Introducing our solutions work

In order to accelerate alternative proteins as quickly and efficiently as possible, we identify existing and future bottlenecks as well as promising solutions for the field’s most pressing challenges. 

In our work to advance solutions for alternative proteins, we conducted extensive research, a market-shaping analysis, whitespace ideation, and interviews with more than 150 experts across the alternative protein field. We’ve packaged our findings into our Solutions Database, a list of innovation priorities, and a series of reports

As a nonprofit, we value sharing knowledge freely and generating open-access information that will benefit every innovator in this space. These resources will enable you to find concrete opportunities to get involved with—and accelerate—the vital transformation of our food system. As you’ll see, there are many ways to be a part of feeding our growing population in a secure, sustainable, and just way.

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Explore our Solutions Database

Discover commercial whitespaces, research gaps, technological needs, and investment priorities at each stage of the alternative protein value chain.

Diagram of the alternative protein value chain

How we segment the alt protein value chain

We map innovation priority areas and solutions to specific segments within the alternative protein value chain.

Innovation priorities

Achieving success in the alternative protein field requires bold innovation across the entire value chain. Learn about key challenges and potential solutions in each part of the value chain based on GFI’s research and hundreds of conversations with experts from industry, governments, NGOs, and academia.

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End product innovation priorities

Finished product formulation needs to match consumer preferences in many areas, particularly sensory attributes—taste, texture, appearance, and aroma—as well as price, nutrition, sustainability, variety, and familiarity.

Shared end product priorities

Shared end product priorities

The success of the alternative protein industry rests upon the ability to create tasty, craveable products that are organoleptically identical or superior to conventional meat, egg, and dairy products. While we’ve seen significant improvements, few alternative protein products currently stand up organoleptically to their conventional animal product counterparts. Ensuring that a wide variety of alternative protein products meet consumer needs and expectations is critical to increasing demand and avoiding bad product experiences that could generate negative perceptions of the entire category.

Inability to quantitatively measure various finished product attributes

While discrete functional properties can be assessed through bench methods, the gold standard for end product evaluation is still human sensory panel testing, which is expensive, imprecise, and time-consuming. The lack of analytical tools makes it difficult to improve understanding of how functional attributes perform at a quantified, molecular level against conventional meat, eggs, and dairy. It will prove particularly difficult to improve texture and mouthfeel without these techniques.

Lack of industry-wide target product profiles & specifications

A lack of industry-wide target product profiles or product specifications, including a limited understanding of animal protein product compositions and structures to facilitate competitive benchmarking. These specifications could be shared with upstream ingredient suppliers to more clearly delineate the needs of alternative protein manufacturers.

Sufficient fat and moisture performance

The role of fat will become increasingly important as demand increases for plant-based products that have properties more akin to animal-based ones. It will be essential to achieve sufficient fat and moisture performance in end products because lipids are integral to key product attributes such as texture, flavor, and overall familiarity. A significant amount of research has been done around structuring and encapsulating fats and flavors, but the best techniques for alternative protein applications have not been exhaustively explored.

Plant-based end product priorities

Plant-based end product priorities

Some plant-based products exhibit a lack of versatility: consumers will often use animal proteins such as chicken in dozens of different ways, while plant-based products are often formulated for highly-specific applications, such as nuggets. Plant-based products that are convenient to purchase, transport, store, prepare, cook, and seamlessly integrate into common recipes and cuisines are needed.

Cultivated end product priorities

Cultivated end product priorities

The cost of producing cultivated meat is a foremost challenge in the field. Vast reductions in unit price will require both technologic advances and economies of scale, which we enumerate in detail throughout this page.

Nutritional equivalence to animal products

Achieving and demonstrating nutritional equivalence to animal products will be a key milestone for cultivated meat. Replicating the precise levels of nutrient accumulation that occur within animal tissue is not trivial, but there is greater opportunity to exquisitely fine-tune the resulting product’s nutritional profile using customized media than by modulating an animal’s feed.

Demonstrating sustainability advantages

It will be incumbent to demonstrate the environmental and sustainability benefits of cultivated meat before production is at commercial scale. Conducting rigorous life cycle assessments will be critical, and these analyses should be sure to note the potential for increased efficiencies across all stages of the plant, fermentation, and cellular agriculture life cycles, as well as the opportunities for increased efficiency that come with scaling up production.

Key end product solutions

Read more about our proposed end product solutions—including related efforts by GFI and other organizations that are already underway—in our Solutions Database.

  • Fermentation
  • Plant-Based

Open-access product formulation specification sheets

Open-access product formulation specifications could provide clear metrics and objectives for product developers on attributes like taste, price, nutrition, and ingredient ratios.

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  • Plant-Based

Production process innovations for fiber formation and improved plant protein texturization

Fibers from techniques like electrospinning, jet spinning, or blow spinning may be able to impart a desirable texture to a given product.

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  • Cultivated
  • Fermentation
  • Plant-Based

Guaranteed offtake contracts for products and ingredients

Guaranteed offtake agreements, where buyers commit to purchase a volume of product, can help secure loans for infrastructure and other high-cost projects.

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  • Cultivated

Development and industry-wide adoption of standards for meat characterization

A more comprehensive understanding of the processes, structures, and molecular constituents governing meat’s organoleptic properties will inform the production of alternative proteins.

