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Whether you’re in the office, practicing social distancing, or trying to stock up on oat milk, there’s no way to avoid it — talk of COVID-19 is everywhere. We spoke to a few startups this week who have been impacted by the coronavirus, and while some cited production delays or higher material cost, I was intrigued to see one response from plant-based cheese company Grounded Foods (whose fermented cauliflower cheese I sampled last month). Here’s what Grounded’s co-founder Veronica Fil had to say:
When coronavirus hit… I imagine dairy supply came under more threat than ever (especially coupled with supply shortages arising from Australia’s post-bushfire economy). I think that’s why Grounded suddenly had such a spike in interest. There’s a lot of focus around our products providing a more resilient alternative to dairy, and one that’s not so reliant on international trade forces.
Fil’s response made me wonder — how is the COVID-19 outbreak affecting other alternative protein companies in the US?
First, let me say that since the coronavirus has only been on the world stage for a few months, we don’t yet have any cold, hard data on how it’s affecting sales of animal vs. non-animal foods. Everything that follows is speculation on my part, based off of talks I’ve had with other industry insiders and my friends and family.
One thing we do know is that there’s no evidence that food is a vector of disease spread for the coronavirus. But there is evidence that the disease began in animals and then migrated to humans in a “wet market” in Wuhan, China. So while you’re definitely not going to get coronavirus from eating meat, in an overabundance of caution some consumers might still be wary of consuming animal products — and more amenable to sampling plant-based options.
Plant-based foods often have longer shelf lives than their animal-based counterparts. This might not be as much of a deciding factor for meat, which you can easily freeze, but is more relevant for dairy. As consumers stock up on staples like canned goods and toilet paper, they might be more apt to throw alt-dairy in their cart (like the aforementioned oat milk), assuming they’d stay fresher for longer.
Supply chains are another thing that could well be affected by COVID-19. Import restrictions in China have dramatically slowed down the country’s exports of meat and poultry. Alternative protein companies who import their plant-based ingredients from other countries, especially China, could also face production slowdowns as trade slows.
COVID-19 doesn’t seem to be slowing plant-based meat companies’ focus on the Asian market. Beyond Meat, for example, still plans to open a new facility on the continent by the end of 2020. That update came a few weeks ago on the company’s recent earnings call, so it’s unclear if recent virus escalation has upset those goals.
As I said above, it’s too early to make any sort of sweeping generalization about whether coronavirus is boosting or hurting sales of plant-based foods. But with the pandemic far from contained, we’ll likely soon start to see more data on how the disease is affecting the entire food system in general, including alt-protein.
For now, I turn to you, Future Food readers. Have you (or your company) noticed any shifts over the past few months? Please email us at email@example.com to share!
Houston, we have cell-based meat (and fish)
This week I wrote a story about how NASA scientists determined that some red lettuce grown on the International Space Station (ISS) was not only safe to eat, but was just as nutritious as lettuce grown on terra firma.
As someone who always has alternative protein in the back of her mind, I couldn’t help but think back to October when Israeli startup Aleph Farms announced that it had successfully grown animal muscle tissue cells in space, also aboard the ISS. Then I saw a tweet from Mike Selden, the co-founder of cellular aquaculture company Finless Foods, reminding me that their technology was also in use during the aforementioned test.
Finless Foods collaborated with Aleph Farms and Russian biotech company 3D Bioprinting Solutions, which provided the 3D bioprinter to extrude the animal tissue cells. What I didn’t realize was that during the experiment Finless Foods printed some cells of their own: fish cells.
We’re light years away (figuratively, not literally) from astronauts being able to print enough meat or seafood to sustain themselves on multi-year journeys. But maybe soon, NASA will do a study on the nutrition of 3D printed, cell-based animal or fish tissue, just like they did with the lettuce.
Protein ’round the web
- Outstanding Foods, maker of vegan pork rind snacks, has nabbed an investment from the king of munchies himself: Snoop Dogg.
- The Beyond Burger is now on the menu at select IKEA locations in the Netherlands (h/t LiveKindly).
- Scottish startup Daring Foods, which makes realistic plant-based chicken pieces, just hit U.S. retail shelves at 340 Sprout Market locations (via VegNews).
- Beyond Meat begin selling frozen plant-based breakfast sausages in select retailers by the end of March.
Stay safe out there and remember, #CancelEverything.