Is animal-free meat, dairy and egg just around the corner?

6 Apr 2020

Animal food products made without animal agriculture are gaining ground, with a handful of companies now making nature-identical products and ingredients that are (very nearly) supermarket-ready.

Cellular agriculture has teetered on the verge of a breakthrough for a few years, but the cost of scaling up repeatedly has been cited as the most important limiting factor. Now, as several companies prepare to launch mainstream products, it seems the technology gradually is catching up with ambitions.

Is animal-free meat, dairy and egg just around the corner?
Egg replacers with real egg protein could hit the market within the next year

California-based Clara Foods is the latest firm to enter the animal-free market with its egg white alternative – created via fermentation rather than chickens – and backed by global food ingredients giant Ingredion, which led a series B funding round for the company. The proteins are identical to those from hens’ eggs, but involve no animals. It says its ingredients will be ready for use in protein drinks and supplements later this year, ahead of an egg replacer launch for baked goods and other products in 2021.

Consumers gradually have become aware of the concept of lab-grown animal products with US-based companies like Memphis Meats, Perfect Day and New Culture, which are working on various meats, 100% dairy ice cream and cheese respectively. A pilot launch of Perfect Day’s $20-a-pint ice cream sold out in 24 hours. In Israel, too, Aleph Farms produced its first cell-grown steak with the appearance and texture of whole muscle meat in 2018. Crucially, it kept the cost to about $50 – still more expensive than farmed meat, but a huge saving compared to the world’s first lab-grown burger, which cost $250,000 to make in 2013.

While demand for plant-based foods is on the rise, it remains to be seen whether vegan consumers would accept actual egg, dairy or meat protein in their diets. However, research from FMCG Gurus suggests that the environment is now the number one driver behind the plant-based diet trend, so cutting out animal agriculture while still having genuine animal products seems like a win-win for most consumers, even if strict vegans might find such foods unpalatable.

Concern for the environment is a trend that drives producers of fermentation-derived ingredients and investors too. Perfect Day, for instance, highlights the environmental cost of animal agriculture and describes its products as having “less impact on the earth”. The company has partnered with ADM to produce more of its dairy-free milk ingredients on a large scale.

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