Differentiating NZ’s meat in flexitarian market worthwhile

Flexitarianism — whereby people have a specified number of meatless meals a week — is becoming...
Flexitarianism — whereby people have a specified number of meatless meals a week — is becoming increasingly popular. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
I heard about a young Australian entrepreneur, Ben Pasternak, who moved to New York at the age of 16 to start a business — he’s now 21.

He is on his third start-up, his first company failed, the next company he sold for a tidy sum, and he has raised $US50million ($NZ70.5million) for his third company, “Simulate”. Simulate is taking “fake chicken nuggets” to the market. They intend to develop a number of new food categories, and have hired a bevy of scientists and engineers to do this.

Techy food companies are springing up everywhere. Competition and clutter will see a number of them fail. It is relatively fast to generate new protein products from shredded wheat, soy, peas, mung beans or lentils — whatever can be bought as commodities. Chicken nuggets are an obvious target. Crumbed and dipped in tomato sauce, who can tell what they are eating? The test will be in who can gain scale in the market.

What made me chuckle when reading Mr Pasternak’s story was that Simulate’s tagline is “Kills you Slower”. They are trying to stand out in a crowd, which means outrageous taglines will become the norm. Apparently, one of their company’s core values is “non-preachiness,” which is a far cry from the rhetoric coming from many of the other alternate protein companies who tout lines like “Good Clean Food”, “Made from Plants,” “For You and For the Planet”. You can even purchase these products from the “The Cruelty Free Shop”.

Does the “non-preachiness” signify a change in positioning for the alternate protein industry, to a more mainstream, palatable message?

Extreme messaging appeals to the more extreme consumers, but consumers who eat alternate proteins are an increasingly diverse group. Is the rise in veganism growing faster than the rise in flexitarianism? It’s hard to find up-to-date statistics on this, but from all I read, flexitarians are winning the race.

What exactly is a flexitarian? Well, this is where the rules get blurry. We have 21 meals a week, then a “beginner flexitarian” has seven meatless meals within that, an “advanced flexitarian” has 14 meatless meals and an “expert flexitarian” eats meat six or fewer times a week. Really, is that even a shift from what most people do anyway?

I absolutely believe there are opportunities for New Zealanders in the alternate protein space, but if flexitarianism becomes as mainstream as predicted, quality, well produced meat products will still have significant growth opportunities, especially when we consider the rising wealth and standards of living of consumers in Asia and Africa.

Protein is not an either/or, meat or plants, it’s a both. So the question then becomes, are there opportunities for the Ben Pasternaks of this world to reposition meat? If our bright young entrepreneurs all move towards the cluttered zone of plant-based protein, what does an entrepreneurial path look like for meat and will it become easier to differentiate?

Differentiating New Zealand meat products is an absolute must, especially on the basis of health benefits, so, too, are continuous improvements around our world-class farm systems and processing. Perhaps innovation will also come in the form of business models — direct to consumer, personalised meat products to target health outcomes and disease, or combining the nutritive value of meat protein with some of the best technology coming from the alternate protein sector to develop hybrid products.

On the entrepreneurial front, why leave it to the bright young ones? The average starting age of successful entrepreneurs in the US is 47 years. That’s the average age, so there must be plenty of entrepreneurs that are successful who start even older. Remember, Harland David Sanders (the Colonel) began Kentucky Fried Chicken at age 65 years.

Let’s not panic about vegan trends but target the middle ground, the flexitarians, with the very best protein from plant and animal sources.

Let’s allow space for the innovators. Don’t do the Kiwi thing of knocking them for daring to dream or regulating them out of existence before they even start. Celebrate their successes and their failures. The worse thing we can do is to go down without a fight.

  • Anna Campbell is the co-founder of Zestt Wellness, a nutraceutical company and a partner of AbacusBio Ltd, an agri-technology company.

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