What’s Hot in Plant-Based? Natural Products Expo West 2023 Has Clues

With thousands of exhibitors across the natural products space and tens of thousands of visitors, the annual Natural Products Expo West, better known simply as Expo West, is among the top must-see shows in the industry. This year’s event, held in Anaheim, CA, March 8-11, was buzzing with energy and new product activity. Here are key plant-based product subcategories to keep an eye on:

  • Whole muscle meat alternatives have been the holy grail for the industry, which to date focused primarily on plant-based ground products. Canada-based Urbani Brands recently introduced its ribeye steak product manufactured from a combination of soybean protein and oil, tapioca, konjac root, and other ingredients. At Expo West, Konscious Foods featured a variety of sushi rolls with whole-muscle fish produced from seaweed, konjac, and pea protein. Current Foods tuna and salmon products are created from pea protein, potato starch, and algal oil and are designed to be consumed “raw” in sushi, sashimi, poke bowls, and other applications. unMEAT offers plant-based canned luncheon meat and tuna and is introducing canned chunk chicken, chilli with beans, and roast beef alternatives.
  • The battle of the burgers continues. Despite a highly saturated marketplace, plant-based burger brands continue to emerge and differentiate themselves from the competition. Nobull brands itself as the “true veggie burger” that is “not meant to be a meat imitator, but a true, whole-food, real food veggie burger” made from lentils, brown rice, quinoa, chickpeas, and vegetables. The ingredient list for burgers from Dr. Praeger’s is almost entirely vegetables, along with starches and flours for binding. Actual Veggies and Big Mountain also focus on their vegetable content rather than trying to recreate a meat-like burger.
  • Global plant-based products offer cultural diversity in authentic recreations of traditional dishes. Triton Algae Innovations, a San Diego-based food startup, launched its “Too Good To Be” Pork dumpling with algae, cabbage, onion, and plant-based pork. Funky Fresh offers a sweet potato and black bean vegan spring roll in addition to its conventional product line. Italy-based Mia Green Food produces a line of Italian-style plant-based deli slices, including protein-rich alternatives to turkey breast, carpaccio, pepperoni, and prosciutto. Wheat gluten is the primary protein; pea and chickpea flour may also be used depending on the variety. Mozzarisella creates its vegan mozzarella and Parmesan cheese alternatives using brown rice sprouts, along with oils and thickeners. Somos has a full line of plant-based classic Mexican dishes – refried beans, black beans, burrito bowl kits, and main dishes. Pea protein is widely used to the brand’s dishes containing plant-based ground meat.
  • Dairy alternative drinks are coming closer to replicating the protein and calcium profile of dairy milk by adding protein and calcium to a base that tends to be low in both. Oat continues to stand out as the most prominent base for dairy alternative drinks, although choices have broadened to include pistachio, macadamia, sesame, and the newly introduced mushroom milk. Animal-free milks made with whey from Perfect Day are trying to win over a consumer base among flexitarians who are interested in dairy alternatives and animal welfare but are not necessarily committed to a vegan diet.
  • Next generation cheeses are incorporating traditional cheesemaking techniques to recreate the texture, flavor, and performance of dairy cheeses. Climax introduced vegan blue, brie, feta, and chevre cheeses that are “high in protein, at parity with dairy, and with better fats and other nutritional properties.” The company website notes that it explores combinations of plant-based ingredients that can be optimized to “produce indistinguishable alternatives to animal-based products.” Mia Parmegan plant-based Parmesan is similar in appearance to a wrapped Parmigiano wedge, can be grated, and also melts. Bel Brands featured its Nurishh plant-based cheeses and its green wax-wrapped Babybel Plant-Based, each with added calcium and vitamin B12.
  • The keto diet is a variation on the age-old meat-rich, high fat, high protein, low carbohydrate diet. This current iteration has fully adapted for the plant-centric consumer, with plenty of nuts, coconut, and non-caloric sweeteners. Super Fat Keto Nut Butters are made with a base of coconut, almond, and macadamia; they are sweetened with erythritol and stevia. Super Fat also offers keto cookies. Madly Hadley markets a keto friendly, gluten free, soy free plant-based coconut bacon. Carbonaut breads and buns are fortified with protein and fiber, raising protein content to up to 12 grams per serving and lowering carbohydrates to 2-3 grams of net carbs. Sola breads, buns and bagels, all labeled keto-friendly, are an excellent source of both protein and fiber. Their high fiber content reduces net carbs significantly. Keto-friendly Catalina Crunch Cereal gets its protein from pea protein; fiber from potato, corn, and chicory root; and fat from sunflower oil, coconut oil, and almonds. Stevia provides sweetness without carbs or calories.
  • Noodles and pasta naturally are plant-based, unless they are made with eggs. Today’s plant-based pasta trends include a broader range of flours, use of vegetables for color and nutrition, and low carbohydrate options. Pastabilities formulates and markets its pasta products for different types of diets: high protein, high fiber, and low calorie. The Wildfare line of organic, vegan pastas are flavored and colored with a range of vegetables, including beetroot, broccoli, olive, sweet red pepper, tomato, spinach, and black carrot. Andean Valley produces pasta from quinoa grown sustainably in Nicaragua. Miracle Noodle plant-based noodles have close to zero calories and carbohydrates as a result of their konjac flour base.
  • Mushrooms loom large in product launches. Functional mushrooms have been added to supplements, beverages, and food products. The company Meati uses mushroom root protein as the base for its product line of cutlets and steaks. Big Mountain offers its Lion’s Mane Mushroom Crumble that supplements lion’s mane with shiitake and portobello mushrooms. The product is high in fiber and protein. Bravo Tea promotes a Mushroom Wonders line with a choice of lion’s mane, reishi, turkey tail, chaga, maitake, cordyceps, or blended mushroom.
  • Soy-free products are becoming more common across a broad range of categories, including burgers, dairy alternative drinks, snack mixes, and even tofu, where one company sampled a tofu made from fava beans rather than soy.

Expo West is nearly back to its pre-pandemic energy and innovation and likely will continue to be among the go-to shows for plant-based innovation.

