Redone foods not so satisfying

The meat-free Impossible burger. PHOTO: IMPOSSIBLE FOODS
The meat-free Impossible burger. PHOTO: IMPOSSIBLE FOODS
Some years ago, I heard Honest Tea co-founder Seth Goldman speak. He is a vegan and had invested in Beyond Meats, where he was the chairman from 2013-20. He is now on to another venture, the PLNT Burger — a quick-serve animal-free chain, with their most popular menu item being “Cripsy Chick N Funguy Sandwich”.

When I heard him speak, he spoke of two key food trends — “undone” and “redone”. Undone being going back to basics. What our grandmothers cooked, simple, additive free, “naked food”. Redone representing plant-based and cellular meats, cellular eggs — basically anything you can imagine, reimagined.

The redone food category is an investment darling internationally, it attracted $US3.1billion ($NZ4.47billion) of investment in 2020, more than three times investment in the previous year. According to Boston Consulting Group, by 2035, alternate proteins could account for 11% of the protein we eat. This is a far cry from reports published and commentators’ opinions of less than five years ago, where there was a belief no-one would be eating animal-based protein within a decade.

Have you tried an Impossible Burger, or Beyond Meat burger? If you haven’t, you can buy Beyond Meat burgers at local supermarkets in the frozen section for the price of $12.50 for two patties. My husband does most of our supermarket shopping and when I asked him to bring some home, he point-blank refused, based on principle and price . He can be a stubborn fellow, so I had to make a special trip in the name of “market research”.

The barbecue was fired up and the family crowded round to try their quarter patty (I was too scared to buy more than a 2-pack). Yes, they tasted vaguely meaty and had a slightly processed rubbery texture. Smothered in tomato sauce, they could pass as a poor-quality meat offering. Did we buy them again? No, because if we go for a non-meat burger, we want something tasty and make a kumara and chickpea combo which celebrates plants rather than tries to mimic meat.

Which begs the question — is there more sizzle than sausage in the fake meat world?

Some think so, executive chef of Mexican food chain Guzman y Gomez, Stephen Marks thinks fake meat is “disgusting” and vows he won’t put it on the menu, but he is the exception. McDonald’s, KFC, Burger King and Hungry Jacks are all in the race.

From a business perspective the barrier to entry for plant-based protein is relatively low compared with real meat — a big advantage in the world of consumer-driven food innovation.

The animal welfare and regulations around animal slaughter stymie red meat innovators. A friend of mine, Jim Wilkes, investigated bringing mobile slaughter units into New Zealand to eliminate livestock transport and minimise animal stress. He was told by the regulatory authorities he would need a veterinarian to be present at every slaughter and still have to pass all the food regulations that a large meat processor faces. Prohibitive for a start-up company targeting small volumes for premium markets.

Alternate protein start-ups can literally be started at your kitchen bench, and the number of young people, women especially, driving innovation in this category and posting on Instagram, is pretty inspiring.

The redone food trend is immense, fast moving and the products are improving — they need to. I have not eaten processed redone food which comes close to being as good as the real thing. This makes me wonder, how long will it take?, will investors run out of patience? will consumers buy once the novelty factor is over or will they shift to “undone” alternatives?

Right now, processed plant-based alternatives are no better for your health than real meat (possibly worse with the amount of salt, sugar and additives) and with the packaging, crop sprays and processing required, I question some of the environmental claims too.

In the shadow of Cop26, as millennials resist consumerism — will we see a revisit of the ’70s hippies era?

If the hairdos of our young men are anything to go by, we are on our way.

Do we need to go backwards to go forwards?

 - 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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