Photo source: Noodle bowl featuring UPSIDE Chicken
This week something big went down in the U.S. food system. In case you missed the announcement, as it is not directly dairy related, UPSIDE Foods became the first company in the world to receive a “No Questions” letter from FDA for cultivated meat, poultry or seafood.
The FDA released a MEMO detailing the agency’s review of the data and information provided by UPSIDE Foods to establish the safety of its cultivated chicken filet. If you are a food science geek like me, it’s an interesting read. You can access it HERE.
This letter indicates that FDA accepts UPSIDE’s conclusion that its cultivated chicken is safe to eat. This historic step paves the way for the company’s path to market in the U.S. and brings cultivated chicken one step closer to consumers’ plates.
“This is a watershed moment in the history of food,” said Uma Valeti, CEO and founder of UPSIDE Foods. This milestone marks a major step towards a new era in meat production, and I’m thrilled that U.S. consumers will soon have the chance to eat delicious meat that’s grown directly from animal cells.”
In the U.S., cultivated meat is regulated by both FDA and USDA. Having received a “No Questions” letter from FDA, UPSIDE Foods will now work with USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service to secure the remaining approvals that are required before the company’s cultivated chicken can be sold to consumers.
Here’s what you need to know. UPSIDE Foods grows meat, poultry and seafood directly from animal cells. These products are not vegan or vegetarian, but they are said to be planet friendly. It is projected that cultivated meat production, at scale, will use less water and land than conventionally produced meat. And, because it’s made in a controlled environment subject to high standards of testing for safety and quality control, it has the potential to help reduce the risk of harmful bacterial contamination, according to the company.
Cultivated meat is a close relative to precision fermentation of dairy. While both have a place in the U.S. food system to feed the burgeoning population, remember, these products are not vegan. They start from animal cells…and frankly, if I think about it too much, it creeps me out. But without a doubt, there is a need for these alternative forms of high-quality protein.
There is also a need for plant proteins. Here are five very different recent entries into the plant-based dairy sector that are worth your time to explore. Let me tell you why.
1. While Kraft Heinz Co., sold off most of its cheese brands, it still owns Philadelphia. And now that Philadelphia brand can be found in the U.S. on what it calls “Plant-Based Original.” The top-three ingredients in the non-dairy spread are coconut oil, modified potato starch and fava bean protein.
Back in the day—let’s say around 1992—when I worked at Kraft and was directed to make fat-free natural cheese, I remember when marketing finally believed the prototypes were “good enough” to commercialize. The brand had to get out there because the competition—namely ConAgra with its Healthy Choice fat-free cheeses—was in nationwide distribution.
While the Kraft brand still offers fat-free cheeses made with refined, improved processes that originated in the 1990s, Healthy Choice got out of cheese within a few years. Why does this matter? I do not believe Kraft Heinz would jeopardize the Philadelphia brand if it did not feel that the product was at parity or better than the competition. While it may be a work in progress, the brand knows it needs to be out there. What does that mean for other brands, they better make sure their product can stand up to Philadelphia or else…
2. Then there’s the new Baby Bel plant-based snacks. Water is the first ingredient, followed by modified food starch and coconut oil. One snack contains 50 calories, 4 grams of fat and no protein. This product’s primary competition is its like-branded dairy counterpart. While relatively tasteless, someone can do better by getting some protein into the product. There’s room for improvement and I’m sure it is being worked on. Looking forward to trying it out.
3. There’s one more cheese to discuss. GOOD PLANeT Foods is embracing the limited-edition, seasonal flavor trend with its cheese alternatives. Very smart! It’s a great entry point for consumers to the brand. The holiday flavor is White Cheddar and Cranberry and comes in Snackable Wedges and Smoked Wheels. However, there’s not much nutrition to speak of here either. Filtered water is the first ingredient, followed by coconut oil, sunflower oil and modified food starch. Chickpea protein is part of the formulation, but not enough to even register a gram per serving.
What make this product different than the Baby Bel product is that it’s a seasonal flavor. Most consumers are not thinking about protein content when grazing on a cheese board.
“Consumers are looking for new ways to enjoy plant-based foods, and these festive, seasonal flavors provide this,” said Bart Adlam, co-CEO at GOOD PLANeT Foods. “We will continue to create unique offerings that bring the joy of cheese to all.”
To play in the plant-based cheese space, my suggestion is to not try to mimic what’s already established, unless it’s darn good. The smarter option, in my opinion, is to offer it in a new format or a limited-edition flavor.
4. I am the biggest fan of limited-edition and seasonal products. They create an urgency to purchase. It is an important space to play in and a great entry point into plant-based products.
Califia Farms added Pumpkin Spice Oat Barista to its fall fluid lineup, joining returning seasonal favorites Pumpkin Spice Latte and Pumpkin Spice Almondmilk Creamer.
“We’re thrilled to introduce our new Pumpkin Spice Oat Barista, which gives oat milk fans an easy way to froth up their favorite seasonal oat lattes at home,” said Suzanne Ginestro, chief marketing officer at Califia Farms. “With the launch of Pumpkin Spice Oat Barista, Califia brings yet another reason to celebrate the season with a full variety of yummy plant-based options to make all types of seasonal coffee-house drinks at home.”
5. Let’s end with my thoughts on frozen desserts. Accolades go out to the 100% plant-based, flavor-forward global food brand Wicked Kitchen. The company recently launched a plant-based collection of ice creams and novelties made with the lupini bean, a first-to-market product in the U.S. Founded by chefs and brothers Derek Sarno and Chad Sarno, Wicked Kitchen helped ignite the plant-based movement in the U.K., the number-one vegan market globally.
The pint-size ice creams come in four flavors: Chocolate, Cookie Dough, Mint Chocolate Chip and Vanilla. The novelties include Berry White Sticks, which is sweet vanilla plant-based ice cream with a berry sauce swirl and white-chocolate flavored coating with red berry pieces. The Chocolate Almond Sticks are sweet vanilla plant-based ice cream with toasted almond pieces and a chocolate-flavored coating. Chocolate Red Berry Cones feature sweet vanilla plant-based ice cream with red berry sauce and chocolate chips in a gluten-free maize cone. The frozen treats join the brand’s more than 200 products across 15 categories.
Why accolades to Wicked Kitchen? Because it established itself as a brand and sat back and waited to develop a consumer base in the U.S., at the same time it perfected its frozen dessert formula.
Five very different approaches to playing in the plant-based space. Is one of them right for you?
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