September 28, 2021
Other Analysis:

Alt Meat Leaders and Losers – September 2021

September rankings - Policy #1, Sourcing +4, Channels & Health -2

A Long Fuse is Lit: Labeling Looms Large

Influential conversations about cell-cultured products took a turn in September as labeling policies moved a step closer to reality. Previously, discussions had concerned regulation, with FDA and USDA splitting responsibility in 2019. Since then, manufacturing news about new products and facilities dominated.

  • On Sept. 2, the USDA requested input on labeling of cell-cultured meat and poultry products. The agency will accept comments for 60 days.
  • Consumer Federation of America hosted a webinar evaluating existing public policy frameworks.

In the past month, conversations around sourcing for both plant-based and cell-culture proteins grew in volume, while channel availability and food safety concerns dimmed slightly. Impossible Foods’ much-heralded plant-based nuggets lacked immediate partnerships.

  • Ingredient producers ramped up production ranging from pea protein (Alt Meat) to cell-culture mediums (The Spoon).
  • Additionally, “clean label” conversations gained steam, with leaders from Cargill and ADM weighing in on options for simpler ingredient lists (Food Business News).

This content was developed in partnership with Alt-Meat, a multimedia brand covering a myriad of topics in the meat alternatives market from a business point of view. For more information, visit Alt-Meat.net.

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Alt meat conversation topics

Labeling Changes Afoot

Policy is often slow to catch up to new products and technologies; for alternative protein, labeling is the biggest sticking point. Given the importance of labeling for brand management, companies should closely monitor developments in the state and federal rules.

  • On Aug. 11, a U.S. District Court judge ruled in favor of Miyoko’s Creamery against the California Department of Food and Agriculture, concluding that labeling plant-based products “vegan butter” is not misleading commercial speech. He explained, “Quite simply, language evolves.”
  • The judgment set a precedent for relying on clarity of labeling and away from strict reliance on FDA’s standards of identity.
  • However, the judgment failed to prevent the American Butter Institute from disputing the clarity of labeling on other plant-based product packages.

In the past month, analysis of Intel Distillery data showed that health and sourcing concerns took a back seat to channel availability.

  • Panda Express tested Beyond Orange Chicken at 10 New York City and Los Angeles locations.
  • Pizza Hut piloted Beyond Pepperoni pizza in five U.S. cities.
  • Baja Fresh Mexican Grill rolled out three Impossible Foods products.

This content was developed in partnership with Alt-Meat, a multimedia brand covering a myriad of topics in the meat alternatives market from a business point of view. For more information, visit Alt-Meat.net.

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Meat vs. Alt Protein: What’s the Diff?

Analysis of Intel Distillery data shows that health concerns drove the most influential conversations around alternative proteins this month. Although the bulk of attention focused on nutritional differences between meat and plant-based proteins, health-related messaging may resonate better as part of a “plant-based diet” than as a “meat substitute.”

  • Duke University researcher Stephan van Vliet concluded, “These products should not be viewed as nutritionally interchangeable, but that’s not to say that one is better than the other.”
  • Meanwhile, influential voices discussed alt proteins as part of plant-based diets that may ward off disease, including COVID-19 (Johns Hopkins University, via BMJ) and multiple sclerosis (University of Iowa).

Additionally, several other topics moved up and down in our rankings of the marketplace’s top topics. Innovation in the sector piqued interest as companies developed new ingredients, while environment and sourcing claims fell from relatively high volumes of discussion last month.

  • Nestlé partnered with Future Meat Technologies for cultivated protein.
  • Nonprofit XPRIZE announced a $15 million competition for the development of chicken and fish analogues.

This content was developed in partnership with Alt-Meat, a multimedia brand covering a myriad of topics in the meat alternatives market from a business point of view. For more information, visit Alt-Meat.net.

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Where Money Flows, Regulation Follows

Analysis of Intel Distillery data shows that policy topics led recent influential conversations. Much of the attention stemmed from ongoing efforts to clarify marketing terms and production methods.

  • Texas legislators approved a law that restricts the use of terms such as “meat,” “beef,” “pork” or “chicken” to traditional meat from live animals.
  • Good Food Institute joined the World Health Organization’s Codex Alimentarius Commission, creating an opportunity to influence global safety and regulatory standards for alternative protein production.