SPG Innovation: Shaping The Future of Plant-Based

SPG Innovation is a food tech company creating, scaling and marketing new foods. They have food grade research and development facilities and a focus on sustainable nutrition. They help start-ups make prototypes and scale up and enable bigger well-established companies to add innovations to their ranges. They support clients with navigating regulations, including writing novel food dossiers. They also offer grant writing and project management services. The team of food scientists and chefs work on various projects, some funded by Innovate UK and some privately financed.  

The start-up, based in Nottingham, UK, is the brainchild of chemist Dr Sarah Gaunt. She explains: “We want to create food that is healthy for humans and the planet. For example, we’ve recently worked with clients on re-using waste streams, reducing salt, sugars and fats, avoiding mono crops and using locally grown ingredients.” 

Sarah Gaunt works with business partner Rebecca McDowell, who has a background in chemistry, and with their team advises on a whole range of issues of relevance to plant-based food companies. The team are passionate about waste reduction. For example, they have researched into how bean hulls, a by-product of pea processing, can be returned to the food chain. They also use bacteria to ferment bread waste to make a new probiotic yogurt drink.  

In addition to serving the food industry, the founders have started a new plant-based food enterprise of their own. They have formed a separate spin-off company called Rootiful to produce and sell new foods. One product in development is a textured vegetable protein (TVP) that uses by-products from UK-grown ingredients. They also have something ready for market: New-fu, a tofu-like ingredient made from British-grown beans and pulses rather than soy. New-fu comes in three varieties: Tikka Lentil, Siracha Quinoa and BBQ Pea. New-fu was launched at Plant Based World Expo in London in November 2022. Their aim is to sell New-fu via food service and retail.   

Rebecca McDowell explains the idea behind Rootiful: It came about through a collaboration with the University of Leeds and Baker Perkins Ltd. Our market research identified key opportunities in the plant-based food market: firstly, a need to reduce dependency on the overseas imported protein isolates that are used in most plant-based products on the shelves, contributing to air miles and supply chain fragility; secondly, retailer shelves are full of products pretending to be meat, but lack diversity. Rootiful has developed a consumer range that uses local ingredients to create innovative centre-plate options that celebrate vegetables for what they are, rather than mimicking meat.”  

She adds that the New-fu launch at Plant Based World Expo was a catalyst for getting the product market-ready: “Our team pulled out all the stops to make this possible, and we received some amazing feedback from the event that motivated us to progress further.” The team are now sending out samples to retailers and foodservice. They are talking to universities, schools, leisure centres and restaurants about doing trials: “We’re starting to gather momentum. Everyone who’s tasted it was very positive and liked the concept and the price.”   

The company’s long-term goal is to be a leader in the plant-based sector and to shape its future. Sarah Gaunt is motivated by the desire to support the protein shift from meat to plants. “There are problems that we can sort out. We can’t just keep replicating meat, as the market is flooded with replacements to a point where we need new technologies and innovations and some radical thinking about what goes on our plates. We can support that concept generation. As the sector grows, there are also questions around ingredients, such as why are we importing ingredients and not using more locally grown crops? How can we texturise vegetable protein and make it interesting to eat without extrusion? Extrusion takes a lot of energy, needs protein isolates, and only works at scale. How do we reduce the ingredient list and make healthier, less processed products? These are things we’ve been working on. And we’ve got quite a lot of expertise around those issues.” 

Precision Fermentation Alliance – Championing a Resilient and Sustainable Food System

Nine precision fermentation companies have united to form the Precision Fermentation Alliance (PFA). A new trade group to champion the process as a reliable and sustainable food system. The founding companies (Change Foods, The EVERY Co, Helaina, Imagindairy, Motif FoodWorks, New Culture, Onego Bio, Perfect Day, and Remilk) say it will be an industry voice and global association for the sector. 

Irina Gerry
Irina Gerry CMO at Change Foods and Vice Chair of the PFA.

Irina Gerry is Chief Marketing Officer at Change Foods and is Vice Chair of the PFA. She told Plant Based World Pulse that setting up an alliance was an obvious and necessary step: “We decided we need to join forces because we’re all commercialising similar applications of this technology. We have a lot of work to do presenting it to consumers, retailers, manufacturers, and regulators. We feel this is very much needed.”   

The idea of a joined-up approach is not new. The main precision fermentation companies have been discussing the need for a common nomenclature, description, and approach to regulation for several years. Irina Gerry explains: “We knew we needed to join forces. The only question was how quickly could we organise something. We have start-ups in different parts of the world with different worldviews, but ultimately, we are one industry and category. As sector leaders, we are engaged in a revolutionary development, and we need to be upfront and lead the conversation.”  

Precision fermentation offers a brand new consumer benefit – the experience and nutrition of animal products made without animals. The PFA recognises the need to communicate overtly, explain how it works, and answer questions. They also need to communicate to consumers with allergies, such as milk or egg proteins, about the potential for allergic reactions, given that the proteins made via precision fermentation are molecularly identical to those from animals. 

The PFA is envisaged as an accelerator that can help reduce barriers to market category entry. Irina Gerry explains: “A lot of developments are happening. Many companies, whether start-ups, large companies, or ingredient manufacturers, want to commercialise this technology, but we need regulatory pathways, investment, and a common language. Failing to sort those could slow down progress to market and consumer adoption. The PFA can prepare the road and give companies a smoother path, so they don’t have to tackle everything independently.”  

The PFA has identified three key pillars with work streams for these key priority areas. The first of these is marketing and communications. Irina Gerry says: “We need the basics: What do you call it? How do we label it? We need to be clear and upfront with consumers about what it is and isn’t.  Retailers need to know where it goes in the store. Manufacturers need to know what to tell consumers. It is a massive undertaking, starting with the basics of what we call it and how we position the category to the industry and consumers.”  

The second pillar is regulatory. Irina Gerry continues: “Food is regulated, so we must follow the requirements within each market. We want to ensure that companies commercialising these ingredients follow the regulations and that the regulators understand the technology. So we need to engage with regulators in different territories and ensure that we are as cohesive as possible.”  

