There are lots of factors that play into the success of a food product: Price, taste, cultural norms and acceptance.
Sometimes it helps when a chef embraces a type of food and popularizes it through media or a new restaurant concept. Other times, a new type of food takes decades to become an overnight success.
With plant-based proteins, I’d say it’s a mixture of both. More and more chefs are exploring new ways to move meat off the center of the plate, and many non-vegan consumers are trying plant-based alternatives for the first time.
Looking to the future, it’s hard to say how consumers will react to the next big tectonic shift in alt-proteins — cultivated meat. Since most companies in the space are focused on scaling their early prototypes for wider scale production, there’s been very little work done in these early days to educate the consumer about what this cultured meat is and why they should eat it.
That better change soon since, with cell-cultured meat, the battle for the minds is as big a hurdle as the science. Not that some aren’t trying. Companies like Eat Just are beginning to experiment with ways to raise awareness of this very early product, while others like Blue Nalu are working with young research chefs to have them think about the future of sustainable food like cultured seafood.
Still, there’s a lot more work to do to help educate the consumer about what this food is and why they should eat it. That’s why I’m excited for a new podcast season from the folks behind Red to Green, a Berlin-based media and consultancy firm that is headed up by Marina Schmidt. When Marine told me about how the latest season of her podcast would focus on how these companies will win consumer acceptance of their products, I was excited because it’s an area we think a lot about here at the Spoon and one that needs more discussion.
Then when she asked if we would like to cross-publish her podcast, I jumped at the chance. Each week for the next few months we’ll be publishing each episode of the Red to Green season three here on The Spoon complete with transcripts.
Below you can see the first episode of season 3, which includes yours truly. Marina and I decided it would be fun to first have us both on the show to go behind the scenes and talk about the topics she’ll be discussing this season. You can also see the transcript of the conversation below.
The next episode of Red to Green, which we’ll publish tomorrow, will feature Isha Datar, the executive director of New Harvest, talking about building community, safety and brands in cultured meat.
We’re having this conversation because we are excited to have you as a content partner. You’re putting together this interesting season where you’re having conversations with leaders in the cellular agriculture and alternative protein space. And the third season, we’re going to actually be putting up on the spoon, kind of as a partnership with you guys. So you guys also have it on your own outlets as well, but yeah, let’s, let’s talk a little bit about what you’re building. So tell people about, Marina Schmidt and Red to Green.
Well, I think to start right now with the status quo Red to green is doing deep-dive research. So I started out with Red to Green because I found two types of content in the food tech and sustainability space. On the one hand, you have this diverse array, like one episode on vertical farming, one on food waste, and another one on the latest quinoa chocolate chip goji berries chocolate bar.
And then there’s the other type of content, which is really, really extremely in-depth. for example, I found a podcast with 245 episodes just on precision farming. So we started Red to Green to get the middle ground to choose one topic at a time, specifically in food tech and sustainability, and cover it really in-depth.
So that means we approach each podcast season like a book. We think about what would people need to know to get a very well-rounded diverse perspective on the topic? As an example, we started out last year in May with a season on cultivated meat, or actually more broader cellular agriculture.
And it starts with an introduction. What is it? What is the concept behind it? How is it produced? Then we covered all the different important topics. We covered beef, dairy, cheese, eggs, gelatin, seafood, fish, and then had also the NGO perspective and the investor’s perspective. And by choosing the interview guests very well with a diverse set of backgrounds and companies that they work for, we create this well-balanced overview of what’s going on.
So you ultimately decided to create Red to Green as kind of a new focus for your career. And part of that journey, interestingly enough, and not that’s something that I think a lot of people always consider when they make a new move is a spreadsheet was at the center of this, this kind of switch.
Tell us a little bit about that story.
Oh, my, my friends actually have a lot of insider jokes about the amount of spreadsheets that I have and the things that I manage in spreadsheets, which can be quite crazy. Well, pretty much originally I built a company in career consulting and job consulting. It’s a German company, we are partnering with job fairs all over the place. Twenty-five plus of the largest German job fairs. And through that, I would see hundreds, if not thousands of CVs and there would be this pattern of people going for the career and then the middle of their career, they would want to drastically change the industry, what they’re specifically doing, et cetera. And usually, it was because they would find that what they’re currently doing is not actually aligned with their values, and maybe they haven’t been looking at their values for quite a while. So I saw that as a sign and I was like, well, maybe I don’t have to go down that path. And I decided to sit down and really think about it.
And this process led me to gradually work on, on topics that got me closer to that calling of food tech and sustainability. I worked in company building and worked in digital health with some of the largest medical publishers. I was also working with the World Economic Forum representatives to increase health and climate innovation in Europe. And it was getting warmer and warmer, but I was still tiptoeing around the actual topics. So there was a yoga retreat that really helped. Seven days, lots of meditation, lots of yoga can very much recommend that for some clarity. There I realized, okay I have to be in sustainability, but sustainability is still super broad. Very very wide.
So that’s where a spreadsheet helped. Actually a friend of mine, he’s the founder of the regenerative agriculture company, Klim. He originally had started the spreadsheet where he has listed various, like so many different areas of impact and he created a spreadsheet detailing what is the field about what is the core problem? And what are some startups trying to address this problem and solve it. I looked at it and I filled it out. I ranked these areas on a scale of one to 10, 10 being “this is fricking amazing. I would put everything down and stop my life move to another country to work on this” and nine and down being exciting or less exciting.
As I filled it out, I was quite surprised that all of my nines were in food tech. My nines were vertical farming, plastic alternatives, which you can sort of say as part of food regenerative agriculture, food waste, and my only 10 was alternative proteins and specifically cellular agriculture.
