CHICAGO — The Illinois Soybean Association checkoff program recently hosted more than 20 attendees to its Chicago office for industry leaders to address emerging and alternative protein markets.

The Insights Summit explored diverse perspectives about why alternative protein markets are receiving increased attention, potential marketplace opportunities and challenges and what it means for the future of the agricultural industry.

“We continually review issues that may impact our industry to help producers stay profitable in a constantly changing marketplace,” said Lynn Rohrscheib, ISA chairwoman and Fairmount soybean farmer. “The event shed light on the future of alternative proteins and will help us understand how ISA can assist soybean producers with staying competitive.”

Bain & Co.’s Andrew Keech, manager in the agriculture and sustainability practice, and David Shaddick, partner in the private equity and industrials practice, shared data on explosive growth, media coverage and increase in stock that alternative protein markets are experiencing.

“In the next 30 years, alternative proteins have the potential to take a significant share of the traditional meat market in the United States. Plant-based meat alternatives could reach up to a 25 percent share of the U.S. meat market by 2030,” Keech said.

Alternative proteins are at a cost disadvantage today, but potential exists for production at costs similar to ground beef as producers gain scale and experience.

Alternative proteins may become an affordable, more environmentally friendly option to animal protein in the eyes of consumers and make the marketplace more competitive, note Keech and Shaddick. Consumer attitudes and trends toward being sustainable and healthy are the biggest drivers for quick growth.

Consumer Trends

Marianne Smith Edge, dietitian and founder of The AgriNutrition Edge, looked in-depth at the nutritional value of key emerging protein markets.

“Alternative proteins have experienced rapid growth partially due to consumer perceptions that plant-based diets are a healthier option compared to animal-based protein,” Smith Edge said.

“However, this is not always the case. Some of the options currently available on the market are high in protein but also contain a list of more than 20 ingredients and a similar saturated fat content compared to animal meat.”

Attendees discussed whether alternative proteins are health or hype and talked about animal welfare, the focus of Gen Z and Gen Y and how consumers may face a tradeoff over values when choosing protein sources.

Smith Edge believes taste and price will remain top drivers.

“Taste is more important to older consumers while price is more important to younger ones, and the importance of taste has continued to increase since 2018,” she said.

“There’s a generational shift from what was popular and considered healthy 50 years ago compared to now. Many consumers grew up with a traditional beef and potatoes diet and now there is a lot more variety. That adds an opportunity for additional conversations,” said Jayma Appleby, ISA director of industry relations.

Market Shares

Kevin Zussman, vice president at Cultivian Sandbox, closed out the summit with his investment perspective. Zussman reviewed four categories of alternative proteins in the market: plant, insect, microbe and cell-based. Plant-based proteins have the largest growth and lead the marketplace.

“Right now, protein is a $1.4 trillion industry and those who have kept up with consumer trends are the ones who have seen an increase in market shares,” Zussman said.

When questioned what key qualities set alternative proteins apart from animal meat, Zussman noted, “I continually see these companies promoting their products that are grown with fewer resources than conventional meat, but with the same or similar nutrition profile.”

He also discussed factors driving the business model of various companies, such as consumer trends, Fortune 500 suppliers, costs and more.

“Alternative protein markets are growing rapidly, and they’re here to stay,” said ISA CEO Craig Ratajczyk. “There is a large amount of uncertainty for the future, but the impact is going to be felt by all facets of agriculture, especially corn and soybeans. Events like this help us to stay on the forefront of these shifting demands.”


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