The third pillar is advocacy and policy – engaging with policymakers and government institutions to reinforce the technology’s environmental benefits.  Irina Gerry adds:   “When you think about the huge transformation we need in our food system, many governments see it as a major contributor to climate change. One of the ways to address the problem is to scale this technology which is much more sustainable. But we’re competing with animal agriculture, that’s very well developed. There’s almost no infrastructure for precision fermentation. It hasn’t been used at the scale that we need it to be. So there is a tremendous role for government institutions in building infrastructure and for us in promoting policies. Individual companies can only do so much. The PFA can be a unified voice to help bring this forward with policymakers.”  

The PFA is actively recruiting new members. They are finalising their membership structure with tiers for different types of organisations, including companies and NGOs. Irina Gerry concludes: “We absolutely want to collaborate with companies across the food ecosystem, including plant-based brands. Some might end up using ingredients made via precision fermentation to boost nutritional value or functionality. Impossible Burger is a perfect example of such fusion. It is a predominantly plant-based product that uses heme made via precision fermentation to give it a meaty flavour and colour. Today, I would not characterize products made with precision fermentation proteins as plant-based, given the allergen considerations and consumer understanding of what plant-based means. They’re not the same as plant-based because they contain molecularly identical animal proteins or fats. But they’re made without animals. So it’s a new category.” 

Brand Stories: Palm Oil Replacement Made From Potato Peelings

What if instead of palm oil, a multi-purpose food-safe oil could be made from food waste like potato peelings from the crisp industry? That is precisely what UK start-up Sun Bear Bioworks is doing right now.

The company uses precision fermentation to produce an alternative oil. It has the potential for all the same applications as palm oil: food, cosmetics, and biofuels. The company is motivated by the need to cut the environmental impact of palm oil and the commercial opportunities that a replacement would bring. 

They have just achieved funding of £500,000 from Unruly Capital with backing from Tiny VC and Plug and Play. The money will be used for scaling the lab team and developing more strategic partnerships to validate the viability of the oil, which is produced using yeast. 

The company is named after the sun bear, the world’s smallest bear, which is critically endangered. Due largely to palm oil plantations, fewer than 1000 sun bears are left in the wild. CEO Ben Wilding explains: “We wanted a name that keeps us laser-focused on why we are doing this. 90% of palm oil is produced in Malaysia and Indonesia which has led to deforestation in those regions. That has had a massive impact on biodiversity and wildlife including the sun bear. So every time we say the name, it jogs our memory as to why we’re here.”  

The team uses precision fermentation, the same process being trialled for plant-based dairy, to make the oil. Ben Wilding describes it as like brewing: “We use yeast that naturally produces tiny amounts of oil that closely resembles bleached, deodorised (RBD) palm oil. In palm oil production the fruit is milled and processed into a thick orange crude palm oil that is refined into RBD oil for use in different products. The magic that we bring to the table is that we perform gene editing on the yeast so it can make enough oil to make it commercially viable. We can add different feedstocks such as sugar or starch. We are currently researching potato peel and have partners in the potato industry including a crisp manufacturer. 25% of each potato is lost when put through an industrial peeler – so they have tonnes to spare.”  

The company comprises five staff – three founders and two junior research assistants, based at the Bio Innovation Hub in Oxford. The company has benefited from support and funding from the Carbon 13 accelerator programme. The scheme brought together 71 environmental innovators in Cambridge who spent six weeks discussing ideas and opportunities. Ben Wilding recalls: “At the teambuilding stage I met the other founders Ben Williams and Laura van Marrewijk.  We were really excited about precision fermentation and spent two months developing a business idea and pitching it to Carbon 13. We founded the company officially in 2022. We were chosen to receive an investment of £120,000 from Carbon 13. We have also won five other grants which have created an extra £120,000. We are excited to now have £500,000 to take our business to the next stage.” 

Sun Bear Bioworks has made small quantities in the lab and expects to scale up to produce 50-litre batches by summer 2023. It will then take a couple of years to get a license to sell to consumers. Cosmetics has a lower barrier to entry so might be a starting point although the main goal is food as that is where 70% of palm oil is used. Globally Singapore, Israel and the US are progressive in terms of food innovation and might offer quicker entry to the market. There has been a lot of interest from food producers including big global manufacturers with production facilities. Sun Bear Bioworks is particularly keen to work with plant-based meat companies. Ben Wilding adds: “We see them as ideal partners because many benefit from the functional qualities of palm oil but avoid it because their customers won’t accept it for environmental reasons. So they have a problem that we can solve. They can find us at  https://www.sunbearbioworks.com.”  

Palm oil is a $70 billion industry and is expected to grow to $100 billion by 2030. The oil has been used in food and cosmetics since the 1970s and since then, annual global production has grown from 2 million tonnes to 70 million tonnes. There are solid reasons why it is a ubiquitous ingredient. Cost is a big factor but also qualities that give it an edge over other oils. Ben Wilding points out: “As a commodity, it has the highest yield of any edible oil. To produce any other type, you need between five and seven times more land. Olive oil uses a lot more land and a lot more water. Another benefit is that it is odourless and tasteless, so it works well behind the scenes as a functional ingredient. It is semi-solid, which means it doesn’t melt at room temperature and can be used in margarine, for frying and in salad dressings. Palm oil is used in over 200 derivative products so for us to have an impact on the environment we need a replacement capable of making those derivatives.”  

Palm oil production comes at a heavy price, with the destruction of tropical rainforests and the species that inhabit them. The palm oil industry produces over 500 million tonnes of carbon annually. Sun Bear Bioworks estimates their process at scale would enable an 80% reduction in carbon impact on the environment than palm oil production. In December 2022 the EU created a new law banning products connected with deforestation. So companies like Sun Bear Bioworks, that address the urgent need for an alternative to palm oil, are more important than ever. 

Plant-Based Cheese Innovation Improves in Variety and Quality

Innovation in plant-based dairy alternatives has spread to cheese, where the types and numbers of plant-based cheeses continue to grow. Data from Innova Market Insights shows that the use of protein ingredients in new product launches of alt-cheese – led by chickpea, fava, pea, and potato protein – tripled between 2017 and 2021. More than 500 new products were launched in the past 12 months alone. Dairy alternative cheeses also are gaining consumer acceptance. Consumers surveyed globally by Innova in 2022 responded that dairy alternatives are healthy, tasty, and convenient, and that flavor, health, and cost are most important influencers of purchasing decisions.  

