In 2024, we are focused on bringing increased energy and enthusiasm to the alternative protein space. Each of us who work at GFI operates from a unique vantage point across the alternative protein sector and is well-suited to catalyze meaningful change in the areas that will have the most impact. The GFI community is full of brilliant thought leaders who eat (literally), sleep and breathe alternative proteins. Let’s hear from some of those leaders on what they are looking forward to seeing in 2024 across the alt protein industry, science, and policy spaces.
Policymakers are increasingly interested in leveraging the power of alternative proteins to offer more choices to consumers, create jobs, and ease our dependence on natural resources. Historically, the focus has been on investing in open-access research. Still, in 2023, we also saw agencies signal that financing mechanisms (like loan guarantees from the Department of Energy) are open to companies in the sector. This year, I’m excited that we’ll be focused on identifying more of these opportunities and developing policies to support vital industrial infrastructure and make public resources more responsive to the needs of the market!
2024 is also an election year in the United States. Over the years, GFI has worked effectively to position alternative proteins as a bipartisan solution to global challenges with a focus on food security, agricultural research, and economic growth. Alternative proteins can help keep America competitive on the world stage. As a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, GFI doesn’t advocate for specific candidates. Instead, in alignment with our value to invite everyone to the table, our Policy and Government Relations team here in Washington DC is working with allies across the alternative protein ecosystem to prepare for a variety of outcomes at the federal and state levels.
As the alternative protein sector moves out of nascency, we’re progressing beyond the early challenges that are so common for pioneers in any transformational industry. From a startup perspective, we can expect to see more consistently well-positioned founding teams who de-risk their technologies and end products through unprecedented rigorous testing and analysis. If the past is prologue, the lessons learned in the sector’s infancy will pave the path for even greater investable innovation. The era of stratospheric valuations and exuberant deal flow may be in the rearview mirror, but that is a necessary and predictable correction that should fuel stable startup growth in 2024 and beyond.
In the cultivated meat sector, we anticipate more product approvals in the United States, Singapore, and possibly Australia and New Zealand, which will extend the diversity of available products at select restaurants beyond chicken to beef, pork, seafood, and hybrid products with cultivated animal fats. At the same time, other countries such as South Korea, Japan, Brazil, and China will continue to make progress on finalizing regulatory frameworks. It is possible that one of these countries or the European Union will receive their first regulatory submissions in 2024.
New product approvals, especially those in the United States, will bolster available information on the safety and nutrition of cultivated meat. However, original research from academic and industry scientists will continue to move the needle in other areas. In 2024, we anticipate impactful publications describing alternatives to high-cost media ingredients such as albumin and growth factors, demonstration of very low-cost media, and end-product analyses that characterize the taste, texture, and nutritional properties of different cultivated meat prototypes. Lastly, we may see lifecycle and techno-economic models that provide new insights into the costs and environmental impact of cultivated meat using different production equipment and inputs at different scales.
We know that taste is a top consideration for consumers when it comes to deciding what to eat. As alternative protein companies continue to push the boundaries of flavor and texture, who better to team up with than the true experts — chefs? In 2024, I anticipate a surge in partnerships between alternative protein innovators and culinarians. Celebrity chef Spike Mendelsohn, and Co-founder/Culinary Director of PLNT Burger, said it best at GFI’s 2023 Good Food Conference: “If you guys are running alt protein companies right now and you don’t have a chef working on your team, get them involved!”
The culinary community stands to gain significantly from embracing the alternative protein sector, with the promise of new flavors, ingredients, and opportunities to align with sustainability goals while reaching a broader consumer base. I genuinely hope that 2024 will be the year when alternative protein dishes shed their “alternative identity” and take center stage, delectably described on menus across the globe.
There is growing public awareness of the environmental footprint of our food system. We saw the momentum for this build at the end of 2023. For example, COP28 featured a food systems pavilion for the first time. At the same time, articles such as this one from the New York Times highlighted the alarming and unsustainable freshwater withdrawal our current food system requires. In 2024, this awareness will lead to more action from scientists and policymakers because alternative proteins remain the only viable option I have seen to conserve land and water while lowering the carbon footprint of our food significantly.
Momentum for addressing the climate challenges of food systems, with alternative proteins at the heart of that conversation, will be bolstered in 2024 by specific declarations and calls to action launched in December 2023. Two Calls to Action highlight alternative proteins: The Call to Action for Transforming Food Systems for People, Nature, and Climate includes a Critical Action to transition to more diversified sources of protein, and the Protein Transition Call to Action asks companies to significantly increase the availability of alternative proteins by 2030. Additionally, over 150 countries signed up to the Emirates Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action at COP28, paving the way for National Determined Contributions (NDCs) to include food systems.
2023 was a great year for fermentation-derived alt protein R&D progress and production scale-up. We heard more news about manufacturing capacity coming online worldwide and new products unveiled. In 2024 I am looking forward to seeing precision fermentation casein protein as an ingredient in consumer products. Precision fermentation-derived casein will join egg white protein, whey proteins, and fermentation-derived cooking oil as formulation options for CPGs and restaurants. These ingredients have enormous markets in foodservice, baking, alternative dairy products, and other consumer goods. On the biomass fermentation side, increased production capacity is creating new opportunities for customers to purchase and experience mycoprotein products opening new markets to the benefits of fermentation-derived APs, especially center-of-plate options like mycoprotein steaks, tenders, and sausages.
Finally, momentum in fermentation has organizations like iFAB and CBIO come together to create partnerships and collaboration from across the value chain. In 2024, these regional consortia will grow and mature to accelerate R&D innovation, production capacity, and workforce development in regions well-positioned for the fermentation bioeconomy.
Great taste and affordable prices are table stakes for alternative protein products. In 2024, we’ll see a growing focus on other switching motivators for consumers. I predict companies will lean into greater health claims for their products – perhaps touting the fiber, micronutrient, and protein content more heavily – in addition to great taste. I think we will also notice more companies conducting life cycle assessments for their products and touting those positive environmental claims on their labels.
For the past few years, we’ve seen a proliferation of products across all alt protein categories hit the market. In 2024, I expect we will see consolidation within the sector. The products that match consumer expectations best will gain traction and maintain market share, but we will see fewer options overall. Broader food tech innovation will help pave the way for widespread consumer acceptance and understanding. Parallel industries will utilize similar technologies to alt protein companies to produce items like chocolate, coffee, fats and oils, and alcohol via precision fermentation. The overall marketing and positioning of these other product categories will help normalize fermentation in a bigger way.
2023 was a banner year for new funding commitments for alt protein R&D, including the launch of dedicated alternative protein and cellular agriculture centers in the U.S. and Europe. In 2024, we anticipate even more R&D funding announcements and the launch of new hubs of R&D activity, as well as seeing the fruits of the commitments made in 2023 start to take shape. The importance of having dedicated research centers can’t be overstated — there is a world of difference between having a handful of individual researchers with alt protein-related grants at various universities across the globe and having world-renowned hubs where researchers can coordinate their work, forge collaborations, and integrate technologies from different domains. With initiatives like the CASA-Bio (Catalyzing Across Sectors to Advance the Bioeconomy) effort to align research priorities among over a dozen U.S. agencies calling out alternative proteins, I’m extremely optimistic about new funding opportunities in the U.S. and beyond this year.
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