through restaurants, we wanted first to tap into the everyday meat-eater through retail channels. Mincemeat is one of the most common items bought by UK families, whether it’s to make spaghetti bolognaise, lasagne or chilli-con-carne. Helping people swap their family favourites to plant-based is where we are winning, and it is driving significant volume. Our research with Dr Joseph Poore calculated that if UK families made the swap to plant-based just one more time each week it would cut over 8% of the UK’s total greenhouse gases.

Since our launch in Sainsbury’s, October 2018, we’ve seen exponential growth, securing multiple major UK and international listings. In August we launched into the US with our mince and burgers in 450 Whole Foods stores. The global meat market is worth approximately $1.7trn and Barclays Bank expects that a combination of environmental and health concerns could make the market for meat substitutes worth more than £110bn within a decade.”

Plant-based packaging

In 2017, the UK alone produced 1.85 million tonnes of plastic which was used in the production of plastic packaging. In light of this, and the fact that a reported 72% of soft drinks are packaged in plastic, it is easy to see why there are such strong social, governmental and political pressures on stakeholders in the soft drinks industry and other sectors within food and drink where plastic packaging is widely used.

Both governmental concern and an aspiration to change the way in which the industry approaches its obligations towards reducing the use of non-biodegradable packaging can be seen through the implementation of a number of governmental regimes including the Resources and Waste Strategy. The Strategy aims to invoke the ‘polluter pays’ principle and increase producer responsibility for packaging, ensuring that producers are on the hook for the full costs of disposal for any packaging they place on the market.

In April 2018, signatories from 42 businesses who are collectively responsible for more than 80% of the plastic packaging on products sold in UK supermarkets, signed up to a new programme, the UK Plastics Pact, tackling the use of unnecessary single-use plastic packaging. Current signatories include Coca Cola European Partners, Lucozade Ribena Suntory, Arla and Highland Spring Group. A report by the University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, commissioned by an industry-led working group including high profile members such as Lucozade Ribena Suntory and Harrogate Water Brands, highlights a number of workable actions designed to eliminate plastic packaging waste (the Report). The report suggests that research and development will play a significant role in transforming the way in which companies both think about and produce their packaging. The report includes a number of aims which companies should be striving for in their approach to reducing the amount of plastic used in drinks packaging. These aims include undertaking comprehensive research in order to investigate the optimal material for drinks packaging that eliminates plastic waste whilst ensuring the lowest net environmental impact.

This approach is already apparent amongst the industry leaders including Lucozade Ribena Suntory. LRS’ Lucozade Sport brand has pioneered the use of seaweed based edible packaging for both sports drinks and energy gels at marathon events. The packaging can either be consumed by the user or discarded, in which case the product will decompose in the same manner and timeframe as a piece of fruit would.

Lucozade Sport has teamed up with materials engineering start-up Skipping Rocks Lab to trial these plastic-free sports drinks. The revolutionary Oohos are made entirely from seaweed extract. Not only are they 100% edible and compostable, they will also naturally biodegrade in four to six weeks.

WM comment

Behind all of this innovation lies strong research and development teams who are working with their legal advisors to ensure that the valuable intellectual property which is being created is suitably protected.  By obtaining strong intellectual property rights, these companies can secure a monopoly over their innovation. This monopoly plays a critical role in the process of taking innovative technology to the market, as the exclusivity granted by their intellectual property rights ensures that these companies can establish a solid market position and a competitive edge. Furthermore, as there are many players involved in developing plant-based technology for this sector, it is critical that businesses secure and protect their innovation before their competitors. The effective use of intellectual property can reduce the risk for the businesses and ensure that they enjoy the full benefit of their innovation.