Vegan Meat Alternatives
The market of meat substitutes is constantly growing, and it is now even involving major supermarket chains like Lidl who have recently launched The Next Level burger in some European countries. Other big companies, like Beyond Meat, went public with success, inspiring multinationals like Nestlé and Cargill to enter this specific market, even if they have mainly operated in the animal-by product industry so far. However, it is important to highlight the fact that there are many small and medium ethical businesses that are making the difference in the vegan meat market, creating new niches and largely investing in R&D.
When talking about food it is crucial to remember that every culture has its own traditional dishes. Most of the time, it is extremely difficult to create veganised versions, due to the lack of alternative ingredients. Although many vegan chefs and food lovers often provide excellent tips for vegan replacements, finding compromises that fits everyone’s expectations is not a cake walk. The ingredient list may be quite long, and the preparation may need a lot of time and skills. Although some supermarkets sell plausible alternatives, those who chose a healthy approach may not be satisfied with them, as this kind of food often contains a high amount of fats and emulsifiers. On top of that, a lot of vegans have decided not to buy plant-based products from companies involved in animal cruelty, be it cosmetic tests or meat production, as consumers would indirectly finance their unethical activities. At this point, one of the most interesting challenges seems to be the sustainable production of vegan meat and fish alternatives, which is also healthy and suitable for cooking a wide variety of dishes.
Vegan Italian Food and Meat
For instance, taking into account Italian traditional food, one of the most famous dishes worldwide is carbonara. Many chefs and food bloggers have proposed different vegan recipes so far, but one of the main difficulties consists in finding a suitable replacement of pancetta, the smocked cubes of meat similar to bacon. The solution seems to come from an Italian company called JOY Srl, the producer of the fake meat range Food Evoultion. Together with plant-based pancetta cubes, they also sell vegan chicken and beef chunks. The founder and CEO of JOY Srl, Alberto Musacchio, kindly decided to explain why they started this business and how they produce their vegan meat, focusing on the challenges as well as the characteristics that ethical consumers should consider before buying.
Why did you start this business?
‘I have been vegetarian for 40 years now and, together with my family, I have run a vegetarian restaurant and resort in the Umbria region since 1979. But we decided that this was not enough, since our activity was only accessible to a few people. We wanted to make the difference even in terms of numbers. Thanks to our experience, we could set up a business that allowed more people to make an ethical choice and we started producing high-quality meat substitutes accessible to everyone. Our activity also sums up our approach to the animal cause: we think that blaming others for not being vegan is highly counterproductive. Our experience taught us that proposing satisfactory alternatives to old and unsustainable habits is way more efficient.’
Which challenges did your company face?
‘If it is true that the fake meat market is constantly growing, it is also true that the main actors are big companies and multinationals. We had to find a way to be different, that is to say that we needed to create a new niche of products. We decided to focus on quality, sustainability and food culture, which means that we had to invest a huge amount of money into R&D. But unfortunately, it is still difficult for small companies to acquire new investors, even when they have the most technological machineries and production processes. Sometimes we feel like there is a big discrepancy between trend and sustainability.’
What makes your products different from the others?
‘Following many academic case studies, especially by the University of Groningen, we decided to make a massive investment by equipping our facilities with innovative machinery for High-Moisture Extrusion. This means that we are able to process plant proteins without adding any other chemical agent: this new system is based on a combination of mechanical energy moisture and heath parameters. In other words, our products are healthier than the average vegan meat, and this is not the only advantage. While conducting our research, we kept in mind that many people love creativity, tradition and cooking. It turned out that thermo-coagulated proteins are extremely ductile, and the final product can fit many purposes. You can just eat it plain or cook it the way you like, texture and quality will not change. This characteristic allows us to be creative and play with food. For example, my wife, who is a chef, prepares traditional Indian dishes like tikka masala or Mediterranean recipes like spezzatino with our vegan chicken chunks. As a result, many of our clients are restaurants and catering services.’
As someone experienced with this new market, what advice would you give to vegan consumers and entrepreneurs?
‘This question would need a deep analysis at many levels. First of all, if we are talking about ethical vegan consumers, it is important to keep in mind that we always make choices when we buy. It is no secret that many new brands of vegan meat are currently emerging, but ethical consumers should check who the producer is, as they may not want to buy products from meat multinationals. Even in this case, information plays a fundamental role. Moreover, during a hard time like this, we think that it is crucial to support small sustainable businesses that may close permanently due to the epidemic emergency. While to entrepreneurs aspiring to be vegan meat producers, we would suggest being passionate about their job and investing a lot in research, avoiding any compromise in terms of quality and sustainability.’