Is New Zealand prepared for the future of protein?

12 June 2018 / Published in Business

Just how prepared is New Zealand for the future of alternative proteins? You’ve probably seen them on supermarket shelves – “meat” containing no actual meat, instead made from plants – or you’ve heard the news stories – burgers being grown by scientists.

This may seem like a niche market, but the statistics indicate that the trend is growing. A recent study by KPMG suggests meat substitutes are set to outpace meat sales.1 As discussed at the recent Te Hono conference in Auckland, alternative and bio-engineered proteins could be a major disruption to the New Zealand primary industries. 

“What makes this so disruptive is not that we now have a burger that a vegan will eat,” says speaker Kaila Colbin, New Zealand Ambassador for Singularity University. “It’s that we have a plant based burger that a meat eater will eat and be happy about it.”

The United States, currently taking 50% of our beef exports, is seeing alternative proteins grow at a rate of 4-10 times faster than conventional proteins.2 Meanwhile, the number of vegetarians, vegans, flexitarians and people just wanting “meatless days” is growing.

Plant based proteins aren’t the only challengers in this arena. In the past few years great strides have been made in bioengineered products. That is, genetically engineered food. Public response to genetically engineered food has been mixed, and if the idea of an egg grown in a test tube doesn’t sound appetising, what’s important to remember is that these companies are not targeting you. As Colbin notes, these products are intended for “industrial caterers who buy eggs by the thousands of kilos.”

“They need them to last longer on the shelf, be 100% salmonella free, and they need total certainty of supply. And they need them to brown nicely around the edges and taste more like egg. And they need them to be cheaper. And by every one of those metrics, the bioengineered product wins.”

It may seem like science fiction now, but the rate of change in these areas is exponential. When Mosa Meat grew their first laboratory beef burger in 2013, it cost around $300,000. In 2015, just two years later, another company Memphis Meats were producing grown meatballs at around $1,200. These may still be outside of your budget, but don’t expect them to stay that way for long.

Colbin suggests that for a technology to become ubiquitous, “the technology has to be ready, the regulatory environment has to be ready, the market appetite has to be ready and the investment environment has to be ready”. With the growing desire for alternative proteins alongside the investments companies such as Unilever, Ingredion and Givaudan have made into the production of meat substitutes, signs are pointing towards these products becoming more readily accepted.

“When those things start to come together, that’s when every bell and whistle should start going off for you that this stuff is going to go from nothing into everything.”

ASB is proud to partner with Te Hono, a collaboration of New Zealand business leaders, driving transformational change and innovation for the future success of our Primary Industry and agribusiness sectors.


1.    https://home.kpmg.com/content/dam/kpmg/nz/pdf/June/agri-agenda-2017-kpmg-nz.pdf

2.    https://beeflambnz.com/news-views/alternative-proteins-research-published


More articles from ASB