You have this saying in German, but not sure if it’s also applicable in English, it was like, tomatoes fell off my eyes. I love the saying. It’s very visual. That’s how it felt. Tomatoes fell off my eyes right there as I was staring at the spreadsheet and I realized, Oh wow, I have to, I have to work in this field. Otherwise, I’m going to regret it. And especially with cellular agriculture, it feels like you have to work in it right now because it’s, it’s a special time to contribute to it.
So, I’ve been talking to a lot of people who want to get into the field or who are thinking about their purpose and their values. And I have decided to make the spreadsheet available for free to anybody who wants to just look at it, maybe broaden their scope of on the ways of how you can have an impact. Or just maybe re-check career choices. So we can link to it and people can fill it out. Please, if you find anything where there’s startups to add, where there is a broken link, please just comment on it because we will work on updating it and making it more and more useful to more and more people.
Well, great. Well, that’s a great use of a spreadsheet. Definitely different than most people use spreadsheets. That’s a great story.
Yeah. I mean, I, and I think that podcasting allows you the storytelling arc throughout a season, and I love that approach. And I find it’s when I go through and do podcasts, I find I’m learning every episode and I get better for the next episode. So I’m kind of curious how maybe your approach to the season changed.
Were they fairly close to what you had thought about when you set out to kind of plan this 12 episode arc or did, as you learned more and, and discovered more and talk to these experts on the way, did it change at all?
So I think it’s very dependent on the topic. With the cultured meat topic, I had a relatively clear idea of what I’m going to cover, and that turned out to be pretty on point in the end. But with the plastics alternative season, which is the second season we had, it was like stepping in the dark.
Because the tricky thing is to create such a season we need to understand the whole field and that can be harder in some cases than in other cases. With the topic of plastic alternatives and sustainable food packaging, it was more an investigative season. We were looking for an answer. What does it mean to have sustainable food packaging?
What is bad packaging? And as these issues are very big and very cloudy and complex we were going step-by-step interview by interview, learning bits of the puzzle and finding our way. With the second season, I found that we had to have trusted people in the industry who would fact-check. The guests that we would have on and who would fact check the topics that we would be addressing and promoting. Because there’s so much greenwashing and it’s very hard to differentiate fact from fiction in this space. So it was a completely different experience in cultivated meat or cellular agriculture versus in plastics.
And here again, with the next season, we are doing on convincing consumers. We again, don’t have a clear playbook. It’s not like we are just making an overview of an existing field. We are researching for the industry. What would make consumers switch to alternative dairy, to insect protein, to cultured meat. And we’re actually looking for people who you wouldn’t think of as being interesting interview guests, like people from outside the industry who maybe don’t even know much about cultured meat in general, but who can offer a novel perspective on it. So this again is more an investigative season.
And how have you seen the messaging change? So if you look at the plant-based companies, but also the cell-based companies, how has their marketing and the way that they communicate about the products changed?
Well, what’s interesting is just this past week Impossible launched really their first big widespread consumer advertising campaign with the message that “we are meat”. And I think what they’re saying is, you know if you’re a meat-eater if you’re a carnivore this is meat. It may be meat made from plants, but it’s really no different.
So I think it’s in a sense also pushing back against the incumbents countering the message saying this isn’t meat. This is some weird ingredient. So I think I think there’s a messaging war going on and we’re, we’re in this middle of this, this big evolutionary consumer acceptance path where you’re going to see, and going to try to understand if mainstream meat-eaters are going to accept these alternative proteins.
I think with cellular agriculture and the cultured stuff, the time horizons a little bit longer. And I think that’s going to be a much, even more, tricky messaging campaign because it’s really advanced science and then we’re not even talking about things like precision fermentation, right?
The more I look into the topic, the more multilayered complicated it becomes as actually with many of the themes that we have covered in Red to Green. So I’m really happy to now have a team of, we’re now 12 people, who are looking into this, who are doing industry research, who are looking for interview guests. Because that’s absolutely necessary to be able to cover these topics.
And what I love about podcasting is it’s a form, I’ve always viewed it as a form of open-source journalism. In a way that, you know, if you’re a good journalist, if you’re a, ultimately a good podcaster, you’re having these conversations. And you know, you go back 20 years before there’s podcasting, you wouldn’t hear these conversations, you would hear like what essentially you’d read, like a 300, 400-word article.
But what I always found was interesting is the conversations that take place to get there. And so I love that you’re doing these deep conversations that people get to hear these, these conversations and take this journey with you. what’s what I’ve always loved about the medium of audio and audio journalism.
Yeah, definitely. We do go now into video, also releasing the video to the podcast, and also making write-ups. So for the work that we’re doing from this season onwards, but also for any upcoming seasons, we will create summaries and reports. Because I would say that the audience that we have is clearly the food tech nerds.
Most of our listeners from 70 plus countries are actually food tech professionals or are about to get into the field. And you do have to be quite a bit nerdy to listen to eight hours of deep-dive cellular agriculture content or nine hours on plastic alternatives. And that’s why it’s more like an audiobook.
And I recently started looking at it as audiobooks that have this beginning, middle, and end attached to them.
And I love the idea of the story arc and I’m sure people will be able to, to enjoy it and listen to both the first and second season and, and listen on for the third season on your outlets as well as on the spoon. So yeah, I’m looking forward to working with you on this and looking forward to this conversation.
Yeah, lovely. thank you, Mike. And looking forward to also see how the content will be received by the spoon, readers, and listeners.
I can tell you already, they’re going to love it. So, all right. Thanks, Marina.
Thank you, Mike.