If alt protein companies want to increase sales, they have to stop marketing to vegans, says Kimberlie Le, CEO and co-founder of Prime Roots, makers of koji-based alternative proteins.
“There has to be a mindset shift within the industry to say ‘We’re not making products for vegans or vegetarians; we’re making products for meat eaters.’”
Le spoke on shifting consumer behavior at the Fermentation-Enabled Alternative Protein Innovation Summit. She sees the industry’s greatest risk is the perception that its products are just for vegans. Companies are expecting consumers to make huge lifestyle changes, rather than encouraging flexitarians – a vegetarian who still eats meat occasionally – to make mealtime swaps between traditional and alt meat. A whopping 79% of Prime Roots customers do not identify as vegan. A Yale study found 94% of Americans are willing to eat more plants, and 55% are willing to eat more alt meat.
“We really want to make a product an experience that’s catered to meat eaters and encourages simple swaps,” Le says. “Our biggest impact on the planet will be convincing the meat eaters to try our product.”
Critical Sensory Experiences
In the U.S., 10% of greenhouse gas emissions are from agriculture. About 39 calories are required for just 1 calorie of beef.
“There’s not enough resources in the world to sustain our collective love of meat,” Le adds. “I think of a cow or an animal as really outdated technology.”
But alt food companies won’t win appetites on sustainability alone.
As alternative proteins become more widely accepted, companies must “crack flavor and crack texture.” Diners want alt meat to mimic the taste and feel of animal meat.
“There are way more bad products on the market than good products today,” Le says. “If a meat eater eats a bad plant-based product, that will sour their whole perception of plant-based products.You only have one shot as a brand, one shot as a product and you could even say one shot as an industry.”
Making Alternative Meat the Conventional Choice
Le points out innovation is lacking in the alternative protein space. It’s oversaturated with nuggets and burgers. Prime Roots is currently pausing their operations while they develop more appealing products. Their koji-based bacon — sold via online subscription — was a big seller.
“It is a shame there is still a lack of innovation in terms of the actual types or proteins,” she says. “As a meat eater, a lot of the products don’t appeal to me. They’re very plant-like.”
“One of our missions as a company is to make alternative meats conventional,” Le says. “I do believe there’s a day when that will be flipped.”