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Research & development innovation priorities

Key R&D related activities include prioritizing among unanswered research questions, enacting government and private-sector funding for research, and conducting public- and private-sector R&D. Please visit GFI’s Research Grant Program for additional information on key areas for innovation in the R&D of alternative proteins and a list of research grant projects addressing critical scientific challenges. If you are working on an R&D challenge in alternative proteins and haven’t already engaged GFI, let us know.

Shared R&D priorities

Shared R&D priorities

For alternative proteins to succeed as quickly as possible, a long-term vision is essential, particularly with respect to funding research. Because the public sector has a higher tolerance for the long time horizons inherent in fundamental technological and scientific R&D, it can support foundational research that may spawn novel technology rather than merely incremental advances. Nonetheless, alternative protein R&D has been woefully underfunded through the public sector. Increasing public sector investment in R&D creates a “rising tide” for the industry, addressing pre-competitive research challenges while empowering the industry to focus its efforts primarily upon questions of scale.

There is also an industry-wide gap in the prevalence of industry-academic collaborative partnerships for research. Despite challenges navigating ownership of the intellectual property generated through such partnerships, these collaborations are extremely effective, particularly when the private-sector partner contributes significant funding. In return, the private-sector industry collaborator becomes the default commercialization partner, enabling accelerated translation from technological breakthrough to widespread commercial impact.

Plant-based R&D priorities

Plant-based R&D priorities

While plant-based protein is the most commercially mature of the three alternative protein production platforms, it is arguably much less developed in terms of basic R&D. This is in part because there are fewer cross-applicable projects in plant-based meat than in cultivated meat and fermentation, both of which are very advanced in other contexts. Thus, a host of high-priority R&D areas for innovation remain.

Breeding & engineering for higher protein yields and functionality

Breeding or engineering for higher protein yields and improved innate functionality would decrease reliance on downstream process steps. This would pave the way for cost reduction, greater sustainability, and increased interest in underutilized plant protein sources.

Protein fractionation and functionalization

Protein fractionation and functionalization (the process of isolating, identifying, and characterizing plant proteins, then preparing them for processing via extrusion or other texturization methods) are among many underexplored areas, especially for unconventional plant protein sources like specialty crops (e.g., lemna, hemp). These processes are critical for protein functionality and performance, and thus can make a huge impact on taste and texture.

Improved plant fat profiles

The fat profile of most plants is not ideal for recapitulating the properties of animal-based fats. Traditional oilseed crops could be modified to produce higher levels of fats that are desirable to plant-based formulators but are more difficult to source from plants, such as saturated fats, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

Novel methods for texturizing and structuring plant-based proteins

Novel methods for texturizing and structuring plant-based proteins are needed to provide alternatives to extrusion (currently the predominant method for texturizing plant-based meats). Practitioners report that even small shifts to process (e.g., heat, moisture levels) or input variables can have exaggerated effects on extruded products, and thus the industry would benefit from production methods that are less sensitive and more robust. Extrusion alternative research is particularly well suited for academic R&D, with massive commercial potential upon technological validation.

Cultivated R&D priorities

Cultivated R&D priorities

The development and commercialization of cultivated meat at scale will require R&D innovations across multiple core technology areas, from cell line optimization and cost-effective media production to new scaffolding and bioreactor solutions. Click here for a more comprehensive discussion of R&D priorities in cultivated meat.

Bioreactors capable of supporting high-density, large-volume cell cultures

To scale beyond taste tests toward market readiness, standard 2D cultures or stirred flasks are not a viable option for large-scale growth and must be replaced by bioreactors capable of supporting high-density and large-volume cell cultures.

Cell growth surfaces

Many cell types used for cell-based meat are naturally anchorage dependent and must be cultured on microcarriers or another solid surface, though innovations in cell adaptation or editing can now facilitate suspension growth.

Characterized volatile compounds

A litany of volatile compounds, many of which differ by species type and cut, contribute to the taste of meat; these compounds should be more holistically explored and characterized.

Meat science expertise

To fully capture the meat-eating experience that consumers expect, the cultivated meat industry needs to draw upon the deep meat science expertise that exists in the conventional meat industry. There is a knowledge gap and a lack of standardization between the meat science field and the cultivated meat field with respect to analytical tools and key parameters for defining meat composition and quality.

Research & monitoring tools

Cultivated meat research can be accelerated across the board by the development of appropriate research tools and key data sets. A suite of assays, genomic data, contract research services, and commercially-available reagents exists for humans and commonly used laboratory species such as mice or fruit flies. However, the same species-specific research toolkit does not yet exist for most species used in cultivated meat, with an especially large gap — and, thus, opportunity — for seafood species.

While real-time, in-line monitoring techniques exist for cell culture processes, they have not been optimized for cultivated meat or fermentation-derived protein production processes. Broadly, there is a pressing need for the development of novel, scalable technologies that enable greater efficiency and effectiveness in the monitoring of end-to-end production processes.

