Imitators, Replacements and Clean Meat

There is no questioning that people are eating too much meat and high meat consumption leads to enormous problems globally. While there is growing interest in sustainable alternatives, it seems that the substitute products widely available in the market today are not attractive enough to quickly bring down meat consumption. Multiple new food industry branches are growing to answer the demand. One of the future branches that has gathered a lot of media attention during the past few years is insects. Even though insects are exciting and clearly better protein source than conventional meat, for me it has become clear that insect do not hold the highest market potential nor are they the best ecological solution when comparing to the other new alternatives. You can read my earlier blogs here and here for my reasoning.

The top three options to replace the modern meat industry are Plant Based Meat Imitators, Plant Based Meat Replacements and Clean Meat. Plant Based Meat Imitators are products that are 100% plant based, but aim to resemble meat as much as possible. Plant Based Meat Replacements are products that resemble meat’s nutritional content, in particular the high-protein level.

These three categories have a lot in common. They all aim to replace conventional meat in human diets with same sales arguments: All are more sustainable, ethical and healthier choices over meat.

To better understand the differences between the categories I made a simple Pugh-matrix. In the matrix the weight is the multiplier that tells of the importance of that factor. The multiplier can have value between 1 and 5. The value that each factor gets is selected between -3 and +3. The higher the total number the better. Further I categorized the factors (the lines) into three parts:

  1. Slow Changing Factors. Marketing is the only line here.
  2. Changing Factors. Regulation and Production Cost.
  3. Unchangeable Factors. Ethics and Nutritional Factors.

The categories are rough and they could be named or categorized in many different ways, but I chose these ones the serve this quick look to the topic. The numbers in this matrix are based on my personal evaluation.

Marketing means how difficult it is to introduce this category to the markets. Conventional meat would get a high score because people are used to it and it has been accepted to be part of weekly diet. I gave marketing clearly the biggest weight because in the end facts have little to do with our food choices, there are countless examples of this.

Regulation is the law environment that either allows or restricts operating in the markets. Production costs is self explanatory. These two factors are given small weight because they will not be a deciding factor of the fate of the different industries. The two will either slow it down or help on the way. Also, regulations and especially the production costs can be changed for the better relatively quickly if there is significant market demand. Production cost is the part that is the most difficult to evaluate and the one that keeps on changing the most.

Nutritional facts and Ethics form the “Unchangeable Factors” line. Ethics are a nice plus, but have the least impact of all the factors on the overall score. Nutritional facts are the core of the product on which the marketing is based on. I was thinking hard between giving the nutritional facts 2 or 3, but in ended up to 3 because I wanted to give it more weight than production cost and regulation.

The Matrix

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Before analyzing this one, lets jump to the future where there are no regulatory barriers and production costs of clean meat have decreased significantly:

Capture25.7future

The differences are not very significant, especially in the case where regulatory factors are not considered and clean meat production cost has decreased significantly. It is hard to make a clear conclusion other than that the Plant Based Meat Imitators- category will flourish only until Clean Meat technology advantages enough. Yes, the Imitators will get better imitating as well but it cannot escape its fundamental issue that is visualized in the line Nutritional facts and health. No matter if Imitators would become 99% like the real thing, there are always some trade-offs when aiming for the imitation and this we will see in the raw material choices, amounts of additives, sugars, fats and salt. Also, having (unnecessarily) complex product increases the production costs.

Conclusion

When looking at the remaining top two categories we see that the total score is almost the same, but that the score is coming from different factors. The main question is what is more difficult, introducing new products to people’s regular diet or bringing down the cost of producing clean meat at scale? Answering this will tell you which of the categories holds more potential.

If we should decide what people should eat based on science, we would give them a plant based diet including Plant Based Meat Replacements. But when we are talking about food that has strong cultural connections we must consider the bigger picture. The only reason why Clean Meat and Plant Based Meat Imitators are on the same line is not the product itself, but people’s associations to them.

 

Nothing is more important than AI

Most of us are familiar with the concept that it is better to fix the cause than the effect. This idea is at the core of the Lean Manufacturing concept, created by Taiichi Ohno and Toyota, and of the Lean Start-up movement started by Eric Ries.

Even though we’re aware of this principle, we very often end up doing the opposite. It is natural to just fix the effect, as it is faster and the results are easier to see. Yet in the long run you lose time and money with this method, because, with the root cause unfixed, the same effect will occur.

