Dec 22 2022

Jordan Giali

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The following post is a 2022 recap for the alternative protein industry and XPRIZE Feed the Next Billion. If you’re just tuning in, XPRIZE Feed the Next Billion is a multi-year competition to develop structured, whole-cut chicken and fish alternatives to transition our global food system away from animal slaughter towards one based on animal welfare, human health, and environmental sustainability. To learn more about this competition and how it got started, be sure to check out our post from last year.

Ah, the end-of-year blog post. The merriest post of the year! In our case, the trickiest post, as well, since there are so many wonderful things to celebrate.

In fact, 2022 has been a remarkable year for the alternative protein industry. Several milestones were reached, and we’re proud that many of these accomplishments came from our Semifinalist Teams.

Over in South Africa, MeatOurFuture became the first company ever to produce cultivated chicken – not just in the country – but in the entire African continent.

Meanwhile, in Austria, Revo Foods held its first public tasting of a 3D-printed, plant-based, whole-cut salmon filet. This is on top of commercializing their unstructured products in more than 20 different countries.

GOOD Meat had several wins: in Singapore, they launched a cultivated chicken satay at local hawker stalls and a neighborhood butcher shop – both firsts for the world. In the U.S., they also announced a new partnership with ABEC to develop the world’s largest bioreactors (250,000 liters) for animal cell culturing.

A similar milestone was reached in The Netherlands, where ENOUGH completed construction of one of the world’s largest plant-based protein production facilities. The site is 160,000 square feet and can today produce 22 million pounds of product. By 2027, it will have a capacity of 132 million pounds per year, which, according to the company, is “equivalent to growing one cow’s worth of protein every two minutes.”

What a time to be alive! And these are only just a few of the accomplishments our Teams and others in the industry have made during 2022 – we’ll need a whole other post just to cover the full list! Clearly, breakthroughs are happening and we’re getting closer to meeting the world’s growing demand for protein in a sustainable, healthy, and humane way.

Despite these recent developments, however, some wonder if the alt-protein industry is languishing. In recent months, several headlines have questioned the future of plant-based meat, citing stagnant sales growth along with poor performance from a certain publicly traded company.

Healthy skepticism is a good thing, but betting against plant-based meat and other alt-protein technologies seems shortsighted. While sales of plant-based meat were flat in 2021 compared to 2020 (the most complete datasets), the broader trend is clearly heading up and to the right.

It’s also important to note that, at $1.4 billion, 2020/2021 were record-breaking years for plant-based meat sales in the U.S. This is remarkable, as it means more people than ever tried plant-based meat during that period (18% and 19% of households purchased plant-based meat in 2020 and 2021, respectively). More people than ever were willing to try something new, to give up animal-based meat and see what the other side tastes like. The fact that so many consumers were willing to take that leap is a powerful sign of progress, not a foreshadowing of demise.  

Recent industry performance is really just high-quality consumer feedback which, in short, sums up to this: we’re not there yet. Many consumers went back to conventional meat because the alternatives are still lacking in taste, texture, price, and nutrition.[1] To win people over and sustain their loyalty, it’s crucial that we match conventional meat in these core aspects.  

So, there’s still a lot of work to be done but that’s OK. In fact, we at XPRIZE anticipate that the industry will unfold and mature over a really long time – most likely several more years for certain technologies (plant-based, fermentation-derived meat), and perhaps even decades for others (cultivated meat) – before products are widely accepted.

With this long-term view of the future, we still maintain a sense of urgency. We need to do the necessary work now to reach that ideal food system of the future. This won’t magically appear one day ­– it will be built day after day, month after month, and year after year by the Teams in our competition and several others working in different parts of the industry.

Through this competition, XPRIZE is playing a direct role in building that future. We’re galvanizing Teams to accelerate the development of the fundamental technology that can produce meat alternatives on par with conventional options. Through this competition, Teams will tackle not just one, but all of the major challenges of taste, texture, nutrition, environmental sustainability, and economic feasibility.

In February 2023, we will host our Semifinalist Testing Summit to perform a thorough evaluation of how well the Teams are performing in these aspects.[2] At this Summit, Semifinalist Teams will complete a battery of analytical tests for food safety, texture, nutrition, and ‘cookability.’ They will also be tasked with quantifying the actual environmental impact of their production processes in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, land use footprint, and water and power usage. Likewise, the economic feasibility of their processes will be assessed to gauge if these products are on track to reach price parity with conventional meat. The final assessment will come in the form of a live taste test where the independent Judging Panel will assess the sensory properties (taste, smell, mouthfeel, etc.) of these products.

