June 1, 2018 — As technology pipelines continue to pump new plant and animal protein options into food and beverage domains, it is critical that marketers learn to develop strong, compelling and clearly understandable narratives to properly explain these emergent technologies to consumers. So, argued David Lafond, Ph.D., MBA, Principal, Lafond Food Technology, LLC, in his presentation that provided insights into strategic business development and emerging ingredients. Nettle protein, engineered yeasts and meat cell cultures, you say? Read on.
“Consumers want healthy ingredients,” began Lafond. “They look for the absence of negatives and the presence of positives. They also look for recognizable ingredients and clean labels…they want to understand what these ingredients represent and why they are in their foods.”
Time is of the essence when introducing new technologies, as start-up economics eventually yield to commodity economics. Success eventually transforms high-value specialty ingredients to low-value commodities, as more suppliers enter the same space. Consequently, suppliers should always be looking ahead to identify the next high-value protein spaces, said Lafond.
“Suppliers tend to focus too much attention on protein content and agronomics…the cost of growing and extracting protein…when determining what proteins to invest in for the future. I suggest that there are other factors to consider as well,” Lafond added. “We need to ask what compelling messages we can provide about these proteins?”
Nutritional messages are one, but they need to be supported by clinical data, which can be prohibitively expensive. There are also regulatory constraints on what can be said using clinical data. On the other hand, ancient grains, such as quinoa and teff, have succeeded in large part because their rich and compelling histories have added to their mystique.
Such captivating narratives provide opportunities for companies to build relationships with their consumers through social media. Lafond cited a company—One Degree Organic Foods—that put QR codes on its products to link consumers to videos and other displays about the farms that produced each of the ingredients in the company’s products. “Another area rich in narratives is ethnobotany,” Lafond said, citing the histories of Chinese and Indian Ayurvedic medicine. Native American plant medicines have not been as well-documented yet and may provide unique opportunities.
Recently, Lafond and ethnobotanists at the University of Kansas screened 50 Native American plants for food and nutritional values, based on historical use data. They determined that nettle leaves had the highest protein content of the plants surveyed—37% on a dry-weight basis (vs. peanuts at 24% or quinoa at 14%)—together with a 41% dietary fiber content. They were used by a number of Native American tribes and come with “a unique, not unpleasant flavor,” said Lafond. “This is a narrative waiting to be developed.”
Lafond also expects great things to emerge from fermentation technologies. Fermentation is highly sustainable and leaves a negative carbon footprint. “Algae can produce very high protein contents with balanced amino acid profiles.”
“If you haven’t heard of CRISPR-cas9, you will,” claimed Lafond. It is a breakthrough genetic modification technique that allows researchers to “cut and paste” very specific gene sequences into the genomes of yeast or algae. For example, yeast has been modified to grow animal proteins as “clean meat” alter-natives. “With this technology, we can modify yeast to produce milk or eggs without cows or chickens,” announced Lafond. One company is already making a beef burger analog using this technology. Another company is making “fish without fish.”
“It is still very early, but one start-up company in San Francisco, one in Europe and possibly one in Canada are marketing protein ingredient systems designed by computer algorithms using AI and large data sets to match protein composition and structure to end-use functionality,” stated Lafond. “I’ve seen an egg substitute made from mung bean protein using this predictive model. It is pretty amazing.”
Exciting as they may be, “ultimately, the key to the success or failure of these technologies will depend upon how well we manage the narratives in ways to which consumers can relate,” concluded Lafond.
A free downloadable, slightly redacted PowerPoint version of David Lafond’s presentation “Emerging Protein Ingredient Technologies for Business Development” is available. It was presented at the 2018 Protein Trends & Technologies Seminar – Pre-Conference Programs: Protein Business Strategies.
See past and future Protein Trends & Technologies Seminars.