Though the future of food is hopeful, there are challenges

Businesses can take advantage of new technologies to develop exciting and delicious new food options, boosting the variety of products currently on the market.

As I look to the future, I am both hopeful and excited about what’s to come. Although our current food system is struggling, there are innovations being developed that promise to redesign it entirely. However, the road to a safe, healthy, and sustainable food system will not be easy – it will require a lot of work from all industry players and policymakers.  

While ProVeg International considers plant-based eating to be the perfect solution to many of the world’s problems, we also acknowledge the potential of cellular agriculture and precision fermentation as complementary strategies toward reducing the consumption of animals 50 per cent by 2040. Indeed, our future system will require a combination of tactics – plant-based, cellular, and hybrid foods.  

Taste and health 

Upside Foods has just received approval from the US FDA for its cultivated chicken – the first time that a company has received the US FDA green light for cultivated meat, poultry, or seafood. This is excellent news, since the production of meat and dairy via cellular agriculture can provide people with the animal-based products they enjoy, while helping to solve some of the world’s most challenging problems.  

We should emphasise that the establishment of cellular agriculture won’t make the plant-based industry obsolete; the market for tasty plant-based options is forever growing, while the emerging market for products that are hybrids of cultivated and plant-based ingredients has the potential for the sector to massively expand. Looking at it this way, plant-based and cultured products are not mutually exclusive categories but form a highly promising complementary strategy. 

Though the future of food is hopeful, there are challenges. Research shows that taste and health are the top drivers for flexitarian purchases of plant-based foods. On the flip side, when looking at key barriers faced by consumers when making plant-based purchases, price is top, followed by a lack of options, a need for more information, and taste. With taste being such an important factor for driving consumers to choose plant-based options as well as a barrier to them, it is vital that producers spend enough resources on developing the tastiest products possible. 

Price points 

Then, we have price – research shows that plant-based foods are often more expensive than animal-based products which is not conducive to consumer adoption.  

However, a Dutch survey recently found that the price gap between meat and meat alternatives is shrinking. If it continues to do so, this will greatly fuel uptake. Something that would aid this, is levelling the economic field for plant-based and animal-based foods – plant-based products are currently hampered by high VAT rates, while plant-based producers are hindered by minimal subsidies. ProVeg is currently calling on governments to exempt plant-based foods from VAT and provide increased subsidies for plant-based foods. 

Although there are challenges facing cellular agriculture, including regulatory aspects and consumer acceptance, these are currently being worked through. Indeed, promising regulatory initiatives for creating guidelines for cellular agriculture are in progress around the world.  

When it comes to consumer awareness, surveys conducted in Europe and in the US show that the more informed people are about the benefits of cellular agriculture, the more open they are to the concept of cultivated meat. Businesses must facilitate consumer awareness through marketing and media campaigns, as well as by working with governments to educate the public.

This is something that ProVeg works hard on across all points of society – with businesses, political decision makers, and consumers. 

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Abundant options

As we can see, plant-based, cultured, and hybrid products offer abundant opportunities. These are further fuelled by the increasing numbers of flexitarians, people who are reducing their consumption of animal-based products and increasing their consumption of plant-based alternatives.  

With this in mind, it’s vital that producers and stockists of plant-based products optimise their plant-based offerings and improve accessibility. Businesses can take advantage of new technologies to develop exciting and delicious new options, thus boosting the variety of products currently on the market – but they must focus on products that are tailored to consumer preferences.  

All of this will pave the way for increased uptake in plant-based food options, which, with help from the cellular-agriculture and hybrid sectors, will move the world to a safer, healthier, and more sustainable food system.

This article was first published in Emerging Europe’s Future of Food report, produced in partnership with Żabka Group. You can download the full report, for free, here.

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