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Plant Based Summit Interview Series – Week 1: Bruce McIntyre

An exciting aspect about running corporate events and choosing industry experts to be involved means you have invaluable subject knowledge presented to you along the way. We have decided to share this knowledge in a series of speaker and sponsor interviews as we progress our way towards the running of the first ever Plant Based Summit in Australia. Many people have an opinion of plant-based products available, but we would like to explore those concepts, adding in some scientific facts and combine that with some consumer marketing choices.

Our first interview is with Bruce McIntyre, co-founder of the Goodster Company which are developing lupin products for the snack industry in Australia. We know Bruce is a visionary and his foot in the plant food arena is only a small part of a global sustainability project he is developing. We thought we would throw him in the fire with some big questions being the first interview of the Plant Based Summit series.

Bruce you are a global visionary, do you believe we have the technology and understanding now to replace animal products to feed the world?

Thanks for the big question, Sean. This answer has many pieces of a jigsaw still not in place but let me preface my response with some data first for context.

‘A global survey conducted in 2021 by Rakuten found that 81% of consumers had tried plant-based milk, 48% had tried other dairy alternatives, 44% had tried vegan meat alternatives and 25% had tried a vegan egg replacement’.

In another ‘2021 global survey by NSF, 88% of food industry practitioners said that they expect demand for plant-based products to increase. 74% said they thought consumers choose plant-based for a healthier lifestyle and 60% believed it’s to be more environmentally friendly’.

So back to my response, well I’m a dreamer and ever the optimist, on paper the answer is yes or not far off. But as consumers drive demand and we can be a complicated bunch, with cultural, religious, polarised environmental opinions and circa 30% of the population born in regional areas with strong links to the land, I don’t believe that we see consumer saturation of plant-based products and protein.

My dart board analysis is probably two thirds of consumers will move to a predominately plant-based diet over the next 15 to 20 years. Different age demographics and socio-economic groups will absolutely have higher adoption levels. As the younger more environmentally conscious generations come into play this will accelerate the take-up.

The innovation and rapid growth in plant-based milk consumption, especially in the café, food service and retail channels, has demonstrated strong consumer acceptance and demand, opening the investment and innovation pipeline in the broader plant-based protein space.

The leaps and bounds being achieved in all forms of extrusion and fermentation technologies is driving the wave of new products on the market. With the current focus on new products to snare consumers away from animal protein a majority of the new products are pitted against existing forms of animal protein, bacon, sausages, mince, patties, steak, pastries and readymade meals.

Whilst the majority of existing plant protein is soy based, the shift towards allergen free has started with fava, chickpea or any of the allergen free legumes already high in fibre and protein seeing traction.

Investment and innovation in the sector will need to be relentless. The animal protein sector will continue to fight hard with established revenue streams and large marketing budgets. It is also innovating to compete for consumer loyalty and demonstrate improvement with their environmental impact. An example is the discovery of a Queensland red seaweed, which when dried and added to cattle feed, reduces methane by up to 99%.

As investment pours into the sector, the race to secure the best human capital is on. The demand stretches far and wide across the skill gambit to lay stakes to market leading IP and the minds that create it. If you’re good and you are a bioprocess engineer, flavour chemist, synthetic biologist, metabolic / proteomic (protein) engineer, meat and dairy technologist, extrusion or fermentation pioneer, product design master or experienced food technologist in the private or academic field, your services will be hunted!!

Whilst the industry evolves and matures, I hope to see investment in vertically integrated supply chains with a low environmental footprint and developing regional circular economies. I see an evolution of the animal based ‘paddock to plate’ consumer offering, where farms grow the plant protein feedstock, milling and food manufacturing is done on the farm, powered by renewable energy that is fuelled by farm waste or alternative renewable fuel sources, and products are sold to regional and state-based markets as a priority. Over time as the technology costs come down, we will see smaller bespoke regional players chip away at market share.

It’s easy for companies to leverage plant-based food as an environmentally better choice, but unless there is investment to improve the whole supply chain and environmental footprint it may be a shallow position without real intent and integrity, which consumers are looking more at in their purchase decision making.

Is the environment really dependant on making changes now like switching our food habits drastically to slow down ecological effects of like global warming?

Wow, thanks for the political, social and ideological charged question! I’m not going to stand on my soap box and preach, my thoughts are more about our lack of nation building vision over the last 50 years and how we are driven by a very short cycle of state and federal elections.

If we, as a nation had bipartisan political leadership that agreed on long term principles and outcomes that we want to achieve across education, health, jobs, industry, environmental and so on, then the answer to this question would be a principled step by step action toward protecting our environment.

Food production at all levels, both from the agriculture and manufacturing sectors, can and should do more to reduce their environmental impact, regardless of the science and what ideology you believe in. I say it’s the principal that counts and is important to include everyone on the journey.

To wrap up, I would say the plant-based food sector just needs to furiously innovate, let the battle for consumer spend be driven by exceptional and experiential food memories. When all meals of the day have predominantly plant-based products, including when the traditional Sunday roast memory is seamlessly replaced by a healthier, tastier, more enjoyable mouth feel plant-based alternate that is great for the environment, innovation is doing its job. Regardless of what side of the fence you sit on!

Thank you, Bruce for tackling some big questions around the future of sustainable food and looking at both sides. Your answers will make people think more about sustainability as this topic is more than dietary needs, animal welfare and personal opinion. I believe you have pinned sustainability as the overarching key for the driver of growth in a plant-based future.

The Plant-Based Summit is happening on the 26 September 2022 in Melbourne.

Tickets are available at online.

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