Sourcing of protein ingredients returned to force after taking a back seat to investment and innovation in the previous month. The most-discussed examples both focused on mycoprotein fermentation:

  • As Unilever expanded its Vegetarian Butcher line, the food giant partnered with ENOUGH to produce “zero-waste” mycoprotein.
  • The Better Meat Co unveiled plans on June 6 to shift the focus of its production from extruded pea and algae proteins to mycoprotein fermentation.

This content was developed in partnership with Alt-Meat, a multimedia brand covering a myriad of topics in the meat alternatives market from a business point of view. For more information, visit Alt-Meat.net.

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Alt Protein Conversations: Leaders and Losers

April conversation rankings at a glance

Intel Distillery data indicates that the health aspect of alternative proteins permeates industry leader conversations, in contrast to the mainstream focus on environmental benefits. The fact that the category is referred to as “alternative protein” positions products in a nutrition-forward light. Brands that overlook this miss out on a built-in marketing advantage. Recent events that drove health conversations include:

  • The New York Times publishing a buyer’s guide for plant-based milks based on nutrition profiles.
  • Reducetarian Foundation President Brian Kateman addressing trade-offs between nutrition and flavor.
  • Researcher Gregg Sparkman, PhD, explaining that perceived health benefits help to drive incremental shifts away from traditional meat products.

In the past month, discussions about investment in the category and channel availability gained steam:

This content was developed in partnership with Alt-Meat, a multimedia brand covering a myriad of topics in the meat alternatives market from a business point of view. For more information, visit Alt-Meat.net.

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Supply Chain Settles, Attention Shifts

Pie charts - consumer social media discussions of alternative protein

Believe it or not, consumer attention to alternative protein topics follows big policy talk in Washington. Mirroring the change of administrations, we found that mainstream social media attention to alternative proteins shifted substantially in the first quarter compared with last year. After President Biden put climate policy in the spotlight, discussions of the environmental impact of food followed. Articles covering Bill Gates’ recommendation of meatless burgers (Popular Mechanics) and McMaster University research on cultivated meat (CTV News) garnered more than 12,000 shares on social media.

Channel availability remained a vigorous topic of discussion, even if the topic lost momentum from being the primary focus in 2020, when meat supply chain failures directed extra attention to the availability of alternative proteins. However, a continued string of new partnerships — such as Beyond Meat inking deals with McDonald’s and Yum! Brands — drove consumer excitement.

This content was developed in partnership with Alt-Meat, a multimedia brand covering a myriad of topics in the meat alternatives market from a business point of view. For more information, visit Alt-Meat.net.

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Industry Leaders Prioritize Health, Environment in Alt-protein Discussions

Top ten topics in alternative protein, September 2020 through February 2021

Bill Gates’ book “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster” inspired heavy discussion about the environmental benefits of plant-based proteins. In the book, Gates paired environmental concerns with the importance of investment to enact change. On the investment front, Danone’s Feb. 18 acquisition of dairy-free cheese brand Earth Island overshadowed all other transactions in the space, positioning the company to “strengthen its plant-based business.” Other notable investments included capital rounds for startups Mosa Meat and Redefine Meat.

Thanks to a Good Morning America segment that shared an American Heart Association study touting the health benefits of a plant-based diet, the health conversation got an uptick for both consumers and industry leaders. Dean Ornish, MD, president of the Preventive Medicine Research Institute, commented: “The TYPE of protein you consume is important, not just fats vs. carbs.”

The topic of innovation fell from the top spot in January as discussion about new products gave way to raising funds. Attention to safety also fell in February compared with January’s headlines about pending lawsuits against FDA approval of Impossible Foods’ coloring ingredient.

This content was developed in partnership with Alt-Meat, a multimedia brand covering a myriad of topics in the meat alternatives market from a business point of view. For more information, visit Alt-Meat.net.

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Innovation, Policy, Health Top Alt-protein Talk


Top Ten Alternative Protein conversations by leading industry voices. Aug. 2020 – Jan. 2021.

Trends in conversations between food production industry leaders suggest that B2B communications are likely to gain more traction with an emphasis on helping downstream companies navigate the relatively new sector.

As Bader Rutter’s Intel Distillery team ranked and analyzed conversations between influential voices in the industry, several themes emerged in the alternative protein space over the past six months. In particular, there appear to be opportunities in product development and navigation of the incoming administration’s policies.

