You know change is coming to the animal protein market when companies like Tyson Foods, one of America's larger process meat producers, decide to seize a sizeable stake of plant based meat companies like Beyond Meat. But it's taking it up a level when they also start to actively support the research and development of cellular agriculture - or the true replication of meat via DNA - just as Tyson is doing. Investing in a market that that threatens the very existence of their existing food supply model and value chain (feedlot faming and low cost conventional meat).
I've been doing some serious deep dives of late researching with and talking to the key players working within in the new Food and Ag 2.0 paradigm and the findings are both exciting and startling - depending on which way you choose to slice the onion.
Tyson (among others) recently sent, Hultz Smith, the company's principal scientist, to the Modern Agriculture Foundation’s first Cultured Meat and Path to Commercialisation Conference recently held this May. Held in Israel, the conference successfully brought together in one room an impressive lineup of attendees working in the field of cellular agriculture and tissue engineering and all the big players making inroads in this space Mosa Meats, Memphis Meats, Super Meat, etc).
The purpose of Smith heading along to a seemingly competitive industry conf? Undoubtedly to scout and scavange as much intel as he could from the scientists, researchers, academics and industry bodies leading in this space.all of whom committed to advancing and expediting this nascent yet exponentially advancing field.
Tyson isn't secretive about its efforts to bite into a chunk of this potentially new and VERY lucrative cellular ag space either as a way to provide middle America with cut price meat. Smith openly admits he's a proponent of cellular agriculture and cultured meat research. He, along with others in the org now see it as a viable substitute to current meat production as well as providing consumers a broader choice. If there's cash and margins to be made by transitioning away from factory farming why wouldn't he?
In late 2016 the company also launched a $150 million venture capital fund focusing on sustainable food solutions and alternative proteins – including cellular agriculture alternatives. “This fund is about broadening our exposure to innovative, new forms of protein and ways of producing food,” said Monica McGurk, the companies' executive vice president of strategy. CEO of the Modern Agriculture Institute, Yaron Bogan, even sees big food co's like Tyson as possible funding avenues for advancing and expediting the R&D in the cellular ag space. “Once they (Tyson) see the prototypes are viable they will want a share of the action. I think they’ll also put in some funding and help to accelerate meeting clean meat’s technological and economical challenges” .... If this comes to pass, it will have a massive impact on the cellular and incumbent ag sectors globally.
Tyson isn’t alone in speeding up the advancements in the new food paradigm. In the past 18 months other major food companies like Campbell Foods, General Mills, Kellogg's and Fonterra have established similar strategic new venture arms. And big food cos like Isreal's largest food products manufacturer, Strauss, are now taking active interest in national Food Tech incubators and accelerators like The Kitchen foodtech hub in Isreal - making massive inroads into the alternative protein market.
These are just some of the great examples of smart strategies and initiatives New Zealand and other companies/countries could also aim to adopt as we strive to stay abreast the change in the industry. There is just so much opportunity for collaboration and reinvesting our technology and science systems to lead the pack in food technology as we move forward. Let's not get left behind!