Curious about the future of food and what you can expect not only for your taste buds but for the impact on the environment, animals, workers, health, and more? The Good Food Conference is the place to be.
I had the pleasure of attending The 2019 Good Food Conference. The nearly-endless samples of plant-based food felt like enough of a reason to attend alone. But, I’m truly excited for what’s next when it comes to plant-based and cell-based meat as well as our food system as a whole.
Here are my biggest takeaways.
We’ve hit the tipping point
It’s no secret that plant-based foods have been around for decades. But a major change of late: plant-based foods going mainstream. Suddenly, the big guys both in retail grocery as well as food service are investing heavily in the plant-based market while more and more startups launch.
The buzziest news in the room was still Beyond Meat’s hugely-successful 2019 IPO. One panelist pointed out that there had been only a handful of food company IPOs in recent decades. Bucking this trend with a plant-based food company is nothing short of exciting.
Kroger, the largest grocer in the U.S., announced on stage that they’re launching a line of plant-based meats and other foods under their Simple Truth brand. Products like plant-based burgers, queso, and cookie dough will be hitting Kroger stores this fall.
With so many large companies getting involved in plant-based foods in a variety of ways, it’s hard to see the trend slowing down anytime soon.
Taste matters most
Plant-based food advocates (like me) love to tout the benefits of choosing these foods over animal-based options. Plant-based foods are often better for human health, the environment, and animal welfare (all very important things). But several food-industry panelists noted: there’s no room for compromise for flavor and taste with plant-based foods.
As Chuck Muth, Chief Growth Officer of Beyond Meat, put it: being negative on meat is simply not a great way for Beyond and other companies to market their foods. Plant-based foods need to taste delicious in addition to all the other benefits they provide.
Another panelist (apologies but I cannot remember exactly who) noted that we not only need to make plant-based foods that taste good, they need to be “craveable.”
As a plant-based eater, plant-based foods are getting there (though I’m clearly biased). For more meat eaters to adopt plant-based foods, the industry needs to come as close as possible or even exceed the flavor and enjoyment of eating animal products.
Exciting food startups coming next
While tons of exciting plant-based products have already hit the market, everyone is still hungry for what will come next. The Good Food Conference featured six startup pitches that gave us a glimpse.
Rebellyous Foods Founder and CEO Christie Lagally focused on making a delicious, plant-based chicken nugget at prices equal to the “real” thing with better nutrition. This could certainly be a game-changer as many consumers are turned off by the current premium prices on plant-based foods and (sometimes) inferior taste.
Sri Artham of Hooray Foods spoke about taking on plant-based bacon. The most exciting aspect of Hooray Foods’ bacon: how much it looks like bacon from a pig. He highlighted some of the current plant-based competition in his slides, showing how little existing plant-based bacon products resemble the real thing compare to Hooray’s version.
As someone who considers tempeh one of the most underrated and underutilized plant-based proteins, I was very excited about Better Nature’s pitch. I’m convinced they’re onto accomplishing their goal of getting tempeh to the masses while also developing other healthy meat alternatives.
Karana’s pitch focused on jackfruit and making it delicious. I chuckled when moderator Brian Cooley of CNET CBS Interactive remarked that jackfruit often looks tasty but then everyone thinks it sorta sucks. I’m in total agreement and excited to try a tastier version of jackfruit from Karana.
While all presenters played up the technology to some degree, NOVAMEAT’s was maybe the most stunning. Using a technique called “bioprinting,” I watched in amazement as NOVAMEAT CEO and Founder Giuseppe Scionti showed footage of printing out a steak and then grilling and eating it.
Equally impressive, Ecovative Director of Marketing Andy Bass showed off how they’ve created technology to use mycelium as the structure to create whole cuts of plant-based meats that mimic the real thing.
As much as I’m excited to see more and more plant-based products hit grocery store shelves, the technology and innovation showcased by these startups made me wonder what could be possible.
Seafood is just getting started
I’ll begin with this: if you’re plant-based, who isn’t excited about vegan sushi?!
Several panelists noted that there’s still a lot of room for alternative seafood technology and that hopefully more companies will launch to join the revolution.
There was plenty of excitement off the main stage at The Good Food Conference too.
Eclipse wowed everyone with their plant-based ice cream during one break.
JUST went all out, teaming up with Beyond to serve a Just Egg and Beyond Sausage brunch.
Moringstar Farms, on the heels of their 2019 announcement to go fully plant-based by 2021, provided plenty of great treats during the breaks as well as lunch. As one of the plant-based OG’s, I’m excited to see what role Morningstar plays in getting more plant-based food in stores across the country. And as presenting sponsor, they were a large part of making this conference possible.
And finally, on the policy front, Tofurky President and CEO Jaime Athos spoke about filing lawsuits against new laws in Arkansas and Missouri regarding labeling plant-based foods as meat. I applaud Tofurky for taking on this legal challenge to maintain freedom for Americans to choose which foods they have access to without restriction from unjust laws created to protect certain industries.
Still a lot of work to do
After living in a world of plant-based food for several days, it’s easy to forget that these foods only make up a small fraction of the foods currently consumed. This is only the beginning, and there’s A TON of work ahead. That said, it’s hard not to be optimistic about the future of food. I can’t wait to see (and taste) what’s next.