Fermentation R&D priorities

Fermentation R&D priorities

Microbial fermentation is not a new technology. For decades, recombinant proteins have been produced at scale for pharmaceutical and industrial applications. The key question for the field of fermentation for alternative proteins is how best to improve the unit economics of production while expanding the menu of ingredients (e.g., Impossible Foods’ heme) to specifically address taste and texture requirements for meat, egg, and dairy products.

Increased titers and yields

To compete with animal-based proteins, researchers and companies must increase the titer (amount of an expressed target molecule relative to the volume of total upstream-produced liquid containing the agent; primary benchmark of upstream efficiency) and yield (the ratio of mass of final purified protein relative to its mass at the start of purification; primary benchmark of downstream efficiency) of target molecules and protein biomass.

Strain engineering

Strain engineering is a particularly promising avenue, and may also unlock the potential to use cheaper fermentation feedstocks, which would ultimately drive down production costs.

Safety studies and genetic tools for more microbes

Experts also suggest that safety studies and genetic tools for a wide range of microbes would increase innovation in host strain selection.

Lipid production

Fermentation-derived lipid production is relatively unexplored for food applications but has a fairly robust history for industrial chemicals. The alternative protein industry may be able to develop an open-access research foundation and accelerate the commercialization of fermentation-derived fats by aggregating lipid synthesis pathway insights from the chemicals industry.

Key R&D solutions

Read more about our proposed research & development solutions—including related efforts by GFI and other organizations that are already underway—in our Solutions Database.

  • Cultivated
  • Fermentation
  • Plant-Based

Building interdisciplinary university research centers of excellence

Interdisciplinary research is essential for tackling many of the complex problems facing today’s world. Though the number of research projects advancing alternative protein science has increased in recent years, this…

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  • Cultivated

Species-specific research toolkits for cultivated meat-relevant species

Coordinated efforts to develop standardized, comprehensive research toolkits of meat-relevant species would exponentially accelerate cultivated meat research.

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  • Fermentation

Comprehensive microbial screening to identify new protein production candidate strains

A systematic, open-access, comprehensive analysis of novel microbial strains could drastically expand the available strains that can compete on flavor, efficiency, cost, and nutrition.

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  • Fermentation

Biosynthetic pathway discovery for fermentation-produced molecules

Microbial biosynthetic pathways can be mined computationally to identify candidate pathways for manufacturing high-value ingredients via fermentation.

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Production innovation priorities

Production innovation priorities include ideas for expanding and improving manufacturing capacity, infrastructure, equipment, methods of production, and downstream processing.

Shared production priorities

Shared production priorities

Given the enormous scale required to produce meat protein for billions of people, a key future area for innovation and investment in the alternative protein industry is production capacity. In order to transform supply chains, massive capital outlays will be required either to build huge amounts of infrastructure from the ground up or retrofit existing facilities designed for other purposes like animal meat processing, brewing, or texturized vegetable protein (TVP) manufacturing.

Contract manufacturing capacity and pilot plants

To address production capacity requirements, there will need to be sufficient access to capacity from co-manufacturers and contract manufacturing organizations (CMOs) across a variety of scales and capabilities. At present, this is particularly relevant at the pilot and small batch scales, where there is a major gap in the availability of infrastructure to run food-grade pre-commercialization trials for regulatory and consumer testing purposes. CMOs can also help build an understanding of how to run early batches at a small scale beyond the lab, gain access to engineers, and assess how to set up a production facility.

View GFI’s database of alternative protein contract manufacturers and pilot plants.

Scaling up capacity

Scaling up in-house is an alternate, but potentially risky route. Significant know-how is required to understand the process of moving from the lab to the pilot plant that is necessary to demonstrate commercial scale. In-house scaling also requires that companies find the right balance of focus between product development and manufacturing/ operations at scale. Companies should carefully consider whether to lease vs. purchase equipment. Nonetheless, full vertical integration offers significant intellectual property insulation and represents a potential mid-to-long term cost savings for manufacturers.

Optimized production equipment

Developing and commercializing production equipment and facilities that are optimized for alternative protein production at scale is expensive and technically challenging, but will be a major source of commercial opportunity for engineering and design firms and investors in the space.

Repurposed manufacturing capacity

As a result of a lack of optimized, off-the-shelf infrastructure for alternative protein production, retrofitting existing assets may be a viable solution in some cases. Making modifications to assets or facilities can be quite expensive depending on the prior use-cases (e.g., bioreactors over-engineered for biopharma, non-food-grade fuel ethanol equipment). Furthermore, there may be technical limitations governing how much retrofitting can be done before novel solutions are necessary, suggesting that this may not be a viable long-term solution. Lastly, a critical assumption is that there is idle capacity available to retrofit, which is often not true for food-grade equipment and facilities.

Plant-based production priorities

Plant-based production priorities

Production capacity demands for plant-based meat will be enormous if demand for end products soars. Designing novel equipment that can handle a wide variety of ingredients, process multiple finished products, and perform at scale is an important area for innovation.

Extrusion innovation

While extrusion is a well-known and traditionally effective processing technique, it has not been optimized specifically for the production of realistic plant-based meat analogs. The industry needs better models of plant protein denaturation, alignment, and crystallization within high-shear processing methods like high-moisture and low-moisture extrusion to inform the process variables for specific combinations of input materials, making the process more of a science and less of an art.

