EU novel foods regulation ‘hindering innovation’ in meat alternatives sector

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

Image: Getty/coldsnowstorm
Image: Getty/coldsnowstorm

Related tags mycelium fungi Meat alternatives plant-based

Notoriously costly and time-consuming novel food rules potentially limit advancement in the category, FoodNavigator’s Protein Vision event heard.

Novel foods regulation is a ‘huge hurdle’ said Leonie Jahn, co-founder MATR Foods, which is producing plant-based meat alternatives based on fungal fermentation. Europe’s approval process is highly limiting what can be done and how fast and how viable the business plan is,”​ she said. “Also, for a university it is difficult to get the funding needed for toxicological studies; on the other hand it is important that we make sure the food we develop is safe.”​ That’s important, she stressed, given the contamination risks associated with fungi.

"While the European ecosystem is challenging, the global ecosystem is changing and there are faster processes in Asia and North America.”​ Europe has, for example, been accused of ‘falling behind’ after US approval of two cultivated meat products​.

Europe’s novel foods process could be improved, agreed Staffan Hillberg, chairman of Millow, which is making a meat analogue from mycelium and oats.“It's a very time consuming and expensive process and we decided to play it safe. Because of this issue we are using mycelium strains that are not novel foods.”

But there are possibly millions of as yet unexplored fungal strains offering exciting white space innovation opportunities for food and ingredient companies, our digital event heard. Fungus and mycelium, the root-like structure of a fungus, have the potential to boost flavour, texture, nutritional qualities and even colour in meat analogues, for example. They can thus be produced without the need for additives or heavy processing.

“Different strains have different characteristics in terms of taste, colour, texture. So if we were to play around with those and bring some of those to market we could create some pretty innovative products,”​ said Hillberg.

Challenging market

Challenges do abound for meat alternatives, however, as well as the dairy alternatives category​. But slowing growth in the category​ can be encountered by building the ingredients, infrastructure, investment, services and manufacturing ecosystem​ to best meet the needs of the consumer.

Edwin Bark, senior vice president at Redefine Meat called on greater ‘quality and versatility’ in the category. We can't just eat [plant-based] burgers and meatballs every day of the week,” ​he said. “We have to offer a much wider variety of meat which allows us to integrate all types of dishes and culinary cultures.”

Redefine Meat’s portfolio spans minced meat products and premium muscle cuts, which are served by leading chefs at around 3,000 restaurants, hotels and other food service locations across Europe.

Calls for collaboration 

Innovation and collaboration are needed in all parts of the value chain, Bark stressed, in order to increase the quality in the industry.

“We need new proteins, we need new binding systems; we need new processes that will deliver better textures and more complex structures. It requires a large effort of the value chain. I'm a big believer in ecosystems for collaborative innovation. The challenge is way too big to be addressed by one company​.

"We are not helped by a company if we have weak competitors. We would actually benefit from a much stronger competitive environment because it would further drive penetration of plant-based meat which is what we need to achieve."

Visit HERE​​ to watch FoodNavigator’s Protein Vision 2023 event on demand  

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