The future of technology holds amazing sci-fi -like tools. Nano technology, bio engineering, genetics, robotics, space-travel and so on. But the only tool that can help us fight the root cause of poor productivity and resource wasting is development of Artificial Intelligence, AI. All the listed technological advantages aim to increase the efficiency of human activities, but the difference is that AI is the only one that can help us understand which activities are worth doing in the first place, and how to do them in the most efficient way. For example, while robotics help us do things in high efficiency, maybe that activity was not needed at all in the first place. In other words, while AI can give us the GPS coordinates to our destination and map to follow, robotics can only make us move incredibly fast, and us humans decide on the direction in which we want to move. My example of robotics comes from physical production, but the same idea applies also for product design, marketing, HR and so on.

Our world is not lacking food, physical resources or talent. Yet we are wasting all of these in staggering amounts daily, especially human talent. We need improvement in use of the world’s resources, and for this AI is the most important technology.

The significance of AI has been recognized widely, and all major technology companies are involved in developing ways to improve the technology and offer multiple ways to implement it to our lives. Even though the benefits of AI management tools are clear, strong incentives exist in the modern global market to fight against the “AI manager”.

AI management tools would steer companies toward long-term, sustainable growth, but the contemporary stock exchange and market place encourages to seek short-term profits. Since investors want to see short-term value increase in the companies they invest in, the managements they name have incentives to sacrifice long term plans over short-term ones. This is obviously nothing new, but every time AI takes a step forward, the decision to act against facts will have a higher opportunity cost. Eventually this cost will be so high that it cannot be ignored, but the sooner we can bring AI into decision-making, the better. And since we are fighting issues like global warming and other ecological disasters, there really is no time to waste.

Fighting against better solutions sounds counter-intuitive, but the world is full of similar examples where existing structures prevent obvious improvements from taking over. Why do they still have separate taps for hot and cold water in the UK? Why do Phillips-head screws still exist when we have Torx screws? Why don’t all cars come with Run Flat tyres? The Run Flat tyres, the PAX system, is especially interesting. The PAX solution offers better safety and flexibility for the customer, the technology was shared with multiple tyre and car manufacturers, and market studies show that the demand is there, but still we are not using it. The answer lies in co-adaptation and co-innovation risks. When there is some external entity in the supply chain that is not benefiting of the improvement, they will not be active in taking it into use, or, even worse, they might fight against the change. This theory and the PAX system example is presented in Ron Adner’s book The Wide Lens.

Technology is advancing faster day by day. AI management tools will be the most significant of all upcoming advances because they will make all other advancement faster. Improving the technology and creating applications for it is not enough, as there are obstacles to solve before AI is widely taken into use. Finding ways to smooth the path for AI to enter our world is the second most important task we face now, right after AI itself. And these two tasks will be the last ones us humans will have to do on our own.

There is nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency something that should not be done at all.” – Peter Drucker

Further reading:

Lean Startup:  http://theleanstartup.com/

The Wide Lens: http://thewidelensbook.com/

The PAX- system: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michelin_PAX_System

Deep Knowledge Ventures, the first company to appoint AI to its board of directors: http://www.deepknowledgeventures.com/

aurinko

 

Industry Insights, Interview with Ilkka Taponen

The interview below was done by International Insect Centre and published in their newsletter in May 2017.

After completing an internship at Ynsect involving his thesis paper titled Supply Chain Risk Management in Entomology Farms Case: High scale production of human food and animal feed, Ilkka developed a keen interest in the insect industry, setting up a blog dedicated to developments in this sector. Combined, the success of his blog as well as his activities in market potential projects for insect products has given Ilkka significant insights into the current market for insects, especially in scaling up production in the novel foods sector. He is now employed at Green & Gold Foods based in Finland, developing alternative protein products for the consumer markets.

Speaking about the growing interest in the insect sector, Ilkka explains that since news of new EU regulations has been clarified, interest in this business has greatly increased. “Last summer there was a real lack of contact on the blog, but since November I have received a lot more emails from interested persons, possibly because news of EU regulation [regarding insects in feed and food] has become clearer”, explaining that this could’ve rejuvenated interest in the sector.