Novel texturizing equipment

A significant amount of work must be done to understand if there are more effective processes beyond extrusion. Determining this requires rigorously assessing and testing these novel methods, and optimizing them for the plant-based sector. Potential alternative production methods include couette shear cell, 3D printing, and processes developed from the weaving industry, including novel spinning technologies.

Cultivated & fermentation production priorities

Cultivated & fermentation production priorities

There is a significant opportunity for industry stakeholders to develop novel bioprocessing techniques in order to efficiently create and isolate tissue, biomass, and target molecules at scale. There will increasingly be a pressing need to increase the amount of manufacturing capabilities and capacity not only for finished products, but also midstream and upstream in the supply chain.

Bioreactor innovation

Designing and sourcing bioreactors that are optimized for cultivated meat is similarly challenging, although the industry has a strong starting point by way of the biopharmaceutical sector. Nonetheless, existing industrial-scale bioreactors face technical challenges around agitation and shear force when used for cultivated meat. There is currently a gap between the economical solution and what is technologically possible based on scientific breakthroughs to date.

Lack of available, suitable infrastructure

The existing infrastructure that is technologically suitable for cultivated meat production has been designed for biopharma, a price-insensitive application at a much smaller scale than what will be needed to produce millions of metric tons of meat.

There is currently a finite amount of fermentation capacity for which numerous applications of the technology all compete.

Downstream processing

Post-bioreactor, downstream processing technologies such as cell harvesting and target molecule purification have yet to be optimized for cultivated meat and fermentation production processes, are expensive to run, and are not yet scaled.

Key production solutions

Read more about our proposed production solutions—including related efforts by GFI and other organizations that are already underway—in our Solutions Database.

  • Cultivated
  • Fermentation
  • Plant-Based

Techno-economic models to inform product and process development

Open-access models based on generalized or exemplar processes with standardized unit operations and process designs can form the foundation for individual companies’ work, reducing duplicative effort.

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  • Cultivated
  • Fermentation
  • Plant-Based

Data lake for aggregating process data and informing process improvements

An alternative protein data lake could contain anonymized data from processing runs across many manufacturers, informing processing improvements and aiding process failure troubleshooting.

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  • Cultivated
  • Fermentation
  • Plant-Based

Developing open-access model production facility blueprints

Open-access blueprints would provide a head start on facility design and allow equipment manufacturers and engineering companies to address standard industry needs.

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  • Cultivated
  • Fermentation
  • Plant-Based

Expand capacity for demonstration-scale and mid-scale co-manufacturing

Companies entering the alt protein space often struggle to secure line time at demonstration-scale and mid-scale commercial production facilities. Greater availability of mid-scale contract capacity would reduce capital outlays and…

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Investment innovation priorities

There are a variety of opportunities in the amount of financing flowing throughout the supply chain as well as the types of investors active in the space.

Shared investment priorities

Shared investment priorities

As the alternative protein industry scales up, sufficient access to capital is required to enable a sweeping transformation of the global food and agricultural system.

It will become increasingly critical to generate investment from sources that have the ability to deploy massive amounts of capital midstream and upstream in the supply chain, or from sources willing to provide opportunities to utilize non-traditional financial instruments, such as venture debt.

Grant funding

Increasing availability of grant funding from the public and nonprofit sectors to startups may yield alternative, non-dilutive financial runway.

Infrastructure capital

While many promising startups have thus far not struggled to generate the earliest rounds of funding, it is important to recognize the difficulties in accessing transformative investment dollars for growth and building out large-scale production capacity. Though there are exceptions, and bottleneck investment rounds vary by sector maturity, it is broadly challenging for companies to raise sufficient later-stage growth funding on quick timelines. To be clear: we believe that companies with great products will likely be able to raise growth capital. But we believe that there are opportunities to accelerate the timelines in which those companies are able to raise such funding.

Loans and purchase guarantees

Novel public sector incentives such as generous infrastructure and workforce development loans or production purchase guarantees could quickly speed the scale up of the alternative protein industry.

Techno-economic models and business case data

Another area for further innovation is building more robust techno-economic models that accurately map out the path to commercialization. This analysis will be crucial to generate additional investment throughout the space broadly by addressing extant gaps in data and illuminating the business case for this nascent industry.

Cultivated & fermentation investment priorities

Cultivated & fermentation investment priorities

The recent explosion in R&D and commercial activity in cultivated meat and fermentation-derived products is leading to a vastly accelerating field. However, the rapid growth in the industry can lead to information gaps for investors. Investors beyond those who are intimately familiar with cultivated meat and fermentation approaches may find it time-consuming to know where to invest due to the dense competitive landscape, limited public information about the technological state of the art, and deep scientific knowledge required to conduct due diligence on startups. View GFI’s recommended technical questions for due diligence, as well as our list of technical due diligence consultants.

Key investment solutions

Read more about our proposed investment solutions—including related efforts by GFI and other organizations that are already underway—in our Solutions Database.

  • Cultivated
  • Fermentation
  • Plant-Based

Infrastructure and equipment leasing fund

Infrastructure leasing for production and processing facilities as well as capital equipment would enable alternative protein companies to rapidly expand capacity without large upfront capital investments. Having leasing funds and…

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  • Cultivated
  • Fermentation
  • Plant-Based

Database of research funding opportunities

GFI has developed a research funding database featuring filtering capabilities for narrowing available opportunities by research topic.