Fats and Starches 

Most plant-based cheeses today feature a combination of fat and starch derived from various nuts, legumes, starchy vegetables, and grains. Coconut and cashew are most used for body, fat, and texture; most typical starches include potato, corn, and tapioca. This fat-starch combination in plant-based cheeses confers a soft solid texture at refrigerator temperatures, along with creaminess and meltability at higher temperatures.  

Improving Nutrition 

Many established alt-cheese ingredients provide little or no protein. In order to better match dairy cheese, manufacturers have begun to increase their use of plant-based protein ingredients. Data from Innova Market Insights shows that protein ingredients in alt-cheese – led by chickpea, fava, pea, and potato protein – tripled between 2017 and 2021.  

Cheese producers can access a range of different proteins for the purpose of improving the product’s nutritional profile. Chickpea protein is emerging as nutrient-rich ingredient that also offers textural and functional benefits for both hard and soft plant-based cheeses. Isolated proteins produced by Israel-based ChickP contain 90% protein. The Israeli company InnovoPro also produces a protein-rich chickpea ingredient for use in plant-based cheese production. Brookyn, NY-based RIND, a producer of cave-aged alt-cheeses, incorporates mung bean and chickpea proteins into its cheese slices, and soy into its soft cheeses. Miyoko’s Creamery has announced a plan to produce dairy-free cottage cheese from watermelon seed milk and sunflower seed milk.  

Replicating Traditional Methods 

Traditional production processes for plant-based cheeses help convert their non-dairy ingredients into products that look, taste, and melt in a way that replicates dairy cheese. Award-winning RIND, for example, produces a soft-ripened, cave-aged Camembert-Bleu blend from a combination of cashews and tofu. The company offers an extended line of aged cheeses built on its Camembert-Bleu base. In Europe, several alt-cheese producers such as La Fauxmagerie are also employing traditional production methods used to produce classic aged cheeses. 

Introducing Precision Fermentation 

Precision fermentation is poised to revolutionize the production of non-dairy cheeses. The precision fermentation process involves engineering microbial DNA to produce whey, casein, or dairy fat that is bioidentical to those components in cows’ milk and cultivating those microbes in a nutrient-rich solution without using animal products. Because products of precision fermentation do not contain genetically modified DNA, they do not need to be labelled as bioengineered, and often carry non-GMO certification. In some applications, the microorganisms themselves, rather than their by-products, are cultivated and harvested as a protein source. 

Perfect Day opened the door to precision fermentation dairy ingredient production. It was first-to-market with its precision-fermented whey protein from genetically engineered microbes. The company supplies its whey to partners such as Betterland Milk, Brave Robot and Graeter’s ice creams, California Performance Co. sports supplements, and Modern Kitchen cream cheese. Bold Cultr, a cream cheese product from General Mills, utilizes dairy protein from precision fermenter Remilk. New Culture focuses on the production of dairy-identical casein protein ingredients. Fooditive, based in the Netherlands, is developing non-dairy versions of several types of casein that will provide cheese-like flavor, texture, meltability, and mouth feel. Swiss start-up Cultivated Bioscience is working on an alternative to animal-derived dairy fat. Although these dairy ingredients are animal-free, some may not consider them to be vegan. 

Vegan proteins can be produced by harvesting and processing the microbes themselves. Nature’s Fynd cultivates the microbe Fusarium flavolapis into a protein-rich, fungus “mat” that is harvested and processed into solid, liquid, and powdered forms of a high quality, plant-based protein. ProteVin, produced by start-up Nextferm, is a yeast-derived, high quality protein that performs like whey but has a neutral flavor and is animal-free.  

Challenges Offer Opportunities 

To gain wide acceptance, plant-based cheeses need to compete with dairy cheese on several factors, including flavor, texture, aroma, performance, and cost. Acceptance in foodservice, including restaurants, also is essential. Common complaints regarding cheese alternatives include ‘off’ flavors, bitter notes, rubbery texture, and tackiness. These can be overcome in certain applications such as sandwiches, where bread plus additional ingredients and condiments can distract from the potential sensory shortcomings of the cheese. Cheese-rich dishes such as lasagna and macaroni and cheese may be less satisfactory, depending on preparation method and other ingredients. 

Product improvements are ongoing. Kerry, for example, recently released its Kerrymaid vegan slice that is formulated with less starch to improve texture and performance. The slices peel, fold, and melt in a way that resembles standard processed dairy cheese slices.   

Plant-based cheese does not yet replicate the nutrition profile of dairy cheese. While protein content of some products is similar to that of dairy cheese, products do not match dairy cheese for content of calcium and potassium, two shortfall minerals in the American diet. Many products also do not contain vitamin B12. Alt-cheeses do outshine dairy cheese nutritionally in two ways – they are cholesterol-free, and most are lower in saturated fat.  

Innovation is expected to continue to move plant-based cheeses closer to full replication of their dairy counterparts, allowing consumers to choose among a growing variety of products that deliver on multiple dimensions. 

Consumer Attitudes Changing Towards Animal-Free Dairy, Study Shows

New research shows that early adopters are excited by the idea of animal-free dairy and want more information on new products. The focus group study report, published on Frontiers in Nutrition in October 2022, found that participants were up for trying new foods to help solve problems of the current food system, despite worries about the ‘naturalness’ of the products. However, they were sceptical about bold claims of risks and benefits, and wanted straightforward information. 

The study was carried out by Associate Professor Garret Broad of Rowan University, New Jersey, the NGO Mercy for Animals and Berlin-based precision fermentation company Formo. It consisted of focus groups carried out in the US, UK, Germany, and Singapore. The 50 participants were pre-selected for their willingness to try new products. One participant was vegan.   

They were shown a 90-minute slideshow of the impact of dairy and introduced to the concept of animal-free dairy, including how precision fermentation replicates cow DNA using microorganisms to make casein. They were also shown reasons why precision fermentation might be a bad idea.  

