Five years into the future people will walk into the supermarket and the meat section will be no more. Instead, it will be called the protein aisle. That’s the bold prediction of Morten Toft Bech, founder of British company The Meatless Farm Co, which recently obtained its first listings in Sainsbury’s with pea-based mince and burger patties.
“We will see a reduction of meat in the aisle, say 30%, maybe more, and what it does mean is a lot of cheaper meat and chicken will be replaced by higher-quality products, so meat becomes something you do for indulgence rather than an every day protein,” he tells Food Spark.
“A range of plant-based proteins like ours and others will be dominating that aisle, and lab-grown, stem-cell-grown meat, which has its own problems and ethical questions, is definitely going to be there. There will also be other proteins from dried insects, which is much more efficient than feeding the growing human population with beef.”
While alternative sources of protein and meat alternatives are new, innovative and exciting at the moment, Toft Bech says in a few years times they will be normal.
“You can see it in the millennials, the youth segment. They don’t label themselves as vegetarian or vegan – they just eat food. So I think the labelling will go away, and the general public awareness of the side effects of the meat industry means we will eat less and there will be more product offerings that taste good,” he continues.
“This is not a short-term trend. I decided a couple of years ago it was the right time to step into the market and it became clear that it’s not a fad. It’s a macro trend for the next 30 years as people are changing the way they perceive food and part of the way is how they consume protein.”
The generations to come
The Meatless Farm Co was conceived by Toft Bech when his was wife was looking for a way to make plant-based dinners that were as convenient as meat meals. Rather than creating a veggie lasagne by using three types of beans and a range of chopped veg, a plant-based mince would make life that much easier.
To that end, the key challenge was replicating the functionality of mince. He wanted it to be gluten-free, but also needed a good bite – which is easier when you are using certain wheat protein.
The burger patties proved a far simpler proposition.
“Burgers are easy as you fry them in same way, but minced meat you can use in many different applications,” he explains.
It took a year to develop the Meatless Farm mince, but Toft Bech already has his eyes on a third-generation recipe to develop it further, focusing on composition, taste, flavour and nutritional profile.
Innovation requires science
One of the fears Toft Bech had before launch was that people would misunderstand the product and discount the mince, because they would perceive it as too processed. It’s a real fear too, with Mintel research revealing that 44% of Brits are unclear about what ingredients are used in the meat-free foods, while 31% believe that meat-free foods are too processed to be healthier than meat.
So far, reaction to the mince has been positive, including on social media, and Toft Bech argues that plant-based innovations need more of scientific approach, as taking some beans and paprika and mixing them together doesn’t work or stand up to the professional cooking process.
However, it’s also about education. For instance, one ingredient used in the mince is a thickener called methyl cellulose, which everyone in the industry is using right now, he says.
“So it sounds a bit unnatural and people react to it and go on to website to find out more, but its natural cellulose, just with a fancy name attached to it,” he explains. “The other thing is we get a customised colour, so we take beetroot, radish and carrot for the best sort of colour mix, dehydrate it and use it as a powder. It has an industrial process behind it, but it’s still just carrot, beetroot and radish; it’s just we need to go a step deeper to get the product to work.”
The Meatless Farm Co’s mince competes both on protein content and price when compared to meat, with the pea mince coming in at 5p more per 100g than Sainsbury’s 5% fat beef mince.
“We are trying to teach the consumer that swapping meat out with a plant-based diet doesn’t necessarily have to be inconvenient, time consuming or costly,” he says. “I don’t want the price to be the stumbling block at the point of purchase… It’s not so good for margins, but we want to get out there and have thousands of people using our product daily.”
Looking to the Meatless Farm future, Toft Bech says the brand is planning to move into its own in-house food lab and employ more food scientists.
The company will continue to focus on beef, rather than branching out into other meat products.
“We will never be a company that tries to make 20 different SKUs, as I think what you end up doing is making 20 mediocre products instead of three or four that are really good,” he comments.
“There is plenty to do in the area of beef, and I think other companies are doing great things within chicken and trying to do things within fish. It’s a very big market and I would rather have someone new coming in with a fantastic innovation, rather than me trying to think I have everything covered, as you lose focus on what you do well.”
But Toft Bech also has lofty ambitions to leave a legacy with his brand. “If I can be remembered as one of the very first, if not the first, mince meats that was plant-based and tasty, and if I become a household brand over the next two years – just a normal food product that you put in your basket – then my mission has been accomplished and it will make me very happy,” he says.