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  • Cultivated
  • Fermentation
  • Plant-Based

Targeted alternative protein industry events & workshops

Targeted events enable greater opportunities for meaningful participation and communication between participants. They may also be especially useful for addressing specific subject matter areas or convening stakeholders with expertise in…

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  • Cultivated
  • Fermentation
  • Plant-Based

Deal flow and fundraising platform for investors beyond the impact investment community

Investment platforms are needed for deal flow and coordinating hand-offs from pre-seed (angels and accelerators), seed/early-stage, and growth/later-stage investors and acquirers.

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Raw materials, ingredients, & inputs innovation priorities

Raw materials, ingredients, and inputs includes the development or optimization of novel and existing raw materials, ingredients, inputs, and functional additives as well as their processing. This section also covers ingredient costs as well as procurement and stakeholder coordination throughout the supply chain.

Shared ingredients/input priorities

Shared ingredient/input priorities

There is a need for greater exploration of processing innovations, including cheaper methods of protein extraction that can be done efficiently at smaller scales.

Characterization & analytical tools

One major area for potential innovation for the alternative protein industry involves the need for high quality characterization and analytical tools for inputs. A related area of inquiry is understanding the relationship between protein structure and functionality. It is difficult to predict the functional properties of a protein (such as gelling, foaming, emulsification) by examining its sequence and structure. Current workflows require growing and extracting large quantities of novel proteins and empirically testing their properties, which is a resource-intensive and slow process where lab-scale results may not reflect commercial-scale reality.

Enzymatic processing

Enzymatic methods offer promise as a cheaper, less scale-dependent, efficient processing method because they can be fine-tuned to a particular substrate and tailored to produce a specific end result. While enzymes have been used in the processing of plant proteins for many thousands of years, there are opportunities to specifically tailor these methods to the alternative protein space.

Biological processing

Biological methods may be more adaptable and versatile than traditional chemical or mechanical processing methods that require specialized, built-for-purpose infrastructure. However, little systematic exploration of biological processing methods has been done for alternative protein inputs.

Co-product valorization

Another key area for innovation is side stream valorization, which will play an important role in de-risking the alternative protein industry at scale.

  • Use cases for traditional crop side streams (like husks) or processing fractions (like leftovers from protein isolate extraction) have been identified in some cases, but as demand rises for novel protein sources, finding efficient and valuable ways to commercialize all plant products and byproducts is a major opportunity.
  • For cultivated meat and fermentation, the challenge is finding ways to recycle or upcycle spent media the most significant waste product in terms of volume.

Improved ingredient market mechanisms

Ingredients and inputs are often sold through high-touch, contractual relationships. It is often challenging for product developers, procurement teams, and ingredients suppliers to efficiently find each other, and it can be difficult to understand the landscape of ingredient suppliers and product offerings. There is a need for marketplaces, exchange platforms, brokers, and services that can facilitate matching ingredient buyers and sellers, including easy ordering of R&D quantities and simple comparisons between different suppliers and products. It is not uncommon for startups to lack significant buying power and experience difficulties purchasing inputs, such as ingredients, because large suppliers may require minimum order sizes or charge high prices for low quantities.

Standards

Increased communication between suppliers and buyers would be made easier if widely-adopted ingredient standards were established.

Demand forecasting

A lack of granular, segmented demand forecasts, particularly second-order forecasts for upstream inputs, results in uncertainty for ingredient suppliers and farmers. Market reports often group products or geographies, so critical nuances are missed, making it challenging for suppliers and producers to accurately plan production. Thus, the development of robust demand forecasts by an independent expert or respected third-party organization would substantially address production volume uncertainty amongst stakeholders across the supply chain.

Plant-based ingredient/input priorities

Plant-based ingredient/input priorities

Plant-based meat manufacturers seek plant-protein sources that are low-cost and available in robust supplies. This is why many companies use crops such as soy or wheat as primary ingredients since they are widely produced via industrial agriculture. Diversified plant protein sources are also needed, with manufacturers typically seeking out the following attributes: colorless, tasteless, high protein content, shelf stable, minimal processing requirements, clean label, and functionality that can replace less-desirable ingredients.

Crop breeding & optimized genetics

Crops have not historically been optimized for the protein content and functionality required by many plant-based foods. For instance, some protein isolates lack a neutral flavor, containing saponins and lipoxygenase, which can cause bitterness and beany off-flavors. To use these inputs, it is necessary to add costly flavors and additives as masking agents. Unfortunately, many flavors are absorbed and sequestered by components within the protein isolate, necessitating high levels of these additives. Crops should be specifically bred with lower levels of metabolites and enzymes that negatively impact taste.

Ingredient consistency and variability

As ingredient suppliers specialize and add more value to their ingredients upstream, the superficial volume of ingredients available cannot be used one-for-one in plant-based products. As a result, the supply to achieve sufficient volumes is fragmented, making it challenging to maintain standardized quality downstream in large-scale production. Ingredients from different suppliers exhibit a range of sensory and functional characteristics, leading to undesired variability in the end product formulation. Increased coordination throughout the supply chain will be important, as plant-based meat manufacturers benefit from raw materials processors and farmers working in concert to develop high-quality, homogenous ingredients.

