Solein and cellular farming offer brands a path to change the food industry for good

Shilei Zhang
Chief Commercial Officer, Solar Foods

Alternative protein is becoming a hot commodity in the global food market in the coming years. Sustainability is a key driver, but so is the demand for a steady and secure supply of protein.

Society is becoming increasingly aware of the unsustainability of modern food production. The biggest climate offender is meat. Rising living standards have made meat synonymous with protein in our diets, but humanity is gradually changing its course and replacing meat with alternative protein sources.

Why alternative proteine will be on everybody’s plates soon

Alternative protein is an umbrella term that covers a host of foods replacing animal-based proteins on our plates. There’s debate around how to categorise different alternative proteins and the distinction is not always clear cut. The main groups are plant-based proteins, fermentation-based products, and cultivated meat: the latter two are known as cell-cultured products.

Cell-cultured products are still new and exotic for most consumers and food brands. Interest in them is, however, rapidly growing. There are five key factors driving demand:

1. The need for sustainability. Consumers in industrialized countries are looking to reduce their carbon footprint, and companies have regulatory expectations to go green. Combined, these factors are driving a renaissance of sustainable food.

2. Sufficient production. Soy is the world’s leading plant-based protein source. While more ecological than meat, soybean farming still uses a lot of water and land, and more than three-quarters of soy produced goes to feed livestock populations. Most of the arable land in the world is already in use, so the conclusion is clear: soy production cannot grow indefinitely to meet all human and livestock demand.

3. Security of supply. Climate change has pushed governments to produce more food domestically for years. The current geopolitical unrest and its effects, resonating across the world, have shifted these plans into a higher gear. All the while, companies are hoping for market stability. Everyone’s keen to diversify and avoid building their food supply on a single crop.

4. Consistent quality. As with any agricultural product, the quality of plant-based proteins can vary according to the producer, weather, soil and how the crop is processed. This can complicate production and result in wasted resources. Cellular agriculture changes that: product quality and quantity are stable as the production is independent of land or climate conditions.

5. Taste and consumer preference. Plant-based proteins, such as beans, don’t always offer the taste and texture the brand is looking for. Some consumers will also avoid certain plant-based products due to health reasons such as allergies or the plant upsetting their digestion, or because they simply have a negative view of it.

How ready are the key markets?

Plant-based proteins are already widely available for consumers whereas cell-cultured foods are still emerging; for example, we plan to have Solein® commercially released in 2023.

Even though the market still needs some time to fully mature, it’s hard to overstate the potential of cell-cultured proteins. They are cutting edge in environmental performance: while both are excellent alternatives to meat, Solein has five times less carbon emission, 20 times less water and 100 times less land than plant proteins. This is excellent news for consumers who are keener than ever for sustainable eating, and food brands determined to meet this demand.

It’s difficult to predict where the big breakthroughs for cell-cultured foods will happen first, but the United States and Europe are likely to lead the way. Legislative cultures and situations differ across markets, but the United States has certain advantages here. In the US, products need FDA approval: while the process is careful and demanding, it involves just one country. In the EU, the European Food Safety Authority considers the expectations of 27 member nations.

Local food cultures also play a role in how markets emerge. European and Asian countries have long traditions of local cuisine and replacing staple ingredients happens slower. Americans move faster as new trends are adopted with an open mind, but they can also move on more quickly.

Cellular farming is ideal for securing the future growth of food brands

No matter where it breaks through first, Solein’s future looks bright. It is, along with other cell-cultured proteins, the perfect match to what the world of food is currently looking for.

Solein ticks all the boxes currently driving alternative protein production. It is independent of agricultural production and thus highly sustainable to grow, it can be produced anywhere, its long-term production yields are predictable and its quality consistent. On top of all this, Solein is non-allergenic and has a great nutritional profile. It gives us the best sides of both meat and plant protein without the downsides of either.

We are bringing Solein to market through a B2B model: as an ingredient in the food brands people know and love. The protein is versatile and easy to use, so it makes sense to let food producers across the world use it in their own ways to create foods that are known to be tasty and functional as always, but which can now also enable a meaningful change.

Cellular farming has the power to revolutionise the planetary impact of what we eat, but only if food producers are brave enough to take the leap and commit to it. You can’t change the world, or the global food business, alone. Solein is one of the first ingredients to have such a far-reaching impact on how food arrives on dinner tables of consumers across the world – will you be leading the way with us?