Relationships with Food 

Oliver Zollman Thomas of Formo explains that the researchers wanted to learn how consumers with an awareness of environmental problems responded to the solution that precision fermentation offers: “We wanted to see how people responded and how their minds worked, to get a picture of how our work interacts with issues people care about. We wanted to learn how the solutions we are offering connected with people’s relationship with food, nature, animals, and the environment to help us understand how to talk about them.”  

It follows previous a previous Formo study of 5000 consumers on how often people buy cheese against their age and income, which was a first step towards understanding who consumers of precision fermentation are likely to be. This latest study goes beyond how to sell products in the supermarket and looks at how to have the conversation in society about why it is needed.   

Palpable Excitement  

One key finding was how excited people were to have the conversation. Oscar Zollman Thomas: “Once we started the discussion it moved in a positive direction. Everyone was so engaged throughout the process. It’s clear that there’s a massive appetite for this topic. There was a huge awareness that something needs to change, and that the food system today doesn’t reflect their feelings about the world or their morality.  

 “People thought precision fermentation was an interesting idea. Many were enthusiastic had lots of questions. Even if people didn’t immediately say they’re giving up milk and animal products it made them question the current food system. And that is a positive thing for our planet and companies like ours who are trying to offer new solutions.” 

One surprising finding was that despite some worries about genetically modified food, the consumers were open to the DNA of microorganisms being altered. “They made a big distinction between changing the DNA of a plant or animal and changing the DNA of a micro-organism. It was more palatable to them than I had assumed.”  

Europe’s First 

Formo is Europe’s first cellular agriculture company currently using precision fermentation to produce animal-free dairy. The company is currently scaling up its processes and is likely to have products for tasting in 2023. However, there are still issues around the regulating of novel foods which must be resolved before animal-free dairy products are available to buy in shops. Positive consumer attitudes will be needed to convince the authorities to support precision fermentation products. This study suggest that the public are open to new foods if they are exposed to the thinking behind it.   

Oscar Zollman Thomas believes both understanding and educating consumers is crucial to getting public and authorities on board: “A takeaway from this survey is that investing energy in starting the conversation can be a really good way to get people thinking about what they truly want from the food system. Stimulating the discussion in society is a powerful way to get people thinking about how they want to change their behaviour and what technologies or products they can embrace. I believe 100% that it’s our job to educate people about the work we do. And, to encourage a conversation about what kind of food system we want and the kind of relationship with nature and animals we want. That is all part of our remit.”  

Uncorking the potential of Vegan Wines

Vegan wine is an area that can confuse both businesses and consumers. Many would reasonably assume a glass of fermented grapes would be naturally plant-based. However, animal products can be used in the fining process to remove sediment and improve colour and flavour. Fining agents can include egg white, isinglass, (from fish swim bladders) chitin (from crustaceans), casein (milk protein) and gelatin (from pig or cow connective tissue). Ox blood was used in the past but is now banned in the UK, EU, and US.  

In the UK more than 1500 wines carry the Vegan Society trademark which means the product is checked for animal products the production process and finished drink.   

There is even an online directory of vegan alcohol to help consumers navigate this tricky landscape.  

We spoke to vegan wine expert and businesswoman Frances Gonzalez. She is the founder of Depacito Distributers, a US plant-based wine distributer. She is also the founder and owner of Vegan Wines, a plant-based wine store and club. She explains: “We’re the only vegan-owned wine company that is fully vegan – from the soil to the cork. There are a lot of wine wineries that say they are vegan friendly, but we are completely vegan.”  

Global Reach 

Frances Gonzalez imports 100% plant-based wine from France, Italy, and Chile, and distributes US-produced wine from California, Oregon and New York. The wine is sold via the online store, Wine Club, and by wholesale distribution. The company ships to 38 states and has customers in New York, California, Chicago and Puerto Rico. She describes what that entails: “I visit vineyards applying a set of guidelines based on everything I have learned, and I make sure the wine I import fits within our guidelines. We research everything from the soil to the glass. With a lot of the wines, we import we are the sole importers into the States. We import from small wineries where patience is the number one ingredient.” 

The business was set up in 2017 after a trip to France in which Frances learned that wine could contain egg and other animal products. “I was a wine lover who had been vegan for 25 years, the more I spoke to the farmers and winemakers the more I realised how many animal products can be used in wine legally.”  On returning to the US, she did some research, speaking to restaurants and wines schools, and found it very difficult to get a straight answer about whether animal products were involved. The URL VeganWines.com was available and the business was set up. She says: “I am a vegan first, and then a wine lover. I needed to learn about wine, but this was not covered in wine school, so I went straight to the farmers. I hired a sommelier and a nutritionist who are both vegan.” 

Behind the Label 

Frances’s job involves searching high and low for the best vegan wines; “We have visited many vineyards and found a few gems. For example, in Italy I visited farms, tasted the wine, and asked all kinds of questions. I wanted to learn what was behind the label. I asked about how they treat their employees. If they had sheep grazing, I would ask if the animals would become food, or if they used animal manure from slaughterhouses. Do they use fish fertilisers? Does the cork contain beeswax? It takes a long time to get the information and that is why our portfolio is limited. But it is doable. I found farmers who worked without animal manure and instead used a green harvest process to make sure the grapes do well. The younger generation of winemakers are taking the less is more approach, using fewer additives, and they are proud of the wine they are producing.” 

Distribution Business 

The company has two vegan salespeople in California and the wine is available in various restaurants such as Pura Vita and Margo’s in California and Earthen and Soda Club in New York. They also supply many restaurants that are not geared towards plant-based: “We have some restaurants that don’t have a single vegan dish on the menu. They love our wines because they are amazing. When I deliver, I try and convince them that they’d attract more customers if they had some vegan food options.”  

Direct-to-Consumer Business 

The wine is sold to the public via an online shop and a subscription-based wine club. Most wine club members are not fully vegan but are drawn to the range because of the transparency of the products, and the knowledge that they won’t contain any additives like sugar or sulphites. Club members get recipes and the chance to add plant-based cheeses, chocolates, and meats: “Each bottle we sell is paired with a recipe and a vegan cheese. We also do events which are a one stop shop for compatible vegan food and drink.”  

