Precision fermentation projected to unlock environmental gains and spearhead food tech
09 Mar 2023 --- Consumer perceptions toward new food technology innovations are shifting with a recent study revealing that over three-quarters (77%) are likely to purchase products made with ingredients produced via precision fermentation. Younger generations in particular are seeking new ways to reduce their environmental impact by changing the way they eat and are demonstrating a willingness to dive into food tech.
The survey, conducted by The Hartman Group and commissioned by Perfect Day and Cargill, found that “40% of adult consumers are ready to give precision fermentation a try or can be easily brought into the fold with information about benefits.”
Based on this and other findings, the report, entitled “Fermenting the Future: The Growing Opportunity for Products Made with Precision Fermentation,” projects that the US precision fermentation market will grow to 132 million adults by 2027.
The report surveyed a sample of 2,519 US-based adults from September to November 2022.
Brewing up a storm
Precision fermentation, which uses enhanced yeast or micro-organisms to convert minerals or plant matter into proteins or other useful ingredients, has a minimal environmental impact. The process is gaining popularity as a sustainable means of food production.
As consumers increasingly choose products that align with their moral and ethical values, the report finds that precision fermentation’s environmental benefit is proving a huge draw.
It found that over half of consumers (61%) are “comfortable with science and technology in our food system as a climate change solution” and that three in five Americans believe science and technology can make food more sustainable.
Crucially, over half (52%) of Americans said they are “willing to drastically change their lifestyle to be more environmentally friendly.”
“The data validates that most Americans share our mission to create a kinder and greener future and that consumers are open to learning more about the positive impacts this will have on the environment,” says Allison Fowler, CMO of Perfect Day.
“Our research found nearly three-quarters of consumers view traditional farming methods as the ideal, but they also recognize science and technology are our best hope to address looming issues like food security and climate change,” Carla Saunders, senior marketing manager at Cargill, tells FoodIngredientsFirst.
“It’s this mounting awareness and urgency around the challenges facing our food system that are propelling increased interest and acceptance of science and technology in food.”
Young appetites driving change
The study finds that Millennials and Gen Z are the consumers most likely to be early adopters of any form of food innovation.
Over half (60%) of Millennials and Gen Z (55%) said they will “actively seek out food and beverage products from companies that prioritize sustainability and animal welfare.” Upon further learning about the precision fermentation process, “85% of Millennials and 84% of Gen Z say they would be likely to purchase products containing ingredients made with it.”
A similar study by Swiss chocolate manufacturer Barry Callebaut found that Millennials and Gen Z are actively searching for plant-based foods. Gen Z, in particular, is noted for being driven by climate-friendly motives, according to natural colors supplier GNT Group.
“This research revealed an acceleration of the trends that we’ve been following in the food industry,” says Laurie Demeritt, CEO of The Hartman Group.
“The data indicates we’re at the precipice of a watershed moment in food technology, and it’s an exciting time for those of us who study consumers to see how rapidly their behaviors and aspirations are evolving.”
Mark Fahlin, Cargill's business development manager, is excited about what this trend means for the precision fermentation process.
“While the use of precision fermentation to create ingredients has been around for decades, the ways in which fermentation is now being used are generating a lot of the recent buzz,” he says.
“For many decades, fermentation has been used to make ingredients, from Vitamin C to dairy cultures to citric acid, but it’s not widely known. However, I think that’s about to change, and consumers are going to start learning more about all that these ingredients can do.”
The also emphasizes the need to “Connect with young consumers now — particularly Gen Z — to help them understand the value of precision fermentation” and “Prioritize formulating “clean” products with shorter, simpler ingredient lists and comparable, if not superior, health and nutritional benefits, when possible.”
These trends align with Innova Market Insights Top Ten Trends for 2023, placing “Redefining Value” first, whereby despite a tightening of the belts in times of economic turbulence, consumers still remain determined to sample new experiences, ensure personal well-being and support planetary health.
Similarly, other trends from the market researcher include “Generational Push,” where for Gen Z and Millennials, food and brand choices are essential signifiers of lifestyle, beliefs and value. Similarly, “Farming the Future,” highlights how today’s consumer is increasingly invested in the source of food as it ties in with major global concerns of health, sustainability and waste.
The report continues to note that to ensure the adoption of precision fermentation, “reassuring consumers on safety and taste will be key,”
“Overall, for new products made with ‘innovative methods,’ consumers rank taste (67%) above safety (62%) as table-stakes issues,” says the report. “However, for precision fermentation, safety (60%) is just as crucial as taste (59%).”
Similarly, consumers are keen to balance wellness benefits for both the environment and themselves, as the report highlights that “The most compelling value proposition lies at the intersection of ‘good for me’ and ‘good for society.’”
Recommendations for the future
As the report notes, now is a “pivotal moment for tech-forward foods,” it makes specific recommendations toward progressing and solidifying precision fermentation as a technology the F&B industry can leverage in a competitive and sustainable manner.
“Ensure consumers clearly understand the ‘why’ behind innovations,” notes the report, recommending producers “Align products and brands with the values underlying consumers’ ideals of ‘natural’ food: connection, care, simplicity, stewardship, resilience.”
The report also recommends tapping into consumer demands for innovation in taste, suggesting producers “explore opportunities for innovative flavors, formats, and experiences that offer novelty, excitement and discovery.”
This report comes on the heels of news earlier this month of the launch of the Precision Fermentation Alliance (PFA), an industry group formed to promote and build awareness of the process for consumers, industry and governments.
The PFA consists of Perfect Day, Change Foods, Every, Helaina, Imagindairy, Motif, New Culture, Onego Bio and Remilk.
Fermentation is proving to be a useful means of efficiently producing ingredients which are harder to manage, notes Saunders.
“On the ingredients side, we've really just begun to explore how to fully leverage fermentation technology to produce ingredients that are difficult to source using plants,” she says.
“For ingredients available in limited quantities through traditional agronomic approaches, fermentation allows us to produce them more efficiently, more affordably and more sustainably,”
In other developments, US-based The Live Green Company is building a precision fermentation division set to replace animal, synthetic and ultra-processed ingredients with plant-based alternatives.
Last January, FrieslandCampina Ingredients announced its partnership with Triplebar Bio to develop and scale up the production of cell-based proteins via the technology.
Various start-ups are using precision fermentation to find a sustainable alternative to palm oil as accelerator programs increasingly turn to start-ups as the solution for combating climate change.
By James Davies
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