This report from the University of Oxford’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment explores the rapid growth of corporate involvement in the alternative proteins sector, and argues that corporate-led innovation can be a major contributor to emissions reductions.
The report defines alternative protein as including plant-based meat and dairy analogues, cellular agriculture products, and functional molecules produced by precision fermentation. The alternative protein sector is growing rapidly, particularly in North America, Europe and Israel. In the US, sales of plant-based meat passed US$1bn in 2020, although still only accounting for 1% of overall meat sales. Plant-based milks account for 14% of total US milk sales.
Venture capital investment in alternative protein startups has grown over the decade leading up to 2020, finds the report, as shown in the figure below.
Image: Figure 1, Money and Cottee. The rightmost column covers only the first seven months of 2020.
This report focuses on investment made by established food companies, as opposed to startups. The researchers analysed the activities of the 106 companies listed in the Coller FAIRR Company Universe, using sustainability reports and internet searches. The companies span 29 countries, including 26% from the US, 12% from China and 11% from the UK.
Of the companies analysed, 38% launched a new alternative protein product in 2016-2020, mostly plant-based meat and dairy analogues. Other corporate activities in the alternative protein sector include acquiring existing companies, investing in startups or venture capital funds, and supporting acceleration programmes. The figure below shows the growth in the number of analysed companies that have been active in alternative proteins between 2016 and 2020.
Image: Figure 3, Money and Cottee.
Note that there is some overlap between companies identified in this report as investing in alternative proteins (see Appendix 1, p22 of the report for company profiles) and those identified in the paper “The climate responsibilities of industrial meat and dairy producers” as having not made a Net Zero climate commitment (see this table for a summary). Companies falling into both of these categories include NH Foods, Minerva, Fonterra and Tyson.
Read the full report, Bull Market? Corporate Venturing and Alternative Proteins, here or here (PDF link). See also the Table explainer How can we reduce food-related greenhouse gas emissions?