By Craig Morris, Vice President of International Marketing
I recently attended the Future of Food Tech Summit in Brooklyn, New York. The meeting was geared towards new food companies, many of which are focusing on alternative—plant based or cellular—proteins.
Admittedly, for a died-in-the-wool meat guy who grew up in the industry, parts of the meeting were inspiring while others were downright frightening. There was certainly an anti-conventional agriculture and anti-livestock-production bend promulgated by many of the speakers. Despite some frustrating moments, many points resonated with me.
One of the main points reiterated by numerous speakers was the statistic that by 2040 the global population will face a severe protein shortage – there will not be enough viable protein to nourish the burgeoning, increasingly affluent population. To bridge that gap, several panelists noted that we’ll need both traditional animal and alternative proteins.
I keep thinking about that. I have often thought that U.S. agriculture has often been too reactionary when faced with challenges to its core model—and many speakers at this event commented that the downfall of many flagship food brands has been their reticence to evolve, to innovate, and to invest in new products or technologies.
At the recent American Meat Science Association’s Reciprocal Meat Conference, speaker Molly McAdams shared how hamburgers don’t fare well, for various reasons, in the prepared meal delivery trend—turning consumers away from purchasing it, opting instead for other pre-cooked proteins. And for a product that represents some 64 percent of the beef that Americans consume, that should be a big red flag as we see a global preference for convenience over all else, and a move away from home-cooked meals and toward pre-prepared meals. One of the speakers at the Future Food Tech Summit, whose company works closely to launch “plant forward” meals with major retailers, noted that more than 40 percent of Tesco’s products in UK stores are ready-to-eat; A figure that is only increasing.
Jeff Fromm, a Forbes contributor, bestselling author and millennial marketing guru, remarked at the World Meat Congress that millennials don’t even visit the spice aisle of the grocery store as they’re not cooking from scratch as much as my generation does. And, one step further, many of the younger generations are moving away from even having three meals a day towards just a series of frequent snacks they enjoy throughout the day. This is one of the reasons as the National Pork Board is embarking on an ambitious global research project we call Pork 2040. One of the factors we’re going to look at is apartment layouts around the world—are full kitchens capable of cooking meals from scratch still being constructed in every market or are they simply a thing of the past in certain areas?
There’s no doubt the world is evolving quickly—and evidence of that can be found inside—and outside—the petri dish growing meat-like cells in a venture-capitalist funded lab with a focus to disrupt the protein industry. That is why we need to ready ourselves for a changing global marketplace. One that will both have unprecedented demand for both traditional and new protein.
If you know me well, you know that my all-time favorite food is potstickers, which I fell deeper and deeper in love with on my many trips to Asia. As I ate some delicious dumplings at a Chinese restaurant in Brooklyn, I had a thought: potstickers are just the kind of item that may best represent the future of the pork—and protein—industry.
They’re portable, they pack a flavorful punch, they’re filled with pre-cooked pork, need minimal cooking, and hold up well upon prepared meal delivery. They check all the boxes. They’re in many respects the perfect example of what a meal will be like for the next generation. Although they contain pork, the protein is more of the ingredient than the item itself.
While potstickers might not be everyone’s cup of tea, I think the notion holds true. The world will need our help to nourish a global, hungry population—and we’re going to have to do that in drastically different ways than we’ve historically done. We’ll need to address all of these issues including an increased demand for protein, convenience, portion size, and non-traditional serving formats.
We need to put on our creative thinking caps and figure out how we—as a collective animal protein industry—can rapidly evolve, innovating to meet consumers where they are, and satisfy their desires. Because one thing is certain, there are people outside of the animal protein industry working on the same set of issues.
I’m confident our industry will address these challenges. Perhaps just one potsticker at a time.