Taste remains king in quest for sustainable foods

While VC firms may be backing meat substitutes made from plants, consumers won’t sacrifice taste, said panellists at the Future Food-Tech conference in New York.

While consumer preference and resource scarcity are pushing the food sector to explore plant-based protein products, taste remains the deciding factor for successful companies, said food industry experts at the Future Food-Tech conference in New York this week.

“You better have a product that’s craved,” said chief financial officer for Impossible Foods David Lee, adding that no amount of education on the benefits of a vegan diet can overcome consumers’ desire for tasty food.

Livestock production accounts for as much as a third of agricultural carbon emissions, and growing meat consumption could add pressure to world grain supplies. Lee’s company says that its product, the Impossible Burger, “has the look, feel, smell, sizzle, and … taste of a great burger” despite being made from plant material.

The pressure to produce sustainable food for a growing global population has driven investor interest. Similar companies to Impossible Foods include Beyond Meat, which is backed by Bill Gates, S2G Ventures and Kleiner Perkins Caulfield & Buyers. Muufri is another company in the space, using fermentation to create plant-based milk, genetically identical to a cow’s milk.

“Companies that seek to transform the food sector need to understand that the consumer is looking for something that tastes great, first and foremost,” said Lee.

This was also true of foods in the health sector, not just the sustainable sector.

“We have to start using the ‘and’ word. It has to taste good and be nutritious,” said Laura Harkness, vice-president of R&D at Church and Dwight. “We need to start looking at taste and nutrition and health as one paradigm rather than multiple paradigms.”

The $3.4 billion company sells chemical products such as sodium bicarbonate to the food industry.