What's New Zealand's answer to the Impossible burger?

MPI and Plant & Food release joint report on consumer response to protein.

A new report assessing consumer response to protein highlights the threats and opportunity for New Zealand’s traditional animal-based agriculture.

New Zealand’s animal-based protein export revenue alone accounts for 60% of the country’s total primary exports and demand is expected to grow as the global population is forecast to rise to 8.1 billion by 2025.

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and Plant & Food 's joint report The Evolution of Plant Protein – assessing consumer response signals change for traditional animal protein producers. It says while animal proteins continue to appeal to traditional consumer preferences, such as taste and functionality, a growing drive for more sustainable and healthier lifestyles is positioned to shift that emphasis to plant protein products.

There has been a new wave of innovative meat and dairy substitutes either already on the market or about to be released, which reduce reliance on animal-based protein.

The global plant-based protein market alone is forecast by Research and Markets to hit $10.8b by 2022 supported by a compound annual growth rate of 6.7% over the five years from 2017.

For New Zealand to retain a competitive edge in primary exports, “we want to ensure we are looking ahead at what the future consumer might demand in our products and what opportunities are available for our sector,” Plant & Food Research’s Dr Jocelyn Eason says.

The report analysed consumer response to plant-based proteins released in the US and consumer attitudes to proteins in China. It found wealthy western economies such as the US will require an innovative protein product that meets all consumer needs in order to see the widespread substitution of traditional animal products for plant protein.

New Zealand’s response should be to develop strategies to mitigate the risk to primary exports from the alternative proteins and maintain and build its reputation as a producer of high-value natural foods, including emphasising traceability and food safety.

It should also identify opportunities for all protein types with targeted research and monitoring, the report says.

The Ministry of Business (MBIE) is already in the early stages of a cross-government initiative to create a unique competitive advantage that will make New Zealand an attractive location for plant-based proteins research.

The meat side
In a separate case study also released by MPI today on the Impossible Burger, the plant-based meat patty being sold in the US, it says alternative meat products have the potential to cause “a level of disruption to the US beef market.”

The US beef market is critical to New Zealand’s well-being given it accounts for 44% of total beef exports and the Kiwi beef sector adds $2.9b value to the economy.

However, the research did find that despite moving closer to replicating the attributes of meat, the taste and texture, price and convenience of preparation of the Impossible Burger still tends to disappoint.

While Impossible Food’s short-term strategy is to expand its presence in US burger chains, long-term it is planning to go international and to expand its range into other meat and dairy products.

Impossible Foods, the US company behind the Impossible Burger, has raised $US396 million in investment since it was founded in 2011.

The New Zealand meat industry is well-aware of the potential threat from alternative proteins, with Beef & Lamb having released its own report in March, Future of Meat. That report concluded alternative proteins are likely to become a major competitor to some of this country’s red meat products and the sector has to come up with a clear strategy to respond to the threat.

It said although alternative proteins are manufactured in small volumes, large-scale production of burger patties and mince is likely within five years. But it also said there is still a strong future for the red meat sector, particularly at the premium end.  

Report author Lee-Ann Marsh says it outlined four likely scenarios for the industry but the outcome is likely to be more a mix of all four. It recommended the red meat industry diversify beyond their own product to protect current volume, to innovate beyond red meat using funding from short-term revenue growth, to 'premium-ise' even further by investing more in product development and value marketing, and expand and grow New Zealand’s share of the sector via differentiation and speed to market.

The Meat Industry Association, representing meat processors, marketers and exporters, is meeting in mid-June to discuss the report and the next steps to take.

Ms Marsh says she wants to see the industry come together to stocktake how what it is doing today lines up with the opportunities highlighted in the report.

“What opportunities do they have as a collective, then what should they doing and not doing and how to start going down that path for making a business case for some of those areas.”

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