Bühler Group partners with Big Idea Ventures to accelerate plant-based meat alternatives

24 Jun 2020

The 160-year-old Swiss equipment manufacturer Bühler Group has inked a new partnership deal with the alternative protein accelerator and venture capital firm Big Idea Ventures to invest in the firm’s mission to create sustainable, plant-based alternatives to animal protein. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Big Idea Ventures launched its New Protein Fund with the objective of investing in and accelerating up to 100 plant-based and cell-based companies globally. The Bühler Group has now joined Tyson Ventures and Temasek in pursuing this goal of supporting the growth of plant-based food and beverage companies seeking to debut new ingredients or bring more non-dairy cheese, plant-based seafood, and lab-grown burgers options to grocery store shelves in an effort feed the estimated 10 billion people that will live on the planet in 2050.

Bühler Group partners with Big Idea Ventures to accelerate plant-based meat alternatives

“Providing safe, nutritious, pleasurable and affordable food to a population of 10 billion people by 2050 and doing that within the planetary boundaries is a formidable challenge,” said the Bühler Group’s Chief Technology Officer Ian Roberts.

In an effort to overcome that challenge, this collaboration will take advantage of Bühler’s value chain coverage from primary processing of pulses, peas and lentils, soy, oats, quinoa and traditional grains. Having access to this resource is timely as Big Idea Venture’s new Food Application Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota opened on June 19 and focus on developing new ways to transform peas, beans, corn, pulses, oats, ancient grains into food solutions such as flours, snacks, pasta, cereals and plant-based meat analogs.

The opening of this American facility supplements the recent inauguration of Big Idea Venture's Singaporean innovation facility that employs Bühler’s equipment and processing expertise to develop novel plant-based food products.

Plant-based meat is not only a valuable segment for the contributions it can make to feeding a growing population. Barclays forecast the market share for meat alternatives to balloon to $140 billion in 2029 up from $14 billion in 2019. This meteoric growth is something that companies are looking to take advantage of, including traditionally animal protein-focused titans like Tyson Foods.

However, there are still barriers to widespread adoption, including taste, nutritional profile, and protein content, according to a white paper by Kerry from 2019.

Companies are searching to develop analogous plant-based meat alternatives that can tip the scales and convince consumers to at least try, if not regularly consume plant-based products. Despite the widespread presence of plant-based meat alternatives, only 41% of Americans have tried these plant-based products, according to a survey by Gallup from January 2020. That means that over half of consumers are still unfamiliar with the range of products on the market.

While the question of price parity continues to loom over the gap between animal-based and plant-based protein, the pressing concerns surrounding sustainability may nevertheless push consumers to invest in sustainable products.

If collaborations like the one between Big Idea Ventures and Bühler Group can bring these innovative products from the fringes of the mainstream and transform them into the norm, there will be a healthy reward.

A Kearney study reported on by Food Dive showed that the pandemic has motivated yet more consumers to shift their purchasing habits to align with more sustainable choices. This focus on sustainability has helped drive the growth of plant-based foods over the last few months, which have outpaced the growth rate of general food sales by 35%, according to SPINS statistics.

"There is an urgent need for wide-scale collaboration if we are to make an impact on the climate and nutrition challenges within the next decade,” said Roberts. The launches of Big Idea Ventures' Food Application Center and its Givaudan Bühler innovation facility in Singapore focuses on sustainable, protein-based products is one step further in that direction.

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