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Alt Protein All Stars
Best in class CPG in meat, egg, & dairy analogs
Hi, this is the 7th article of Fifth Industrial, a blog scouting emerging biotechnologies with potential to address biodiversity loss, climate change, animal abuse, and other externalities of the modern economy. See the landscapes on cellular agriculture, mycelium materials, synthetic silk, microbiomics, deep space food systems, and alt cheese. This is a more informal edition compared to most, though still researched… in a different (more delicious) way.
Great Taste Matters
The plant-based food market is worth at least $7.4 billion in US retail alone. There are over 1,000 manufacturers and brands focused on alternative proteins that continue to haul in billions in venture capital funding. The data shows that through 2021, plant-based food continues to outpace the growth of the food sector generally. However, the breakneck speed at which plant-based meat in particular has grown has, at least temporarily, slowed. Leading companies like Beyond Meat and Oatly have taken major market cap licks as competitors pile in.
Let’s not lose sight of where the industry is and where we need to go. To go from 1.5% market share to 11+% in 2030 (and ultimately to >~80% necessary for long-run sustainability), we need to address key bottlenecks like production capacity and distribution, plus regulatory hurdles.
However, most people will not repeatedly consume alternative proteins unless they can compete with conventional products on TASTE (including flavor, aroma, texture, moisture). When companies rush products to market that aren’t delicious, they contribute unintentionally (or maybe intentionally) to a collective “Crystal Pepsi moment,” impacting consumer perceptions of the entire category. Like Kenny Torella at Vox recently wrote, I also worry about a “glut of mediocre products.”
It’s worth a reminder that there are so many incredible products becoming available, which I get to try owning to my job as an investor in the space. So, I’ve made this list of “All Star” products worth celebrating. Here are my criteria:
Taste is #1, but other “table stakes” for consumers are convenience, price, familiarity, and healthfulness. Unless a product is available where food is normally bought, in a format normally consumed, at an affordable price, with ingredients/nutrient profiles they feel comfortable with, it won’t be purchased repeatedly. Parity with conventional counterparts is the goal line.
The product must be available for purchase in the US or European retail or D2C. So, it won’t include many amazing products in the pre-commercialization stage, in markets where I’m less familiar, or at restaurants only.
Disclaimers: This is of course subjective to my tastes, I haven’t tried everything, and this is in no way quantitative. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Without further ado, here are my lists for best products and runners up.
Sausage - Impossible Sausage by Impossible Foods
This minced pork analog is so good it has been preferred over conventional pork in blind taste tests in Hong Kong. I buy it nearly every time I see it and is arguably the MVP of this list (tofu wasn’t eligible).
Burger - OZO brand burgers by Planeterra
Chicken - Planeted.chicken Skewers by Planted
It has only 5 ingredients with great texture due to high moisture extrusion technology. This is a hard choice as there are a lot of good plant-based chicken cutlet options like Quorn.
Nobody has matched the functionality that JUST has gotten from their mung bean isolate. Cooks just like an egg though not perfect in baking.
Bacon - Lardons Vegetaux by La Vie Foods
Formerly 77Foods, they perfected a plant-based fat for a shocking bacon experience. France based and just now launching.
The “Good Catch® 6-Plant protein blend (pea protein isolate, soy protein concentrate, chickpea flour, faba protein, lentil protein, soy protein isolate, navy bean powder)’ is marvelous for this application.
Cheese - Vegan Pizza Mozzarella by Miyokos
The only mozz I would put on my pizza (that I can get my hands on at least). Not quite perfect because it comes out as a liquid and must cook at high temperature in the oven, but the flavor and texture is great for pizza, pastas, and casseroles.
A few years ago, I wasn’t sure that a decent plant-based steak would be possible. It still has to improve on flavor but the texture is fantastic and this product delivers a hefty level of meatiness (and price tag currently).
Most others are offputting-ly soft or sticky. These hit the spot (the spot being the nostalgic desire for sliced meats and mustard on bread).
Dairy - Milked Oats by Elmhurst 1925
Fully embraces the deliciousness of the oat without trying to be totally neutral. Works great in many applications and I love the flavor. There are of course a lot of great alt milks out there and have >40% household penetration in the US.
Amazing on the grill with better flavor than their beef.
The famous burger that launched at Burger King and spark the QSR burger wave. Pretty much as tasty and versatile as ground beef from cows but not yet available in some places (e.g., Europe) due to a novel colorant/flavorant called “heme”.
Chicken - DINO NUGGS by SIMULATE
Forms a real heat gel while scrambling and has a nutrient profile to feel better about than most others.
Bacon - Bakon by Thrilling Foods
Hard to believe this is mostly tofu. The flavor and texture when cooked is delightful and I feel good eating it.
Seafood - Organic Tuna Cubes by CURRENT FOODS
I’m not sure how the product would perform when cooked, but both the salmon and tuna analogs were eerily close to traditional sashimi.
Satisfying nacho cheese with a unique ingredient panel featuring cauliflower, hemp seeds, oats, and koji.
Only tried it once at Expo West but the strong flavor and bite was surprisingly good.
Deli - Veggie Pepperoni by Yves
On a pizza, I doubt most people would know the difference.
The first ice cream brand using Perfect Day’s precision-fermentation produced animal-free dairy whey protein which adds a big amount of creaminess and that quintessential ‘ice cream’ taste.
There are still categories — to my knowledge — in search of suitable, available alternatives such as hard cheeses, ribs, brisket, döner, flaky fish, and prawns (among others). And of course, I didn’t even touch on sweet indulgences like Mid Day Squares brownies, vegan chocolates from Karma or Sjaak’s, and Bon Dévil ganache.
My purpose here is to get people excited to trying new products, urge entrepreneurs to focus on taste, and celebrate those that have developed great products. You’ll have to ask me privately if you want to know the worst products!
What do I have wrong?
P.S. Disclaimer: I am writing this solely in my person capacity and not on behalf of Blue Horizon. Blue Horizon is an investor in several companies mentioned: the portfolio can be viewed here. I tried to be unbiased to the extent possible. I have no affiliate marketing links or monetization aims otherwise with this post.
Thumbnail image: Juicy Marbles steak
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