Cargill: Alternative Proteins

Burgers, schnitzel, doner kebabs, pizza and dumplings. What do these favorite dishes from around the globe have in common? You guessed it: protein.

Protein is a central part of a healthy diet. However, how people view their protein options is changing.

“Many shoppers today have beef, pork, seafood and plant-based food — all in one grocery cart,” shares Elizabeth Gutschenritter, managing director for Cargill’s global alternative protein business. “It’s a trend we’ve been watching over the years, which has led to establishing alternative protein as an exciting new category that brings additional protein choices to the table.”

The alternative protein market—which spans everything from plant-based foods to cultivated meat to dairy alternatives—is still relatively young and evolving. At Cargill, we’re bringing our expertise in food and innovation to help expand the future of alternative protein for our customers and consumers.

From tastier plant-based foods to personalized nutrition, here are the five alternative protein trends we’re keeping an eye on in 2024 and beyond.

1. Innovating for tastier plant-based foods
Through our collaboration with CUBIQ Foods, we’re bringing novel fats — including Go!Drop® smart fat — to customers making plant-based food.

Consumers want tasty plant-based foods. But the alternative protein market hasn’t always delivered for them. In fact, recent Cargill research found that one-third of consumers who tried plant-based food during 2020-21 didn’t come back for more.

“That doesn’t mean consumers are turned off forever,” says Belgin Kose, managing director of Cargill’s global meat and dairy alternatives business. “All this tells us is that we have to make plant-based products that taste great, are affordable and are nutritious.”

The plant-based burgers at your grocery store are just a hint at what’s to come. New technologies and innovations are bringing tastier plant-based products to more people. That includes:

… 3D printing, lab grown meat and even mycoprotein — yes, protein from fermentation! — that can mimic the look and feel of animal meat.

… Whole-cut products, like alternative steaks and chicken cutlets, as well as hybrid blends of animal-based and alternative protein-based components.

… Uniquely reimagined ingredients — from plant-based and fermented proteins to specialty fats — that will help create the flavors, textures and tastes that people love.

We’re already working to bring it to life: Our food-tech partners like CUBIQ FOODS understand how to make plant-based foods that satisfy expectations.

2. More collaborations = more affordable plant-based foods
Cargill has invested in three cultivated meat industry leaders including Wildtype, a seafood company producing cultivated seafood from fish cells.

How can plant-based foods become more affordable and accessible to us all as consumers? One way: through the power of collaborations.

Strategic collaborations in plant-based food — which allow companies to aggregate expertise — developed rapidly and spurred industry growth in 2022, according to the Good Food Institute.

This is true for Cargill, too. Our alternative protein collaborations include North America’s largest producer of pea protein, PURIS; cultivated meat leaders Upside Foods, Aleph Farms and Wildtype; food tech mycoprotein leader ENOUGH; and 3D bioprinting tech innovator Cocuus.

“We’re forging creative collaborations that will strengthen the greater alternative protein ecosystem to scale technology and rapidly expand manufacturing which can help make plant-based foods more affordable,” Elizabeth says.

3. Personalized nutrition — just for you
Cargill is focused on creating enticing solutions and expanding our portfolio into specific plant-based proteins, fermented proteins and specialty fats to create new nutritious and great-tasting products for happier, healthier lives.

Imagine a future where you can choose the nutrients you want in your favorite protein dish or drink. Can’t consume dairy but want higher protein in your drinks? You may not have to imagine for long.

The growing personalized nutrition industry is expected to reach more than $23 billion by 2027 — and alternative protein could play a role in its growth.

“Personalized nutrition is a future we can look forward to and alternative protein can help pave the way,” Belgin says. “Plant-based foods are made up of ingredients that make it possible to craft a recipe tailored to personal needs — like lower saturated fats, higher protein and more nutrients.”

At Cargill, we’re combining our deep knowledge of ingredients, formulation and technology to explore more nutritious and personalized solutions. Our plant protein ingredients, fibers and texturizers, as well as our plant-based oils and fats, can be mixed and matched to make meat and dairy alternatives that fit consumers’ needs.

4. Plant-based becomes the norm for Gen Z

Plant-based is becoming the norm for younger consumers. Look no further than a college campus.

Many campus dining programs are increasing the number of plant-based options they serve to young Generation Z diners (those born between 1997 to 2005).

A recent study by campus foodservice provider Sodexo found that 81 percent of students chose plant-based meals when it was the default option instead of animal meat. And because 77 percent say environmental sustainability is a core value, according to Datassential, many perceive plant-based foods as a climate-conscious decision.

“While the meal-plan environment is, of course, different than spending money on an off-campus meal,” Elizabeth says, “the results show that plant-based meals are becoming normalized by Gen Z. That’s important because Gen Z already makes up 40 percent of all U.S. consumers and by 2026 will surpass millennials as the largest consumer base in the U.S.”

While Gen Z’s relationship with food can be complicated, plant-based foods are likely to meet this group’s demand for health nutrition and social impact.

5. As the alternative protein market matures, so will the product mix

The alternative protein category is still in its early years, and what happens next with the category’s potential is up to all of us. Like other emerging technologies, the early days of the alternative protein market saw a meteoric rise, flooded with new players and products.

That likely won’t be the case in the future.

“As the market matures, we can expect fewer market participants, whether through exiting the market, consolidation, or otherwise,” Elizabeth says. “This means there will be a stronger focus on a select group of products and ensuring they’re done right.”

When it comes to food, consumers have always wanted more choices, not less, she says. That’s why alternative protein is here to stay, giving consumers another protein option among the ones they already have — from beef and poultry to seafood and legumes.

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