Novel and specialty crop scaling infrastructure

Once novel crops with promising potential as alternative protein inputs are identified, it can be challenging to establish the agricultural infrastructure — from seeds and farm equipment to storage and transportation — that is necessary to enable efficient and scaled cultivation. It will be important to build the upstream supply chain infrastructure quickly enough to match growing demand. Traditional crop cycles make it hard to transition land quickly, and farmers may lack the expertise or risk tolerance to switch to crops that are more suitable for plant-based meat. To motivate farmers to switch to novel species or cultivars and de-risk their first few seasons, robust market data, insurance or price guarantees, and tailored technical assistance programs could ensure that plant-based inputs can be a profitable and competitive option for growers.

Cultivated input priorities

Cultivated input priorities

The development of a steady, reliable media supply that is sufficiently cheap is a mission-critical hurdle that must be overcome in order for cultivated meat to be successful.

Inexpensive and optimized media

Existing media and growth factor supply chains have largely been developed for the price-inelastic biotech and biopharma industries. Thus, they are too expensive, at too small a scale, and manufactured under certification regimes too burdensome to be viable for cultivated meat production.

Growth factors

Growth factors, which are not currently commercially available in food-grade versions, are widely noted as one of the most problematic inputs due to limited suppliers and high cost.

Specialized media providers

While some cultivated meat companies have become vertically integrated in order to develop their own media solutions at the proper scale and cost, this is an added scientific challenge and a resource-intensive endeavor that may be better addressed by a dedicated provider. Existing suppliers or prospective B2B partners feel they need additional regulatory clarity governing the requirements for manufacturing inputs for the cultivated meat industry.

Fermentation input priorities

Fermentation input priorities

Due to the sheer volume of raw materials required, feedstock is a key input cost in the fermentation process, regardless of the carbon source, microbe, or downstream processing techniques.

Feedstock shipping and sourcing

Shipping costs for feedstocks are high relative to the cost of the feedstock itself. While these are not notable bottlenecks for current uses of fermentation because sugar feedstocks are sufficiently cheap, of high enough quality, and in large enough supply, growing demand for fermentation will result in substantially increased needs for traditional feedstocks, which may become problematic but also represents an opportunity.

Feedstock consistency

Currently, alternative feedstocks remain highly inconsistent and there are concerns around the food safety and regulatory issues that may arise given the use of a lower grade, unconventional input such as an agricultural side streams.

Substrates

To reach mass commercialization, alternative, cheaper, and more sustainable substrates must become widely available.

Key raw material, ingredient, and input solutions

Read more about our proposed raw material, ingredient, and input solutions—including related efforts by GFI and other organizations that are already underway—in our Solutions Database.

  • Plant-Based

Plant-based ingredient analytical and characterization service

Plant protein ingredient characterization tools or as a service.

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  • Fermentation
  • Plant-Based

Protein sequence, structure, and functionality database

An open-access database could provide functional and characterization data using standardized methods to facilitate direct performance comparisons among proteins and to train predictive algorithms.

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  • Cultivated

Open-access formulations & optimization methods for cell culture media and growth factor cocktails

The availability of more open-access formulations will provide a foundation to enable both academic researchers and startup companies to develop their own customized formulations with far less effort and cost.

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  • Cultivated

Cultivated meat co-product valorization

Animal cell metabolism within cultivators can produce useful co-product side streams that provide monetary value to the manufacturer while creating a novel source of inputs for other industries. Potential side…

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Distribution channel innovation priorities

Distribution channels encompass manufacturer sales within one of more of the following channels: foodservice, retail, distributors, direct to consumer (DTC), e-commerce, and business-to-business (B2B).

Shared distribution priorities

Shared distribution channel priorities

Distribution is a critical part of ensuring that alternative proteins are widely available and that all consumers have access. Currently, distribution is relevant to the plant-based meat sector and for ingredients and finished products derived from fermentation, although this landscape will shift to include cultivated meat as novel products begin to reach the market.

Finding distribution partners

Distribution can often be a complex space for young brands to navigate, with a lack of publicly available knowledge about how to approach distribution strategy. Having more informational resources and matching mechanisms to connect alternative protein companies with the brokers, consultants, distributors, import/export service providers, and other intermediaries would help companies more quickly and profitably bring products to market and expand consumer accessibility.

Finding early adopter customers

Low initial sales volumes are a big driver of the challenges alternative protein companies face when trying to set up their initial distribution. Distributors are often focused on high-volume products that turn over quickly and will be purchased in large quantities. Many foodservice and retail customers are only interested in purchasing alternative protein products if those products are available from their preferred distributors, and distributors likewise only want to carry alternative protein products if there are anchor retail or foodservice accounts with some guaranteed sales volume. Consequently, alternative protein companies need resources and services that can help them find keystone early customers who serve as anchor accounts for expanding distributor relationships, such as sales brokers who can work simultaneously with distributors and anchor accounts to build up needed sales volumes.

