The Future of Protein Production: Insights from Amsterdam
As the world grapples with the challenges of building a food system that is sustainable, ethical and capable of feeding a growing population, a wave of innovation is sweeping through the alternative protein industry.
Last week, The Cell Base attended Future of Protein Production 2023, a two-day live event that brought together experts and pioneers in the field of alt-protein production.
Taking place at the RAI convention centre in Amsterdam, the event kicked off with an introduction from Schmidt, founder of Red to Green: Food Tech Podcast, who shared an essential message: "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."
This truly set the tone for a collaborative and forward-thinking gathering.
One of the crucial topics discussed was food safety within novel food production, with insights from Masami Takeuchi, food safety officer at the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.
Takeuchi emphasised the importance of nomenclature, explaining that certain terms – when translated – do not accurately convey the concept of cell-based foods, while noting that some nations may not allow the use of the commodity name ‘meat’ for these emerging proteins.
She explained that with over 6,500 languages spoken globally, the challenge is to prioritise terms that are understandable in key UN languages: English, Spanish, Arabic, French, Chinese and Russian. The working definition that was agreed for use in the FAO expert consultation was “cell-based food” to minimise potential confusion for consumers – much to The Cell Base’s joy.
Mark Post, Dutch pharmacologist and a prominent figure in the field, highlighted the pressing need for alternative proteins. He cited the progress made since he himself unveiled the world’s first cell-based hamburger in 2013, referencing serum-free applications, the identification of different cell sources, new bioprocesses and the application of animal-free non-replicative models, as major strides in the right direction. Post also stressed the importance of ongoing research in areas like product quality and full-thickness tissue development.
Dan Luining, the founder and CTO of Meatable, emphasised the role of pluripotent stem cells in creating real muscle and fat. He pointed out that sustainable scalability is a key advantage of cell-based meat compared to traditional meat production, stating that “The only thing we have, that they don’t have, is that we can sustainably meet future demand”.
Striking the right balance
A panel discussion delved into the balancing act of achieving sustainability and commercial viability in alt-proteins. Upstream Foods’ CEO Kianti Figler, Sophie's Bio Nutrients’ CEO Eugene Wang, Moa Foods’ CEO and Christophe Schmitt, protein expert at Nestlé Research, shared their insights.
Their discussions focused on the significance of scaling, renewable energy and using byproducts to create sustainable and cost-effective production methods.
The second day of the event continued with a panel discussing Europe's potential to lead in complementary proteins. The panellists discussed the need for collaboration, engagement with authorities and greater freedom to experiment with tastings to promote alternative proteins.
Start-ups in the field also had their time in the spotlight. These innovative companies are working on various approaches to create sustainable and affordable alt-proteins including: Bosque Foods, which focuses on using agro-industrial side streams to produce mycelium; Poseidona, which creates sustainable proteins from algal waste; Upstream Foods, which is exploring the plant-based seafood market; and Vivici, which is developing animal-free dairy proteins, aiming to offer versatile ingredients for the market. These start-ups are at the forefront of transforming the alternative protein landscape.
The Cell Base spoke with Ryan Kromhout, from the KROHNE Group, who explained how the company is addressing the challenges in the production of plant-based analogues for meat and fish, spotlighting the importance of accurate inline blending to achieve high-quality products.
Science and tech company Merck was also exhibiting, showcasing its capabilities in supporting food scientists and manufacturers to develop and implement current and future ways of eating, such as sustainable food packaging, alt-proteins and cell-based meat and seafood.
Dutch animal nutrition leader Nutreco was also present, offering solutions that go beyond nutrition – displaying its advice and tech that can help customers produce food in a sustainable way to feed the growing population. Nutreco has partnered with pioneers Mosa Meat and BlueNalu, which use waste and animal feed byproducts from its downstream process to create serum.
Icelandic start-up ORF Genetics showcased its expertise in producing recombinant animal-free growth factors, using barley grain as a vehicle for production. These methods have led the company to boast an extensive portfolio of recombinant proteins for the cell-based meat market, as well as stem cell technology research, skincare and biopharma.
Nesli Sözer, a research professor from VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, presented a forward-thinking approach to alt-protein production. She mentioned the advantages of a hybrid approach, which combines different sources such as yeast, fungi and berry cells, and provides colour. The approach has the potential to revolutionise alt-protein production, significantly reducing water use, land requirements and greenhouse gas emissions.
The event concluded with a panel discussion on transitioning from hybrid to full-tissue alternative protein products by 2030. Co-founder and CEO of Wanda Fish, Daphna Heffetz; co-founder and CEO of Extracellular, Will Milligan; Meatable’s CTO and founder Daan Luining; and Sheena Fraser, VP of product development at Roslin Technologies, discussed the evolution of the industry and the need for enhancing taste, texture and look in alt-proteins.
With continued funding and R&D efforts, the alt-protein industry is poised to offer consumers sustainable and delicious choices while addressing the environmental challenges of traditional animal agriculture. As Mark Post put it: "I think we need to have a longer horizon than 2030, not to get products to market – we already have that – but to get to full potential."