Partnering with Brands 

The company is always looking for new partnerships with plant-based food producers: “We are always keen to collaborate with people who make vegan cheese and charcuterie. For example I am currently talking to a vegan charcuterie company to make a charcuterie board for the holidays. There are now a lot of amazing plant-based cheeses that appeal to people who are not vegan. We have found some amazing plant-based cheeses to partner with such as Miyoko, and Rebel. We also work with Meaty Max who do excellent vegan charcuterie, and Farmer Jones, a farm where they grow food without animal products in the soil.” 

One of the biggest challenges was getting the business to be taken seriously by the wine industry. Because of this, the company now works with the wine educators who train sommeliers, giving them information on what to put in their training packages: “I also make sure I have time to talk to the restaurants we supply. It important that they take to heart the message that if they have amazing dishes, they also need to pay attention to their drink menu.”   


Healthful Eating – Providing a Supportive Food Environment

Increased Focus on Preventative Healthcare 

Over the past two years, there has been a significant increase in the focus on health and fitness in the U.S. and beyond, much in part due to the impact of COVID. To be exact, a  Preventative Care Study performed by digital health company Rally Health, Inc. found that 44% of Americans place more focus on health and wellness than prior to the pandemic. This shows a positive trend. However, an alarming number of people only think of preventative healthcare as getting an annual check-up. Fewer than half of the people surveyed reported exercising regularly and eating healthfully. Most people don’t truly understand the link between lifestyle choices, such as the food they eat, and the prevention of diseases before they occur. Many saw firsthand the increased impact of COVID on individuals with underlying health conditions, but they don’t know what steps to take to avoid developing those conditions themselves.  

The Role Food Plays in Human Health 

 According to World Health Organization (WHO), the top three leading causes of death are Ischaemic Heart Disease, Stroke and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. These all fall under a broader category called cardiovascular disease, responsible for about one-third of all deaths in the world. Most heart attacks are caused when the blood flowing through our coronary arteries to our heart is blocked, usually by a buildup of plaque. A stroke happens the same way, but the blockages occur in the arteries that carry blood to our brain.   

These blockages occur when an artery has narrowed over time as a result of plaque buildup. This process doesn’t happen overnight but rather occurs over a long period of time. The disease process often begins when we are young and what we eat greatly contributes to how much plaque builds up in our arteries.   

The plaques that block our arteries are primarily made up, in part, of fat. Saturated and trans fats in our diet can be harmful when consumed in high amounts. The vast majority of these saturated fats are found in animal products, and harmful saturated and trans fats are also found in processed junk food. The more of these products we consume, the more these fats build up in our bloodstream – and can then deposit along our artery walls. Harvard Medical School recommends limiting the intake of saturated fats – which are found in butter, cheese, red meat and other animal-based foods. Decades of sound science have proven it can raise your ‘bad’ cholesterol and put you at higher risk for heart disease. 

The plaques that block our arteries are also made up of cholesterol. Cholesterol is only found in certain types of foods. And the only foods containing cholesterol are animal products – because all animals, including humans, produce cholesterol. While required for specific processes in the body, our bodies make all the cholesterol we need, so we actually don’t require any additional intake through our diet.  

Also among the top ten leading causes of death worldwide are diabetes and certain types of cancers that are linked to food intake inefficiencies or surpluses such as excess sugars or inadequate consumption of fiber, among other things. Obesity, Osteoporosis, and other chronic illnesses also have strong ties to dietary choices. In short, a large majority of the chronic illnesses that plague our population and sadly lead to death could potentially be prevented and/or reversed by lifestyle changes such as improved diets. 

Foodborne Illnesses 

Our food system also played an important role during the pandemic. In addition to how it impacts individuals due to underlying conditions, food is linked to many public health concerns, such as zoological diseases and antibiotic resistance among humans.  

Pathogens that are transmitted from animals to humans and cause disease are called Zoonotic Diseases. Examples of zoonotic diseases that have caused widespread illness and death in the last 100 or so years are the Spanish Flu, Avian Flu, Ebola, Swine Flu, SARS, Mad Cow Disease, and the COVID-19 pandemic. The continued use and consumption of farmed and wild animals put us at risk for future disease outbreaks. And 60% of all pathogens – like bacteria and viruses – that cause disease in humans originate in animals. A public health physician from the World Health Organization states that as long as people eat meat, there is going to be some risk of infection.

Viruses and bacteria are abundant on modern farms. These infectious microorganisms can spread rapidly in tightly packed sheds and barns and pose a public health risk to humans. It is common practice to regularly administer antibiotics and other drugs to farmed animals to prevent the spread of disease. In 2013, for example, it was estimated that over 118,000 metric tons of antibiotics were administered to farmed animals around the world. However, the overuse of antibiotics has led to antibiotic resistance, meaning the bacteria is able to thrive even in the presence of these medications. These resistant bacteria strains can affect humans through contaminated animal products, produce, cooking surfaces, and the environment through contaminated waste. According to the World Health Organization, “antibiotic resistance is rising to dangerously high levels in all parts of the world” and “is one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development today.” 

Education is the Answer 

Image: Educated Choices Program

With all of these scientific facts pointing to the link between human health and food, how is it that the majority of people don’t truly understand what healthy eating is and how much of an important role it plays in preventative care? The answer is a lack of education. Society is generally overwhelmed with marketing efforts promoting supposed “healthier” options and fad diets. They are confused by labeling on store shelves that claim to be “low fat” and “light.” What is missing is a solid foundation of education that teaches them food literacy, in which an individual is given the ability to understand food in a way that they develop a positive relationship with it and can navigate, engage, and participate within a complex food system. Society needs and deserves to have the ability to make dietary decisions that support the achievement of personal and public health.   

Studies show that when given clear scientific evidence to show how food impacts their health and the world around them, the majority of people make positive changes to their diet. These changes are most often motivated by the desire to be healthier and have a longer “health span,” the part of a person’s life during which they are generally in good health.  