However, although growth seems to be positive, Ilkka explains that the role that insects will play in the future is a little more obscure; “It is hard to say; some companies are working on feed whilst others say that there is no sense in this, with food being the main goal. Considering that these are often companies with significant resources behind them, they are approaching this business very differently so it is impossible to say who is right and who is wrong.” Having worked both in the insect protein sector and the plant-based protein sector, Ilkka points out that insects must compete with plant-based alternatives and that this may result in them having more potential for feed applications than food based. “For example, one place in which insects are clearly the best option is in animal feed. However, taking salmon farming as an example, the demand for the quantities that are needed to enter the market are huge, whilst the profit margins are very low. It’s a difficult combination.” Ilkka explains that economies of scale will be needed in order to bring the cost of insect-based feeds down. “Increasing the scale and automating the process is key, but it’s difficult to say how long it will take for the costs of fish raised on insect feed to meet the price of conventional products.”

Another factor that is also involved in the development of the insect sector is risk. According to Ilkka, due to the novelty nature of insects as an ingredient in both feed and food, many companies are reluctant to carry out R&D using them due to the risks that this can entail. This is further amplified by the current lack of insect suppliers; “this makes it very risk intensive for companies to introduce insect ingredients because suppliers end up with all of the [negotiation] power.” Continuing, Ilkka points out that there also needs to be research into the end consumers that would be interested in buying sustainably raised fish fed on insects. “Who is going to buy these products? Generally, the people that would be interested in buying these products will most likely choose a plant-based alternative.” Ilkka explains that therefore, fish fed on insects cannot be sold based on this value added sustainability aspect alone. This suggests that in order to be viable, insect fed fish must become the ‘norm’ and not a speciality product. “The fish farmer has to pay 5% extra [to use insects], as do their clients, having a knock-on effect down the supply chain. The real question is; are consumers willing to pay for this?”

However, with regards to feed production in particular, insects have one major benefit over many non-fishmeal alternatives; they are live animals. This makes them suitable for feeds aimed at carnivorous and omnivorous animals, an advantage that plant-based alternatives cannot compete with, according to Ilkka. “I think that this is the key that will determine the future. This is one of the only places where using animals [for feed] is very advantageous; for feeding other animals. In this situation, insects are most definitely the most sustainable choice.”

Continuing on the subject of sustainability, Ilkka clarifies his thoughts on insect proteins. “We must also take plant-based proteins into consideration, especially when looking into feed conversion rates. As I have said, insects are the best option for animal-protein based feed, but for food purposes, plant based proteins offer the same benefits but in a more culturally acceptable and cheaper way at this moment.” Despite this, Ilkka remains positive that there will be significant growth within the sector for edible insects, however compared to alternatives, it is uncertain whether they will be able to compete long term. As for the animal feed sector, Ilkka expects that insects will play an important role in the market with regards to the future of sustainable animal feed, beginning in the aquaculture sector.

Thank you IIC and Poppy Eyre for putting my thoughts nicely into text! Visit IIC at http://www.insectcentre.com/

Impossible Foods Must Ask Harder Scientific Questions

Techcrunch posted a very interesting interview on 22nd of May 2017, titled “Impossible Foods CEO Pat Brown says VCs need to ask harder scientific questions”. After reading the article, I had to check that I wasn’t reading The Onion.

In the interview, Pat Brown attacks the clean meat industry and VCs with claims that were all proven untrue in a great reply by VC Seth Bannon. The aggressive tone of the interview did not bother me as much as the lack of knowledge shown by Mr Brown. Yes, answering the question “Why not try clean meat?” by saying “The simple answer is because that is one of the stupidest ideas ever expressed” already makes you sound like Donald Trump, but when you back up your claim with untrue statements, things start to look very bad.

Mr Bannon did good job at answering the false claims, but I will continue by looking at two additional points of the interview.

Mr Brown said that with clean meat technology, “you buy into, at best, the same limitations that a cow has.” This statement is very interesting when looking at Impossible Foods’ product. The company is trying to mimic meat as much as possible using plant based raw materials. Isn’t this approach buying into the limitations of the cow? It’s possible the company is looking to go beyond meat at some point, but to an outsider it seems that the product development’s main goal is not to make the best tasting or the best nutritional value having product, but a product that looks, tastes and feels like cow. Yes, the way Impossible Foods are aiming to do it is more efficient and ecological cow rearing, but they share the same goal with the clean meat companies.

The second thing that especially struck my eye was Mr Brown’s demand that VCs should ask harder scientific questions to understand e.g. that clean meat “is one of the stupidest ideas ever expressed”. While demanding deeper studying and understanding from VCs, Mr Brown himself obviously has limited understanding of substitute technologies that his own company is using.