An assessment process of this rigor across so many trailblazing companies has never been done before, and it will help propel the industry past the hurdles already mentioned.

Of course, technological innovation is one thing, and government regulation is another. But in 2022, real progress was made in terms of regulatory approval for these novel food products. In September, the Biden Administration announced an unprecedented executive order to increase federal funding for the biotechnology industry (including food technology). What was especially significant about this was the President’s explicit mention of cultivated meat technology. To quote the President himself: “We’re also looking to improve food security and drive agricultural innovation, including through new technologies that protect crops from disease, enhance seeds and fertilizers and foods made with cultured animal cells.”

In Berkeley, UPSIDE Foods received a ‘no questions asked’ letter from the FDA – a first for the U.S., and the second globally.[3] To reach full governmental approval for sale to consumers, UPSIDE will now have to clear an inspection and labeling process from the USDA.

And other countries around the world also made progress on the regulatory front, which we explored earlier this year in an exclusive three-part webinar series focused on cultivated meat regulation in the following regions: Asia-Pacific, North & South America, and the European Union & United Kingdom. From what we’ve seen, several governments are taking serious and thoughtful steps towards getting these products to market while keeping safety top of mind.       

Perhaps what’s best about 2022 is that it’s only the beginning! The accomplishments we saw this year are the result of years (decades, in some cases) of hard work, collaboration, and an unwavering commitment to long-term vision. Likewise, the investments, initiatives, and other activities happening now will pay massive dividends in the future if we can maintain that perspective.

So, here’s to staying focused on that vision for the future! Wishing you a happy holiday season and a fantastic New Year!

-The XPRIZE Feed the Next Billion Team

[1] Price is a tricky problem to tackle in this industry. At a fundamental level, it depends on how lean and operationally efficient alternative protein companies can get. This becomes complicated by market distortions like government subsidies for conventional animal agriculture. Other, more transitory issues have to do with inflation and supply chain problems caused by Russia’s senseless war against Ukraine. It’s important to keep all this in mind when thinking about the future of alternative meat.

[2] Because the Semifinalist Testing Summit is focused on the objective measurement of Team products, it will be closed to the public, with results made available afterward. The Finalist Testing Summit will be held in 2024 and will be a public event for all to attend.

[3] Singapore was the first country in the world to grant limited approval for cultivated meat consumption in 2020 to GOOD Meat.

“Feed the Next Billion is entering a key stage: up to 10 teams will be selected from the semi-finalist cohort – a fierce competition of 25 promising future food competitors. Best of luck to all the participants; we’re looking forward to seeing your submissions!” – Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed, KBW Ventures

"2022 has been an active year for the alternative protein sector, with many highs and lows. We are ending the year on a high with the FDA’s No Questions designation for UPSIDE Foods’ chicken product, which is a major milestone for the entire cultivated meat sector and one of the most important moments for the alternative protein industry to date. Going into 2023, I’m excited about the next stage of XPRIZE Feed the Next Billion, as the competition also reaches an important milestone – the testing and judging of semi-finalists. With 25 promising teams and rigorous testing criteria, it’s set to be a tough competition with the potential for many breakthroughs!” – Rosie Wardle, Synthesis Capital


Special Thank You

We want to give a special thank you to our Sponsors, ASPIRE, The Tony Robbins Foundation, and a third donor that wish to remain anonymous at this time.

Thank you as well to our Advisory Board, Judging Panel, and network of Partners who support the prize in various ways.

Most of all, thank you to our incredible Teams who are working tirelessly to pull the future forward – you are the true heroes of our time.

Want to Get Involved with XPRIZE Feed the Next Billion?

If you’re pumped about alt-protein and want to stay updated on our progress, be sure to sign up for our newsletter.

If you're extra serious about food systems sustainability and want to get involved with the prize in a more hands-on way, reach out to us at [email protected]

We’re always looking to partner with mission-driven organizations and individuals who align with our values of human health, animal welfare, and environmental sustainability.

A few areas of particular interest to us next year will be:

  • Product Development: If you provide inputs or supporting functions for the food technology industry such as bioreactors, ingredients, or market research we want to hear from you.
  • Novel Food Regulatory Approval: As mentioned above, regulatory approval is crucial to the successful commercialization of these sustainable, alternative meat products. We're looking for regulatory partners (governmental and private) who can assist with navigating the approval process. This is a global problem we're trying to solve, so all countries and regions are of interest.
  • Events & Storytelling: We also want to help educate consumers about what cultivated, plant-based, and fermentation-derived proteins are, how these products are better for the environment, and what people can do to get involved. Media outlets and event organizers (including those from the conventional food industry) are encouraged to contact us.

Jordan Giali