After getting products on shelves and on menus, alternative protein products need to demonstrate strong enough sales, demand growth, and profitability to maintain or increase distribution, which requires being strategic about the number of SKU’s brands focus on and their marketing efforts. Alternative protein companies would benefit from services, partnerships, salesforce training resources, channel marketing to buyers, and consumer marketing solutions that make it easier to coordinate the multiple disparate efforts required in each targeted market to maintain and drive growth.

Expanding into additional channels

While foodservice has traditionally been a common go-to-market strategy for alternative protein companies, the Covid-19 pandemic has caused a significant decline in foodservice volumes and caused many consumers to shift their food purchasing to other channels. Increasingly, alternative protein brands need access to alternate channels such as online direct-to-consumer or third party e-commerce channels to establish crucial early sales traction. The rise of online purchasing in retail, foodservice, and direct to consumer (DTC) has made it imperative for alternative protein companies to build loyal consumer followings and make their products stand out via discovery and searching on digital purchasing platforms. DTC also creates an imperative for brands to optimize their cold-chain logistics.

D2C sales entail high-shipping volumes and small average order sizes, which increases the per-unit cost of shipping and thus the overall complexity of cold-chain logistics. Brands should engineer packouts that last two or more days and experience a 1% or lower product spoilage.

Key distribution channel solutions

Read more about our proposed distribution channel solutions—including related efforts by GFI and other organizations that are already underway—in our Solutions Database.

  • Cultivated
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A toolkit for B2B sales resources and training

Tailored resources in the form of events, courses, thought leadership, directories, consulting services, and training programs for alternative protein B2B sales people.

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Expanding private label plant-based offerings

Brands, dedicated private labelers, and co-manufacturers can take advantage of the private labeling opportunity, and would benefit from developing a wide range of products to fit every category and access…

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  • Fermentation
  • Plant-Based

Landscape/directory of major players in foodservice, retail, and distribution

Resources and services that make it easier to locate, filter, and prioritize sales and partnership efforts would ease transactional burdens for startups and add value to existing companies looking for…

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  • Plant-Based

Dedicated broker or exchange for plant-based B2B sales

Opportunity exists for a broker, marketplace, directory, or other exchange platform to facilitate B2B sales of plant-based foods as ingredients to manufacturers of frozen and prepared foods.

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Workforce innovation priorities

Workforce innovation priorities include solutions to attract and retain qualified talent throughout the alternative protein industry.

Shared workforce priorities

Shared workforce priorities

A lack of university programs focused on alternative proteins limits the new talent pipeline, so it is necessary to compete with other industries for existing and upcoming talent, who may find it risky to switch careers into a less proven industry that may offer lower salaries than, say, the biopharmaceutical industry. There are efforts underway, including those by GFI, to establish alternative protein research centers and courses specific to alternative protein R&D, which will need to be further developed to ensure a robust academic ecosystem.

There is high demand for people with a combination of the right scientific or technical background as well as an entrepreneurial, business-minded spirit. Sourcing engineers with a bioprocess or regulatory process skillset is one notable bottleneck, as well as attracting scientists from adjacent fields, including but not limited to: stem cell biology, materials science, protein chemistry, food science, and plant science.

Key workforce solutions

Read more about our proposed workforce solutions—including related efforts by GFI and other organizations that are already underway—in our Solutions Database.

  • Cultivated
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Building alternative protein programs and majors at universities

To ensure a strong talent pipeline, there is a need to launch robust university programming, ranging from certificate programs to short multi-course modules, centered around alternative protein. Full majors would…

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Industry workshops, courses, and training programs

The alternative protein industry has a significant need for workers and innovators with specialized knowledge spanning multiple traditional disciplines. However, since few universities offer alternative protein majors or dedicated subject…

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Establishing student groups at key universities

Universities are epicenters for creative problem-solving and cutting-edge research advancements, and they can serve as engines for interdisciplinary innovation. However, this potential is not being tapped fully by the alternative…

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Catalyzing academic-industry collaboration

More frameworks for academic-industry collaboration could help build talent pipelines, create research commercialization pathways, and drive alignment on research priorities.

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Business services innovation priorities

Business services include intellectual property, insurance, operations, human capital, and other advisory services.

Shared business services priorities

Shared business services priorities

The supporting activities necessary to sustain business operations cannot be ignored. Fulfilling these business services puts many demands on alternative protein companies who would benefit from being able to focus more on core activities such as building sales volume, product development, and raising capital. Alternative protein companies would benefit from open-access knowledge resources, backend services, consultants, directories of vetted service providers, and other tools that make it easier to implement or outsource non-core operations.

Key business services solutions

Read more about our proposed business services solutions—including related efforts by GFI and other organizations that are already underway—in our Solutions Database.

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Establishing intellectual property pooling frameworks

Intellectual property pools and patent pledges can help member companies contribute to a suite of patents that can be licensed within the pool.

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Building workforce capacity through vocational programs

Creating vocational programs at technical community colleges that train the labor force to work in alternative protein biomanufacturing, facilities engineering, and operations will streamline the labor transition.

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Pooled procurement/group purchasing for ingredients and inputs

Many alternative protein companies use similar inputs, but individually lack the purchasing power to negotiate favorable contract terms. A pooled procurement/group purchasing mechanism for ingredients, inputs (growth factors, media, etc.),…

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  • Cultivated
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Marketplace exchange platform for ingredients, inputs, & services

Connecting the buyers and sellers of the ingredients, inputs, and services needed to produce alternative proteins.

