Growth in the plant-based food space has been fueled by the development of products that emulate the flavor and texture that flexitarian consumers crave. Though, at the same time, meat sales – particularly chicken and pork – are on the rise. This indicates there is still room for development in the taste and experience of alternative proteins, and changing regulations may pave the way for a new generation of products that are closer to the flavor of animal-based items than anything currently on the market. These are cell-cultured and plant-based mixes or “Hybrid products.”
Hybrid Products combine the ingredients of plant-based proteins with the technology of cellular agriculture. This is achieved by incorporating cultivated components into plant-based products and results in items that are bio-optimized to offer health and environmental benefits while maintaining the flavor of familiar animal-based items.
Utilizing this approach could be transformational to the sensory experience of cooking and consuming alternative proteins. Incorporating elements such as cell-based fat, for example, would affect the flavor, aroma, and appearance of plant-based goods, resulting in consumer ready products that emulate the full experience of traditional animal-based items.
The potential for increased texturization and structure through cellular agriculture components could enable whole-muscle alternative protein products to come to market faster than predicted through a Hybrid Product approach.
By incorporating these cultivated elements, producers could also deliver end products that more closely match the nutritional profile of their conventional counterparts. This is critical for alternative protein startups as the demand for clean label products increases.
While startups are working on this process, the method is still relatively new and has not yet been proven at scale. Initial Hybrid products are only now emerging from the pipeline and have a lot of work to do with regulators to green-light cellular agriculture into the market, as Singapore has already done. Despite this, entrepreneurs predict that, through utilizing existing technology in the food industry, the Hybrid product approach will achieve scale rapidly, and enter the market sooner than pure cellular agriculture items.
Ido Savir, CEO of SuperMeat, an Israeli based cellular agriculture company within SDC’s portfolio, believes there is much potential in the Hybrid product approach.
“Providing highly functional ingredients from a cultured source can help reduce the ingredient list but still provide a superior experience for the consumer,” he said. “There are certain things the cellular agriculture community can provide for the plant-based community. Think aromas and fats.”
Savir also highlighted consumer research undertaken by SuperMeat that suggests around half of consumers are already willing to try cellular agriculture products, indicating that the consumer education barrier to entry for Hybrid products is lower than it may seem.