I think the founder has more tendency to have skewed view on his or her business than the outsider. Maybe it is actually Impossible Foods and Mr Brown who need to ask the harder scientific questions?

ps. While you are here you might want to read my related post 5 Questions an Investor Should Ask Before Investing into a Insect Farm from June 2015.

Cricket Is Just a Better Chicken

One of the main arguments insect food companies bring out in their communication is comparing the environmental impact of  insects to conventional meats like beef, pork, fish and chicken. There is no denying that insects are clearly the best choice from this group, but in most cases comparing insects to other animals is not relevant.

paras

The example picture above is from LEAP Pure Cricket Powder- Facebook page. 

The most relevant category to place insects is not “the environmental impact of animal based foods”, but wider “environmental impact of high protein foods” that includes a large variety of plant based foods as well.

In this more relevant category, whether the comparison is about consumption of water, creation of green house gases or feed conversion rate, crickets show up just as a better chicken. From environment’s perspective best options are plant based options like pulses and plant based protein products. Additionally, plant based proteins clear out of many other issues like ethical questions related to animal farming, use of antibiotics and cultural acceptance.

It is important to understand that we are now talking about industrial scale farming where using of bio waste as insect feed is not possible for multiple reasons. For low scale farming where using of bio waste is possible insects are excellent option even over plants.

You might have noticed that in the given infograph it is said that insect consume less water than pulses. This might be true, but it depends on how the water is delivered to crickets. Is it open water or through feed? When comparing the water consumption of animals the combined impact of drinking water and the water used in the farming of the feed should be considered.

There are plenty of reasons to eat insects, but if you are looking for the best environmental choice, industrially farmed insects are not the one.

Further reading:

Semi-Automatic Water Station for Crickets

In 2015 I was working on multiple projects to find ways to help insect farmers with their two main issues: Farming requires too much manual work and that there are too many risks in farming. One solution to fight these two issues was a prototype of Semi-Automatic Water Station for Crickets. I designed the following prototype with one great engineer, but due to lack of time with did not push the design further. The prototype has been tested in couple of farms the basic functionality has been confirmed, but for sure there are details to improve in all aspects.

The problem of high risks and need of manual labor.

Here is an example of a regular cricket farm. Picture taken from Entomo Farms’ Instagram:  (https://www.instagram.com/p/BHhtRZVg4JU/?taken-by=entomofarms)

entomofarms

UPDATE 30.4.2017: New updated picture from Entomo Farms was uploaded USAID- Medium profile. Very interesting set-up! Photo courtesy of Stewart Stick, Entomo Farms. Link to the article: https://medium.com/usaid-2030/3-food-innovations-changing-how-the-world-eats-ddda0414fbb

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What you can see from the picture is that there is wooden plate for the cricket feed and black plastic “river” where water flows for the crickets to drink. The water system has multiple problems. Well, before going in to the problems it must be said that this river-thing is a lot better than the other traditional drinking device: “the sponge-thing”, sold e.g here: https://www.armstrongcrickets.com/waterdevice

wateringdevice

Both of the shown methods of bringing fresh water to crickets suffer from the same problems of crickets dying and dropping feces into the water. What the river-method has better that the sponge is that you don’t need to be filling up the water tank frequently.

The Solution: Semi-Automatic Water Station

Here below I present my concept of low manual labor that has minimized the risk of crickets touching the fresh water. In the first picture below I show the basic unit of the system. The shape and size of the pipe can be basically anything, in this case the pipe is made for a regular plastic container. There are small  drinking holes in the long sides of the pipe and for each hole there is an individual ramp. The ramp has such surface that the crickets are able climb on it, but the pipe itself is so slippery that they cannot move on it. This way the crickets will only move to the drinking hole and no where else. Additionally, the holes are so far away from each other that the while the head of the cricket is at the drinking hole, the other end does not reach the neighboring hole.

