A new accelerator is set to boost the Australian meat-free meat sector — an industry that is at a “tipping point” on a local and global scale.
PlantForm is a manufacturing accelerator program for businesses creating plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy products.
Headed up by co-founder and investment advisor Allen Zelden, PlantForm is intended to help startups and emerging brands in the alternative protein space to grow and scale, ultimately bringing more meat-free options to the Aussie market.
Adoption of plant-based food is “at an exciting tipping point,” Zelden tells SmartCompany.
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There’s more capital than ever flowing into the sector, he added, but a large bulk of that is used on research and development, and on building new manufacturing capabilities.
And while the sector is booming, it is still in its infancy, he adds. There’s a “critical need” to continue fuelling the ecosystem, in order to maintain the momentum.
PlantForm will aim to drive change by supporting early-stage innovation and agile manufacturing, and help businesses access growth opportunities.
“Australia is now primed to take its rightful place on the global plant-based stage,” Zelden adds.
Investors hungry for plant-based meat
This is just the latest in a string of announcements by plant-based meat startups in Australia.
V2food, the plant-based meat startup founded out of CSIRO, this week revealed it is launching a range of ‘chicken’ to add to its offerings of meat-free burgers, mince and sausages, while US industry giant Impossible Foods has launched in 800 Woolies stores across Australia.
Elsewhere, Aussie burger chain Grill’d has also opened two ‘Impossibly Grill’d’ fully meat-free restaurants, featuring Impossible Burgers and Fable’s ‘meaty mushroom’ burgers.
In February, Melbourne-founded Change Foods announced a $16.9 million add-on to its seed funding round, bringing the total raise to $21.5 million.
Now based in the US, Change Foods uses fermentation technology to create the kinds of proteins found in cheese, without the need for a cow. It has also signed strategic collaboration agreements with Upfield, a leader in plant-based butters, creams and cheeses, and with vegan cheese company Violife.
In fact, February saw several funding announcements from Aussie plant-based protein startups.
Fenn Foods, which makes Veef alternative beef and chicken products, raised $3 million; Eighth Day Foods raised a $1 million in seed funding to scale up supply of its lupin-based protein source for other manufacturers; and All G Foods announced a ‘multi-million dollar’ investment from Woolworths Groups W23 fund.
What’s the beef?
Despite all the activity in the sector, plant-based meat businesses are also facing challenges.
Last month, a Senate enquiry recommended alternative ‘meat’ products should not use animal words such as ‘beef’ or ‘chicken’, or pictures of animals on their packaging.
In a statement, Senator Susan McDonald, who led the enquiry, said consumers were “confused” by some plant-based food packaging.
Labelling should “clearly differentiate between plant proteins and products long associated with coming from animals,” she added.
The Committee recommended that Food Standards Australia New Zealand review its rules around allowing meat and dairy alternatives to use “animal descriptors”, and called on the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to “act on concerns plant proteins are too close to animal proteins in stores”.
More stringent labelling requirements run the risk of stifling growth in the plant-based meat sector, Zelden says.
“For language to be effective, it needs to evoke benefits and values,” he explains.
Removing animal-related words and images “can only translate to lost opportunities for the growing number of consumers actively seeking to reduce their meat-intake”.
He believes we’re in the midst of a “transformation of our global food system from the ground up”.
Changing the way we eat is a way to combat climate change, he notes.
These are businesses trying to move the needle, “which is why it’s vital to empower entrepreneurs and food brands of the future”.