Food service providers, school administrators, wellness program managers and restaurateurs can be part of the solution and can assist their customers and students in achieving their wellness goals. They all play a key role in providing the type of food environment that makes it possible for people to make healthier choices in the places they eat most often. The four most stated barriers to positive changes are associated with taste, followed by what foods are most widely accepted or available near them. This means that those who serve communities can eliminate those barriers by making healthful and plant-forward food choices delicious, convenient, and mainstream.

Along with this powerful opportunity comes one to educate their consumers and local communities about the benefits of making improved food choices. Food literacy programs that give people the opportunity to learn how food affects their bodies, coupled with decision-making tools to apply in real life, are proven to be the most successful in inspiring change. The education portion of these programs can consist of presentations and discussions to provide the foundation of knowledge upon which to make informed decisions. These can be part of a company or school wellness retreat or shown in a community venue. Education can also include the labeling of food in a way that helps them identify the best options easily while providing descriptions that sound enticing. For example, using the colors, textures and origins of dishes make an option sound interesting, and the label of “heart healthy,” “plant-rich,” or “no added sugars” reinforce it as a healthful and delicious choice. Ideally, these two approaches should be combined to allow people to make informed decisions and receive positive reinforcement when making future food choices. This not only helps to ensure the success of the plant-forward menu initiatives that food service providers are launching globally but also improves the health of their customer bases.  

Dedication and Consistency 

There is a rule of seven in marketing claiming that a message must be seen seven or more times before a prospective customer remembers it. This holds true in that most behavior changes do not occur overnight but rather one decision at a time until it becomes the new norm. Consistency in providing a positive food environment that offers educational resources and real-time decision-making tools can play a key role in creating a more healthful society and food system.  

With an attendance of over 3700, primarily those from the food service industry, at the most recent Plant Based World Expo North America, up roughly 20% from the year before, it is evident that the demand for plant-based products to meet the needs of students and communities around the world is growing exponentially. This is promising news for the health of generations to come. 

For more information about free food education programs available for your school, university, healthcare facility, company, or community, visit www.ecprogram.org or contact [email protected] 

Replicating Nutrition in Plant-Based Fish, Seafood and Eggs

Sustainability considerations, along with tremendous plant-based momentum, are driving innovation in plant-based versions of animal protein foods. Dairy was first, followed by meat, and now fish and eggs. Replication of taste and texture at an acceptable price point are top priorities. But nutrition also is a consideration, especially when trying to replicate nutrient-rich foods such as fish and eggs that have unique health benefits.  

Consumer Awareness 

Plant-based seafood is relatively new. As such, its growth potential is attractive. In surveys conducted by Chicago-based foodservice market researcher Datassential, nearly half of consumers surveyed in the US responded that they are familiar with plant-based seafood. A sizeable subset of younger consumers, about one-quarter, were both interested in plant-based fish and seafood and find the concept appealing. However, plant-based seafood appears on few restaurant menus and only a small percentage of those surveyed report eating it.  

Plant-based eggs likewise are gaining traction. A 2022 Data Bridge Market Research survey predicts that the global alt-egg marketplace will grow at a compound annual rate of 28% and reach $11.89 billion by 2029. Baking applications and breakfast foods are attractive areas for innovation. 

Competing with Nutritional Profiles 

Fish, seafood, and eggs present attractive nutrition profiles. As described by Jessica Miller, RDN, LD, nutrition communications manager, Seafood Nutrition Partnership, “vital nutrients in seafood include minerals, vitamins, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids.” Many fish and seafood species have little or no fat; fattier species are rich in omega-3 fats that support heart and brain health. Eggs too provide important nutrients. In addition to their supply of affordably-priced high quality protein, eggs are rich in the B vitamin biotin, the minerals selenium and iodine, and the essential nutrient choline. They are among the few foods that are a natural source of vitamin D, a vitamin of public health concern in the United States.  

Several considerations affect the feasibility of nutrition parity. Consumers often shop based on taste and other sensory features rather than nutrition, as is demonstrated by the retail success of plant-based milks that are low in protein and other dairy milk nutrients. Ingredients that can replicate the sensory features of their animal counterparts typically do not match the nutrient profile of animal-based protein components. Nutrient-rich ingredients may have off flavors, as well as properties that interfere with other ingredients. Nutrition parity also can push cost to an unacceptable level. For now, plant-based fish and seafood products tend to focus on protein and/or omega-3 fatty acids, while plant-based egg products provide protein. 

Pursuit of Protein  

Replication of protein content is a key focus and is likely to capture the attention of consumers. In the Innova Market Insights 2022 Health & Nutrition Survey, over half of consumers surveyed in 11 countries reported being extremely or very interested in protein. Many plant-based fish and seafood products match the protein content of their fish and seafood counterparts. Soy offers high protein quality at an attractive cost and can be shaped into products that resemble the texture of fish and seafood. Soy ingredients vary in their percentage of protein based on whether whole soy, soy protein concentrate, or soy protein isolate is used; the more isolated the protein, the higher the protein concentration and lower the concentration of other nutrients such as carbohydrate, fiber, and fat. Pea protein offers high quality protein and is less likely than soy to cause allergic reactions; disadvantages include its cost and “beany” flavor. Proteins from chickpeas, lentils, fava beans, and navy beans are emerging as protein sources in alt-seafood. Dominant proteins in plant-based eggs include lupin/lupini beans, mung beans, and soy beans. Soy offers the highest quality protein, while the protein in lupin and mung beans is nearly as high quality. 

The Texture Trade-Off 

Several plant-based seafood products are based on konjac, a starch extracted from the root of an Asian tuber. Consumers may be familiar with konjac as the main ingredient in ‘miracle noodles’, a refrigerated product that is low in both calories and carbohydrates. When hydrated and combined with other ingredients, konjac provides a texture that resembles shrimp. Fish and seafood alternatives made with konjac tend to differ nutritionally from their animal counterparts – less protein and more fiber – as well as from those with a plant protein as a main ingredient. The product ingredient list may include seaweed, algae, gums, and starches for flavor, texture, and gel-forming properties.  

Plant-based egg products currently on the market replicate either whole scrambled eggs or egg yolks. In addition to bean protein, they can contain nutritional yeast for protein, vitamins, and flavor; oils; flavors; and colors. 