The pipe is filled with plastic mesh that has tiny holes. The mesh is rolled and pushed into the pipe. This way the mesh is exposed at the drinking holes and capillary action offers fresh drop of water for the thirsty animal. When the small drop has been drank, the capillary action will bring a new one.

taponen1.png

 

In the next picture the flow of water is explained. The water enters the system from the left by a drip hose that is either connected to water line (best option), or a separate tank. In this example the rearing boxes are piled on top of each other. Water enters the top most box from the left and exists from the right. To the next one the water enters from the right, exists from the left and so on. Under the last one there is a overflow tank that collects the water that was not drank during water’s way through the system. In large scale operation the water would go to the drain or possibly pumped back to circulation.

img_2577

The system is calibrated in two steps. First of all it is essential that the system is level, if tilted the water can overflow on one side and leave the opposite side with no water at all. The correct flow of water can be confirmed by in the beginning checking how much water comes out to the overflow tank. If you can get e.g one drop every 10 min, you know that there is water throughout the system and that the water is not stagnant either.

taponen3

The service and cleaning of the system is essential. The boxes can be taken out from the system by lifting out the flexible pipes connecting the boxes from the hard plastic that is inside the boxes.This way you can even taken out one of the boxes in the middle of the pile without touching the ones below and above. The hard plastic pipes are removable as well. As you can see from the first picture the pipe is connected by two holders. When you click the pipe out from the holders the pipe can be taken out completely, or just pushed out of the way when e.g the cartons are changed. The plastic ramps are connected to the pipes by clicking action as well.

I believe the system will remain clean for the duration of one life cycle of crickets, so the cleaning would happen in the same time when the crickets are harvested. The pipes, hard and soft, can be placed inside a dishwasher and the plastic mesh can be taken out easily before that. One could also try running strong alcohol through the system to clean out bacteria.

Please feel free the take this idea to your farm and let me know what if it works or not. And especially if it doesn’t, I would love to hear what are the reasons.

Starter Kit for Ento-Entrepreneurs

Lately quite a few people have reached out for me for tips for starting a new Insect for Food and Feed- companies. I very happy to see the industry growing and it is my pleasure to help out. To make your starting easier I have here collected some links and tips how to get started and how to avoid some of the pitfalls.

I believe strongly in the Lean movement, not only in daily work, but also larger projects that starting of a new company is. The prevent unnecessary work and loss of resources, start by collecting data and objectively evaluating the potential of you business plan.  To learn more about Lean and modern business management check out the great Lean Startup- book by Eric Ries.

Study the literature. Unfortunately there are only very few publications on the business side of IFF- business, biological knowledge can be found much easier. My thesis that I wrote in 2015 is still one of only publications looking at the production and supply chain side of this specific industry. The thesis comes with full list of references that can you use to dig deeper into all the discussed topics. Here below are some links I recommend you to read. Other than the links listed here you might want to check also the Directory from the menu bar, from there you can find all my blog posts e.g about how to choose the best species to farm.

  • Thesis: Risk Management in High Scale insect farming: https://ilkkataponen.com/2015/05/20/thesis-supply-chain-risk-management-in-entomology-farms/
  • Dipterra-blog. There most professional insect rearing blog: http://www.dipterra.com/
  • Mass rearing of beneficial organisms- book:  https://www.researchgate.net/publication/270274339_Mass_Production_of_Beneficial_Organisms_Invertebrates_and_Entomopathogens

Get connected with insect entrepreneurs. The largest database online with contact information can be found from this website, just click the “Entomology Company Database” from the menu bar. I also recommend that you will contact your local association of IFF companies, here are some links:

  • International Platform of Insects for Food and Feed http://www.ipiff.org
  • North American Edible Insect Coalition http://www.edibleinsectcoalition.org/
  • The ASEAN Food and Feed Insects’ Association http://affia.org/
  • The UK Network for Insects as Food & Feed https://woven-network.co.uk/

By getting connected you will get essential tips from more experienced people and you can team up to work on topics that you the concerns about (health of genetic pool, fighting horizontal integration issues etc).

Contact your local Food Safety Authority. In USA it is the FDA, in EU- level its EFSA. In other words the one that interprets the national laws regarding food and feed. They are there to serve you and they will tell you the status of insect food and feed in your environment. A nice collection of the legal status’ can be found here:  http://www.foodnavigator-asia.com/Policy/Exploring-the-legal-status-of-edible-insects-around-the-world

Stay up to date. The following links are for news sites and social media channels that keep you up to date of the latest news in the field.

  • 4ento is a news center for everything around the topic: http://4ento.com/
  • Robert Nathan Allen is the founder Little Herds- association. Follow him in Twitter for the latest especially in North America. https://twitter.com/RNAeatsbugs
  • Food Navigator is news center for Food & Beverage industry, follows closely also IFF- industry: http://www.foodnavigator.com/
  • All About Feed is similar to Food Navigator, just with the feed aspect: allaboutfeed.net
  • Facebook-group Food Insect Newsletter.  https://www.facebook.com/groups/EdibleInsects/