Innovation climbed to the top spot in discussions as processors announced new products, production techniques and partnerships. In January alone, researchers at McMaster University developed a new method for stacking sheets of cultured muscle and fat cells; PepsiCo and Beyond Meat established The PLANeT Partnership to develop new plant-based snack foods; and equipment maker Bühler partnered with German Institute of Food Technologies to design extruders specifically for plant-based proteins.

Policy continues to hold a high priority in discussion of the alternative protein sector. With the Biden administration just beginning its term, we expect the topic to remain top of mind for industry leaders.

While investment still draws attention, the proportion of conversations around the topic has fallen over the course of the past six months. Interest in the topic peaked over the summer, when venture capital funds for the sector contrasted with pandemic-related difficulties for traditional protein.

This content was developed in partnership with Alt-Meat, a multimedia brand covering a myriad of topics in the meat alternatives market from a business point of view. For more information, visit Alt-Meat.net.

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A Fundamental Disconnect

Chart: Industry leaders vs. consumers on alt meat

Depending on what conversations you’re following, there’s a fundamental disconnect in discussions about alternative protein. When it comes to meat alternatives, leaders from across the food chain have vastly different communications priorities than consumers.

Basically, industry leaders spread their attention across a diverse range of interests, while consumers focus predominantly on foodservice and retail channel availability.

Looking back at data spanning 2020, The Intel Distillery found that industry leaders split their attention relatively evenly across 10 topics. Policy, innovation and safety are production-side issues that the industry should naturally give more attention than consumers would. The next-most discussed issues surround consumer benefits: healthfulness, environmental impact and trendiness of the products.

Meanwhile, consumer conversations focused on when and where to find the products. Intel Distillery queries of Buzzsumo’s social media data indicated that consumers most frequently discussed news of new product availability. How to find the products garnered more attention than why.

Therein lies the opportunity: If alternative meat brands seek to resonate with consumers, they will need to talk more about their availability and through which channels. Answering questions like “where can I buy” or “what new products launched” are prime pain points to address for consumers and will contribute to brand-specific mainstream conversations on social media.

This content was developed in partnership with Alt-Meat, a multimedia brand covering a myriad of topics in the meat alternatives market from a business point of view. For more information, visit Alt-Meat.net.

A Word on Methodology

Meat alternatives in food production have proven to be one of the most provocative and abundant topics in recent years. Though the intensity of this topic subsided slightly to address pandemic-related urgency, debates rage on about the safety, labeling, nomenclature, regulation, and consumer acceptance of plant-based meat alternatives and their cell-cultured counterparts. At the request of the editors at Alt-Meat, we are pleased to help readers cut through some of the clutter and understand trends in these conversations. We will do this by comparing conversation volume between consumer voices and industry leaders.

We’ll first compare industry leader conversations with consumer social media activity, covering 2020 as a whole. Moving forward, we’ll alternate analysis between this comparison and more focused reviews of industry leader discussions. We hope you gain an understanding of industry leaders’ priorities and what’s trending in this important conversation.

Bader Rutter maintains a database of the 1,500 most influential voices throughout the food production continuum. The agency’s Intel Distillery team monitors, analyzes and ranks the topics important to these voices in order to provide a wide perspective of the most pressing topics in the food and ag industry.

When analyzing industry leaders’ conversations, we identified 10 key categories of talking points for alternative proteins. These categories help to understand industry priorities for producing and marketing the products.

  • Advocacy captures activist attention to production issues as well as special interest groups that focus on “consumer rights” interests.
  • Channels represents foodservice and retail availability, sales and marketing.
  • Environment addresses carbon footprint, land use and water use in the production process.
  • Food Trends covers protein products’ place in popular culture, from common diets to haute cuisine.
  • Health includes nutritional benefits of the products, as well as associations between protein products and long-term conditions.
  • Innovation accounts for research and development of new ingredients and products in the alternative protein market.
  • Investment is our catchall for venture capital stakes, new production facilities, mergers and acquisitions.
  • Policy covers regulation and legislation of meat alternatives, as well as legal challenges to those rules.
  • Sourcing accounts for where ingredients come from, most frequently as part of corporations’ environmental, social and governance (ESG) goals.

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Four Forces Inspiring Food Brands

Today, the most relevant food stories happen along the supply chain. This presents a real opportunity area for brands to highlight issues that matter to consumers. Bader Rutter’s Intel Distillery team has identified four specific forces inspiring new food brand stories:

  1. Rising hunger
  2. Environmental concerns
  3. Worker issues
  4. Food innovation

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