“There’s an urgent need to change the way we eat and look at alternative proteins that are better for your health and the planet,” according to Dr Peter Hynes, head of R&D at The Meatless Farm Company. And he’s not alone in that view. Over the past few years, the sector has seen exponential growth, making it the talk of the food industry.
To put things in perspective, the global plant-based market is expected to be worth more than $7bn (£5.3bn) by the end of 2025, according to the company – so opportunities are rife. And The Meatless Farm is one of the companies at the forefront of these burgeoning opportunities.
The company was founded in 2016 by Morten Toft Bech, driven by the need to create a more sustainable future for the food industry. It has at its disposal a team of chefs and nutritionists, who create, healthy and easy-to-cook options for consumers looking to reduce their meat consumption.
The Meatless Farm has seen incredible growth since its inception in 2016, with listings across the UK, including Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Co-op. The company has also expanded its international portfolio, with exports to the US, Ireland, Sweden, Hong Kong, Canada and the UAE. Having launched into Whole Foods Market stores across the US last summer, the company is looking to drive global market growth, alongside competitor brands Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods.
Greater NPD focus
The appointment of Hynes, who has significant experience in R&D (see box) has come about as a result of this drive and he has been charged to deliver a greater focus on NPD as the market continues to evolve. The British company has also made a number of other senior hires, most recently appointing Lone Thomsen as chief marketing officer.
Thomsen joined from The Coca-Cola Company and, in her new role, is instrumental to the company’s international expansion and helping to drive strategic growth. But new plans are afoot with Hynes behind the R&D wheel.
“The first part of our new drive is looking at our existing products – so burgers, mince and sausages,” he says. “We will certainly not be resting on our laurels in that department.
“Improvements are already underway and we are looking to get those out there as soon as we can. There is always more we can do in terms of flavour and texture. As we know, the competition is extremely fierce.”
The company’s aim is to improve the breadth of its products to cover white meats and other forms of snacks.
“We will look to consider things like chicken nuggets or hot dogs,” explains Hynes. “It would not be possible to just stay still with our original three offerings.”
‘Creeping tide of vegan propaganda’
It is easy to see why The Meatless Farm is not shy about its ambitious plans as well. While the plant-based sector is seeing rising popularity, it is also facing stiff pushback from the meat industry, which is feeling the negative effects of people moving to a more varied diet. Most recently, in December, the Association of Independent Meat Suppliers described a “creeping tide of vegan propaganda promoted in some parts of the media”.
However, many meat processors have acknowledged the threat of plant-based products to its margins, with some firms – such as pork processor Cranswick – now beginning to offer their own meat-free offerings.
This only increases the need for innovation and information for consumers, according to Hynes. “There is a need for a backlog of products that we have always been looking at,” he explains “But my role – regardless of what others are doing – is working out what best suits our brand. What is the one that will land well in the market and not just be another product on the shelf that we have seen from our competitors?”
So, how does a firm like The Meatless Farm stay ahead in a sector that some have suggested is nearing saturation? One area is ingredients sourcing. As more firms seek to gain an edge, this has become another facet of competition for the sector, chiefly to ensure its sustainability.
Producing for human consumption
“Take pea protein, for example,” says Hynes. “You are always going to be able to grow more peas than [the level of protein that] can be accessed from one animal, but there is work to be done. We need to work with farmers and governments to provide the agriculture to be producing that can be used for human consumption rather than just animal consumption.
“It is always going to be a more sustainable option than meat. If you look along the supply chain and take our proteins as an example, the supply and demand for the raw materials going into those is obviously growing, so it is something we have [to keep] a keen eye on.
“The type of protein will change. At the moment, soya is used heavily, but it is an allergen, so the need to look elsewhere is paramount. Being mindful of where we will obtain those raw materials will be a key focus.”
Currently, all of The Meatless Farm’s products sold in the UK are made in the UK, at its factory in Nottingham. The firm uses ingredients such as pea, soya and rice proteins to create its existing line of products.
And Hynes believes part of his role at the firm is to ensure the company remains future-proofed going forward.
“The market we are aiming for doesn’t just include targeting vegans,” he says. “Obviously, we are faced with other health challenges beyond that, such as avoiding e-numbers and having as clean a label as possible.
“Going forward, there will be more of a drive towards supporting human health as well as environmental health. With this comes more scrutiny into what our products contain – people most definitely should not assume that plant-based necessarily means healthy. And this will be ours and the wider industry’s challenge in 2020 and beyond.”
CV at a glance
Dr Peter Hynes has more than 11 years’ experience in the R&D sector, having worked for various fast-moving consumer goods and medical companies, including Smith & Nephew, Taylors of Harrogate and Reckitt Benckiser.
He spent six years at industry giant Unilever, where he was a lead in a range of functions including processing, consumer insights, competitor intelligence and NPD.
Hynes also has a PhD in organic chemistry from The University of Manchester, which will be key in driving The Meatless Farm Company’s plant-based offering across the on- and off-trade sectors.