"I believe there are not many industries that offer such a great opportunity to be a force for good."
Edwin Bark is CEO in the plant-based food industry and most recently served as interim CEO for Plant&Bean ltd and as Managing Director of Nestlé’s European division for plant-based meat. He also holds several advisory board positions for food tech companies in Israel and is a mentor to StartLife’s Food&Agtech Accelerator in Wageningen (NL) and Dao Foods in China. Plant&Bean is a pioneer in the plant-based meat industry and produces and develops plant-based meat for both international brands and retail customers.
One business success for Plant&Bean ltd.
- The plant-based food industry and the plant-based meat category in particular has reached a tipping point and with the fast-growing penetration of plant-based products on the daily menu of millions of consumers, need for production capacity is growing every day. While the company has been facing capacity constraints for about two years, we have successfully implemented a continuous improvement program. With the implementation of the basics of Lean Manufacturing we have seen capacity increase by 30%-40%, allowing the company to go back from unsatisfactory service levels to a consistent performance of 96+%. We have also acquired a new production facility in Boston (Lincolnshire) and successfully started the commissioning of the first lines with the support of our biggest customers, making the company future proof and face the ever-growing demand with confidence and optimism. To further support the growth of the category, we have also built an eco-system for collaborative innovation with our R&D facility at the York Biotech campus and partnerships with universities in Europe, Asia and the US, as well as the most prominent food development and ingredient companies in the food industry.
Two sector challenges
- While the growing awareness of unsustainable animal protein consumption globally has attracted many new companies in the space, it’s fair to say that there are a lot of mainstream brands with ‘mainstream’ product quality. The majority of the products are just not good enough to delight the hearts of die-hard carnivores. This is partially linked to the fact that most companies are small scale and therefore lack the resources to invest enough in R&D. Companies need therefore to step up their efforts to collaborate and innovate to bring better products to the market. As an industry we still can do better in terms of taste, texture, cooking experience and nutritional values.
- From consumer research we know that price is still the biggest barrier for consumers to buy-in frequently into the category. Two tasty plant-based hamburgers at GBP 4.99 is likely too expensive for an average family of four to have it regularly (in comparison to the price of meat). Reaching price parity with animal meat is thus a task for the whole industry. Building scale in the value chain to bring down the cost, but also the implementation of a True Pricing system for animal meat will be crucial in the coming years.
Three sector forecasts
- As much as progress has been made in especially ‘formed’ products like sausages, burgers, and balls, I believe the next disruption will come from truly very promising technologies to create whole cut meat without the animal, like 3D printing and cultured meat. Redefine Meat (3D printing technology for plant-based meat) and Future Meat Technologies (cultured meat) are frontrunners and worth following in the coming year.
- To drive the growth of the industry, a lot of focus and investment has gone into food development and brands. Although the category is still very small, I believe that the ingredient suppliers can do more to innovate, by developing new, locally grown sources of proteins, binding systems or flavouring systems. This will have major impact. Among others, you can think of the endless possibilities of fermentation or new protein fractionation technologies.
- Covid-19 has definitely pushed consumers to go even more digital than before. The rise of Direct2Consumer business models and new e-commerce platforms drives a new way of consumer engagement that is here to stay. Even if the weight of D2C is only a few percent of the total distribution today, I expect it to grow rapidly to 10%-15% of the market. Companies who are not digital first will have to adapt to this new reality and great opportunity.
Finally, I believe there are not many industries that offer such a great opportunity to be a force for good. Helping consumers change towards a (more) plant-based diet will have a tremendous impact on the planet, health and animal welfare and is ultimately very meaningful.