One of the guest speakers at Stanford was Pat Brown from Impossible Foods, a Silicon Valley-based start-up developing imitation meats and cheeses made entirely from plants.
Brown will tell you his plant-based hamburger patty uses 95% less land, 74% less water and creates 87% fewer greenhouse gas emissions than one from grass-fed beef. He believes Impossible Foods can make the world’s food system more sustainable by feeding the whole population on just 2% of the world’s land.
It would be a big mistake to think Impossible Foods is just going to be a lab-based food product for mainstream consumers. Brown has Michelin-star chefs working to create products for top restaurants, targeting premium consumers that like the sustainability story behind the product.
I think Impossible Foods demonstrates the tremendous challenge and opportunity for New Zealand among evolving food trends.
On one hand, there’s no question Brown’s plant-based meat is a threat to New Zealand’s operating model given the importance of meat and dairy exports to our economy.
But what about the opportunity in thinking about how we can partner with this type of innovation and get our share of the added value?
Designing a better future for New Zealand means reframing challenges or threats, such as plant-based proteins, as opportunities across the whole supply chain, alongside our legacy products.
This requires a bold, adaptive mindset and an industry working together to be in tune with our customers to know what they want as food trends evolve.
We can no longer produce products and then try to find a market; rather we need to produce for those markets.
A few years ago plant-based protein wasn’t on anyone’s lips. Now, at least in California, it’s on everyone’s. What’s the next big thing?
As we go after premium markets, New Zealand’s farming standards need to be the very best. We also need to be the best at telling our story to consumers. Afterall, we are not just selling them food or fibres; we are selling an experience associated with New Zealand.
And lastly, we must keep embracing technology. Playing to our strengths is easy, but change requires us to keep pushing into new areas and understanding how agritech, new nutrition and applied precision farming might help us address the big challenges around food and sustainability of our natural resources.
If we can do this, perhaps the future isn’t so stuffed after all.