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Demand generation innovation priorities

Demand Generation includes a broad array of subjects related to consumer awareness, perception, and adoption of alternative proteins.

Shared demand generation priorities

Shared demand generation priorities

For a detailed analysis of key unanswered questions regarding consumer demand in alternative proteins, please refer to GFI’s Consumer Research Priorities and GFI’s recent focus group study on Antecedents of Alternative Protein Adoption.

High-quality research and best practices around effective marketing, including terminology, product positioning, and cultural contextualization, is needed to guide product development and marketing efforts.

Effective positioning

While further research studies are warranted, there are some best practices for plant-based and alternative protein marketing that have already emerged but not yet been embraced by all manufacturers, retailers, restaurants, and food distribution channel companies. 

  • Studies and findings from market research have found that merchandising plant-based meat, egg, and dairy products in the same section of the store as animal-based versions (such as the refrigerated or frozen sections) increases sales. 
  • Studies have found that removing plant-based items from a special plant-based section and putting them into the main menu strongly increases sales of those items. 
  • While plant-based foods are often marketed with health benefits receiving primacy in the communication hierarchy, studies have found calling a food “heart-healthy” or “low calorie” decreases sales (both outcomes that would be unlikely to align with a consumer survey but can be captured in studies of actual consumer behavior). Market findings suggest that messaging needs to emphasize core drivers like taste and familiarity more than health benefits. 
  • There is evidence that labeling a product “vegan” or “vegetarian” decreases sales of that product when compared to using terms like “plant-based” or other plant-centric terminology.

Additional consumer research

  • Studies and findings from market research have found that merchandising plant-based meat, egg, and dairy products in the same section of the store as animal-based versions (such as the refrigerated or frozen sections) increases sales. 
  • Studies have found that removing plant-based items from a special plant-based section and putting them into the main menu strongly increases sales of those items. 
  • While plant-based foods are often marketed with health benefits receiving primacy in the communication hierarchy, studies have found calling a food “heart-healthy” or “low calorie” decreases sales (both outcomes that would be unlikely to align with a consumer survey but can be captured in studies of actual consumer behavior). Market findings suggest that messaging needs to emphasize core drivers like taste and familiarity more than health benefits. 
  • There is evidence that labeling a product “vegan” or “vegetarian” decreases sales of that product when compared to using terms like “plant-based” or other plant-centric terminology.

Key demand generation solutions

Read more about our proposed demand generation solutions—including related efforts by GFI and other organizations that are already underway—in our Solutions Database.

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Developing rigorous demand forecasts

Demand forecasts impact investments in R&D, infrastructure, personnel, and partnerships that will be necessary to participate in and accelerate the alternative protein sector.

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Expanded product development in plant-based meat snacks

Plant-based meat snacks could tap into underlying trends in snacks replacing meals and increased consumer interest in high-protein, low-sugar foods. Product innovation is needed to match the taste, price, and…

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“Rainbow roll 2.0” as a showcase product for cultivated seafood

Thin sheets of cultivated fish for layering on the outside of maki rolls and other sushi products could be an attractive market-entry commercial product. Producing thin sheets of tissue is…

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Decision matrix for seafood target species selection

Creating an online, open-access decision matrix tool that ranks popular seafood-relevant species against each other based on several criteria such as market size, per-unit price, sustainability of conventional production practices,…

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How we built this

Advancing Solutions for Alternative Proteins Executive Summary icon

Executive summary

Get an overview of GFI’s Advancing Solutions for Alternative Proteins initiative and a summary of key resources.

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Full report

Delve into the full report on the motivation, methodology, rationale, and key findings and recommendations of the Advancing Solutions for Alternative Proteins initiative.

Advancing Solutions for Alternative Proteins Future Wheels Analysis icon

Futures wheels analysis

Explore our framework for uncovering second-order or third-order consequences and implications of hypothetical future scenarios to support better decision-making in the present.

Advancing Solutions for Alternative Proteins Future-Proofing report icon

Future-proofing

Discover key findings from GFI’s premortem analysis of potential threats to the widespread adoption of alternative proteins, including strategies to avoid or mitigate the most pressing risks.

How GFI advances alternative protein innovation

GFI is a nonprofit working internationally to make alternative proteins delicious, affordable, and accessible. We play a unique and vital role in identifying and addressing the alternative protein industry’s shared challenges, and we work to transform each step of the value chain more rapidly and on a larger scale than conventional market forces would allow. 

GFI accelerates the transition toward a better food system by surfacing the most pressing problems and most important solutions critical to the growth of the alternative protein market. By offering a menu of recommendations for building a resilient and sustainable alternative protein industry, GFI helps businesses, investors, nonprofits, academic researchers, and governments prioritize efforts supporting the alternative protein industry and channel resources effectively.

All of this work is made possible by our generous community of donors. If you’d like to support GFI’s open-access research and efforts to advance the alternative protein industry, please contact us. 

Be part of the solution

If you’d like to fund related research in these innovation areas, work on any of these challenges, share similar projects that are already underway, or elevate new ideas for advancing the alternative protein industry, we’d love to hear from you!