While plant-based products have traditionally benefited from somewhat of a ‘health halo’, times are changing.
Previously, some consumers may automatically have presumed meat-free meant healthy. However, lengthy ingredients lists made up of processed ingredients – think protein isolate or methylcellulose – have a growing number of consumers looking for ‘clean label’ alternatives.
“Companies have done a great job of mainstreaming plant-based products, but now as the market is more mature, people are expecting higher quality, healthier products,” Triin Remmelgas, founder and CEO of Estonian start-up Meet Future, told FoodNavigator.
“There is a growing demand for less processed and healthier products with shorter ingredient lists. This is where we want to position ourselves.”
Sustainable alt protein
Meet Future’s solution is a range of whole-cut meat and seafood products made from fermented fungal protein – otherwise known as mycoprotein.
The start-up is sourcing the majority of its mycoprotein ingredient from Glasgow food tech company ENOUGH (formerly 3f Bio). Known as ABUNDA, ENOUGH’s mycoprotein ingredient is a ‘complete’ food ingredient that contains all nine essential acids and is high in dietary fibre.
It is also considered a sustainable protein source. According to ENOUGH, the production of ABUNDA requires 97% less feed than beef and 80% less feed than chickens, 93% less water than beef and 55% less water than chickens, and is associated with 97% less CO₂ emissions than beef and 80% lower CO₂ emissions than chickens.
“It has shown to have better [sustainability credentials] than meat, obviously, but also better than some plant-based protein sources,” we were told.
Further, the ingredient has the potential to improve food security in the face of climate change. “Some of the arable land currently available will become non-arable due to climate change,” Remmelgas continued, “so producing mycoprotein in a controlled environment is something that could help us [improve] food security in the future.”
Meat-free chicken and seafood
Meet Future is leveraging mycoprotein to develop whole-cut meat analogues. Starting with white meat products, the start-up is currently developing a chicken fillet prototype for both chicken pieces and whole-cut chicken breast.
“Mycoprotein is very fibrous. It allows you to create a really good texture and taste which is very similar to its animal-based counterparts – without using costly industrial methods.”
Also in the pipeline are fish and seafood alternatives, which Remmelgas said is a strong consumer trend.
“Demand is growing, but only about 100 companies focus on plant-based seafood products. This is definitely a segment where we see a lot of potential and room for innovation.”
The company also aspires to expand into the ‘comfort food’ category, but offering consumers ‘healthy and tasty’ chicken nugget alternatives, for example. Being low in saturated fats, with a good amino acid profile, and free from antibiotics, the CEO says its offerings can make for ‘guilt-free’ indulgence.
Meet Future is confident its products will be more affordable than most plant-based meat analogue counterparts, and expects to launch its first mycoprotein-based chicken alternative in November 2022.
Differentiating from Quorn
Meet Future is not the first food brand to leverage mycoprotein as a food ingredient. The world’s leading manufacturer of meat-alternative products, Quorn Foods, is also founded on mycoprotein.
The Estonian start-up differentiates itself from Quorn in a number of ways, we were told.
“What differentiates us from Quorn is our strong focus on whole-cut meats, fish and seafood, and the fact that we only use plant-based raw materials.”
Quorn binds a good number of its products, including its Quorn Crispy Nuggets and Garlic & Herb Fillets, with egg whites. Yet Meet Future is determined to stick to 100% plant-based across the board.
“Egg white has proven to be a more versatile binder than some other plant-based sources. However, our definite goal is to have all our products be 100% vegan. So egg is not an option for us.”
While finding an appropriate egg white replacement has been an ‘obstacle’ in the R&D process, the CEO revealed the issue is ‘manageable’. “We are in the R&D phase and are testing out different raw materials,” she told this publication.
Potato is one such binder the start-up has tested. “It has proven to be a good way of achieving good texture and good taste.”
Another differentiator lies in Meet Future’s branding. Whereas Quorn has ‘gone down the mainstream road’, Meet Future is aiming for a more ‘minimalistic, pure, and Nordic’ brand concept.
“I think this suits mycoprotein and our products, being high quality, and having fewer ingredients.”
From a geographical perspective, Meet Future is targeting a completely different market. “We have chosen to enter the Eastern European market,” the CEO explained, citing Estonia, Poland, Lithuania, and Latvia.
“This market is often overlooked…but for us, this is low hanging fruit. This is the market we know. Market entry barriers are lower, and we’ll be able to test our products out before trialling them in other markets – notably Central and Northern Europe.”
Meet Future has been accepted into the eighth cohort of the ProVeg Incubator, which focuses on emerging food technologies and ingredients for the alternative protein space.
“In terms of know-how and contacts…it’s really inspirational and motivating,” CEO and founder Triin Remmelgas told FoodNavigator. “We’re building contacts with stakeholders, such as mentors and CEOs, retails and contract manufacturers – making the processes easier for us.”