OK for Omega-3s 

Many plant-based seafood and fish products are fortified with sources of omega-3 fatty acids. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) omega-3 fatty acids have well-established roles in heart health, brain health, and brain development in young children. Omega-3 ingredients include and may appear on the ingredient list as algal oil, algae, fermented algae, or seaweed. Since omega-3s are most abundant in higher fat fish, their addition to alternatives to shrimp and white-flesh fish confers nutrition benefits not found in their animal counterparts. 

What’s Next? 

Precision fermentation and cellular cultivation are attracting start-up funding as next generation technologies for producing plant-based seafood and other alternatives. Precision fermentation currently is being used to generate specific protein and fat ingredients that could be incorporated into an alt-seafood products. Cultivated seafood alternatives will be grown from fish or seafood cells that are bathed in a nutrient-rich substrate in a bioreactor. Funding and development activity is most robust in Singapore, where the first products are expected to enter the marketplace sometime in 2023.  

We may be on the brink of a new protein landscape where consumers can choose easily among original, plant-based, and cultivated products in a way that balances action toward sustainability, nutrition, sensory pleasure, and budget.  

Precision Fermentation Scales Up in the Middle East

The scope of precision fermentation to radically improve dairy alternatives has been given a boost by the announcement of a new casein manufacturing plant in the Middle East. The facility, in Abu Dhabi, UAE, will produce an animal-free version of the milk protein, which is a crucial component of cheese-making. It is the first factory of its kind and a chance to dramatically scale up animal-free casein production and move towards cheese that is bio-identical to its animal-derived counterpart. The location of the plant means it will be able to access a distribution hub for rapidly growing markets in the Middle East and Asia-Pacific regions.  

Partnering for Change 

The project is a partnership between US/Australian vegan start-up Change Foods and commercial facilities provider Kezad Group. The companies are supported by the UAE Ministry of Economy under the NextGen FDI initiative. Dr Thani bin Ahmed Al Zeyoudi, the UAE Minister of State for Foreign Trade welcomed the deal and the innovative start-up. He said: “Change Foods is an outstanding example of the kind of emerging food technology investments the UAE wishes to make in shaping a sustainable, secure and affordable food system that can serve growing local and regional demand,” 

The factory is currently being designed and built and casein production is likely to begin in early 2024. The company’s CEO is David Bucca – a former aerospace entrepreneur who is on a mission to recreate dairy without animals. He says that in a few years consumers will be able to buy cheese made with a precision fermentation process and it will be indistinguishable from the animal-based version; “With precision fermentation we use microorganisms and ferment them with sugar to create ingredients that are bioidentical to those in dairy. We can then combine them with plant-based fats to formulate many different products. This makes food that is far more sustainable, requires far less land and creates less pollution and carbon, and provides people with a cheese that is much more authentic than some of today’s alternatives.” 

Mass Market Appeal 

The company has made prototypes in the lab and is now addressing the challenge of scaling up and reducing costs, to make products that are commercially viable. Interest in the work, and the prospect of a game-changing improvement to animal-free cheese, is very high. One of Change Foods’ strategic industry partners is Upfield, who own Violife, the largest plant-based cheese brand. David Bucca says: “We are very excited to be partnering with them because we can help solve problems that are limiting uptake, such as making the hard cheese function better. Our technology will make animal-free cheese more appealing to a broader mass market of consumers who are looking for the flavour, texture and meltiness they are used to.” 

 Change Foods is also partnering with Sigma Foods, a Mexican multinational food company. There has been a lot of interest from retailers. David Bucca adds: “Retailers want to bring on board the most innovative products that will appeal to the broadest demographic and market segment. Everyone is very interested in this space and that technology that will solve the problems of the current offerings.”    

Improved Eating Experience 

The market share held by plant-based cheese is still small. Currently of all cheeses bought in the US only between 3% and 5% are plant-based. David Bucca says one reason for this is that many products don’t measure up to the eating experience that people expect from cheese: “In the rush to get to market some products have sacrificed the research and development of performance, and that has limited uptake. Some current plant-based cheeses have an off flavour which is difficult to mask, or they have an unpleasant texture or mouthfeel. One of the biggest gripes reported by consumers is clagginess, especially when its melted, and that it leaves a residue in mouth. That’s largely driven by starches and hydrocolloids in plant-based ingredients. Another issue is that people expect cheese to be nutritious, but most alternatives contain very little protein. Precision fermentation will fix that problem. We can make casein protein that will integrate successfully, make the cheese work better and add back the nutrition that current alternatives lack. We can include up to 22% protein, which is what a typical mozzarella contains. So not only will the resulting cheese taste and feel the same as dairy, but it will also have the same nutritional profile.” 

Government Subsidies 

David Bucca, Founder & CEO, Change Foods

Scaling up precision fermentation in the new facility will enable animal-free cheese to taste and work like its non-plant-based equivalent. It will also help bring down the cost of alternative dairy production. Both will result in better consumer satisfaction. Support from the UAE government, in the form of subsidies to help finance that project, has been crucial in enabling scaling up. David Bucca explains: “As a start-up we would have found it very difficult without this support. The cohesive approach of the UAE government has been very refreshing. The Ministries of Economy, Climate and Environment, and Industry and Advanced Technology are all aligned to the same priorities. They are very focused on food security, given that the UAE imports around 90% of their food. The country currently imports dairy cows from Uruguay. Now they can recreate dairy with less resource intensity.” 

David Bucca would like to see other governments taking a lead in supporting the growth of precision fermentation. “The Netherlands and Denmark are investing in precision fermentation and cell-based meats, but it is a drop in the ocean. We’re competing with animal agriculture which has huge government support, so we need similar government support to accelerate the rise of alternatives. Also, for emerging technologies like precision fermentation we need a regulatory framework, to make it easy to regulate the products and bring them to market. That’s where governments can play a huge role.”  

Copyright 2022 | Privacy Policy

Plant Based World Pulse is a go-to resource for the plant-based industry. Offering high-value insights, educational content, and the latest information year-round, it compliments the annual industry events Plant Based World Expo North America in New York City and Plant Based World Expo Europe in London.