Cargill: “We Take the View That We Need All Forms of Protein on the Table”

Minneapolis headquartered agribusiness giant Cargill, the largest privately held company in the United States in terms of revenue, has been active in the plant-based and alternative protein space for several years.

As a platform concerned solely with the plant- and cell- based business niche (not to say we are unconcerned as a team about well-documented issues of ethics or sustainability, but these are not the focus areas of this publication), that encourages the entrance of conventional protein producers into the production of plant-based meat, we are interested in reporting on such a company’s work in the space to keep our readers informed of the activities of key players.

Some of said activities undertaken by Cargill in recent years include, in reverse chronological order:

  • Signs commercial agreement to use and market ENOUGH’S mycoprotein
  • Unveils the first product of its collaboration with Spanish startup Cubiq Foods in the form of new plant-based burgers made with Cubiq’s Go!Drop fat replacement technology
  • Registers 119 plant-based meat patents
  • Enters agreement with Cubiq to accelerate and commercialize alt fats
  • Invests in Spanish 3d bioprinted meat tech Cocuus

“We see alternative proteins as a new avenue towards feeding the world in a sustainable way,” says Sandy De Houwer, Global Marketing Director for Meat & Dairy Alternatives at Cargill Food Solutions.

Can you provide an overview of Cargill’s Meat & Dairy Alternative Solutions division and its mission within the broader context of Cargill’s operations?
We know that the world needs more food – grown more sustainably – to keep pace with global population growth and we see huge opportunities for development and discovery in this space.  While there may already be many products on the shelves, they’re not all the best in class. Our aim is to help our customers to improve the taste, texture and nutritional value of alternatives to animal protein and dairy-based products.

Cargill dairy alternatives
© Cargill

More than a leading ingredient supplier, our ambition at Cargill is to be our customers’ main source of inspiration and growth, setting new standards for innovation and collaboration. To do this, we are anticipating future trends and regulations while investing in our research, innovation, safety, food application, formulation, and scaling capabilities. All to help us co-create more effectively with customers and accelerate their growth.

Along with our deep technical expertise, Cargill brings a comprehensive portfolio of plant protein ingredients, fibers, and texturizers, as well as plant-based oils and fats to the table, helping food manufacturers create winning meat and dairy alternatives. We are focused on developing enticing applications and expanding our existing portfolio into specific plant-based proteins, fermented proteins and specialty fats. To do this, we are investing in innovation and technology partnerships to create new opportunities rooted in purpose.

How does Cargill approach innovation and technology partnerships in the development of meat & dairy alternative solutions?
As global food production and agriculture evolve, we need innovative solutions to address the most urgent challenges. As a result, we invest in companies that align with Cargill’s long-term growth objectives to turn “imagine if” into “we can” on a global scale. We are exploring what the next generation of food will look like, a great example of which can be found in our partnership with ENOUGH. This partnership will enable large-scale protein production of ENOUGH’s signature ABUNDA® mycoprotein, which is produced through a more sustainable fermentation process (with  Cargill’s glucose syrup as a main ingredient).

A chicken alternative made with ABUNDA

Our investments are considered the starting point for long-term, truly strategic partnerships. An advantage that Cargill offers as an investor is access to expertise in areas such as commercial operations, supply chain, regulatory, R&D or procurement. Additionally, there is opportunity to access a global network and deep relationships with key customers – which many start-ups need to scale their businesses.

What are some of the key challenges you’ve encountered in the development of meat and dairy alternative solutions, and how is Cargill addressing these challenges?
Taste, nutrition, value for money and naturalness are the top concerns within the sector – and therefore key opportunities to optimize plant–based solutions. We’re particularly focused on improving product variety (such as by using different resources, raw materials and technology base),  helping innovators scale technology, and increasing the accessibility of alternative proteins.

We’re also looking at how we can do more with less through innovation to help plant-based reach price parity with animal-derived solutions on the shelves. Value-consciousness is a key consideration in the market, especially if we want to convince flexitarians (a growing number of consumers) to try plant-based products – both the quality and affordability will need to be more favorable than it is today.

Cargill meatballs
© Cargill

We can do this through innovation – doing more with less and leveraging our full portfolio of solutions. One example is a dairy hybrid (combination of animal and plant-based) as an alternative to Greek-style yogurt that we showcased at FiE 2023.

“We’re also looking at how we can […] help plant-based reach price parity with animal-derived solutions”

The plant-based trend has truly mainstreamed in recent years, and hybrid dairy is about creating the best of both worlds by reaching the consumers who want to boost their plant-based intake. Our product developers have created a delicious alternative to a conventional creamy dairy dessert. It delivers on the dairy experience in terms of taste and texture but also improves the Nutri-Score, containing 50% cow’s milk and 50% vegetable protein.

How has the food industry’s demand for meat & dairy alternative solutions developed over the last few years, and how is Cargill adapting its strategies to meet these evolving demands?
Plant popularity shows no signs of ebbing – in fact, its popularity is accelerating very quickly on a global scale. No longer confined to vegetarians or vegans, plant-based products are gaining appeal among a broader consumer audience. 62% of shoppers are extremely interested or interested in plant-based protein in EMEA (Source: HealthFocus International; The Plant Paradox, 2022).

Cubiq Foods Plant-Based Fats
©Cubiq Foods

There is also a clear age dimension with younger adults more likely to be eschewing animal-based foods, meaning the trend will remain alive for years to come. Product growth is coming from a mainstream desire to weave more plant-based items into the weekly menu. We expect consumers will move easily between choosing animal, plant-based, and cultivated protein depending on what they have a taste for, what dish they are preparing, who they are serving and what personal goals they have for their meal at that moment in time.

“We see huge opportunities for development and discovery in the alternative protein and dairy space.”

We take the view that we need all forms of protein on the table and that the conversation around how to feed all of us should be a “yes, and” conversation, not an “either-or” argument. We are just at the beginning of what the alternative protein category can deliver when it comes to the eating experience. With continued investment and innovation, the next generation of meat alternatives will bring more variety, moving away from simply mimicking meat to offering a wide range of vegetable-packed or blends of meat and plant proteins, offering optimal nutrition and sensory satisfaction while enabling a conscious choice for a better planet.

Can you discuss any recent or upcoming innovations within Cargill’s meat & dairy alternatives portfolio?
As consumer demand for plant-based food and beverages remains a driving force in the marketplace,  it remains a key focus for Cargill’s innovation efforts. We see huge opportunities for development and discovery in the alternative protein and dairy space.

cocuus' 3d printed meat loin on top o a wooden board
© Cocuus

The industry is exploring many technologies to improve the eating experience in terms of product taste and texture. Whole-cut technologies that mimic animal muscle tissue and cultivated protein can be used to develop analogs or components for hybrid blended products.

“We see alternative proteins as a new avenue towards sustainably feeding the world”

For example, 3D printing supports appearance delivery of whole muscle cuts with continued work related to their texture. Many companies are working towards improving this technology including COCUUS, an innovator in 3D bioprinting technology to produce alternative proteins. We’re helping Cocuus scale up its technology for producing plant-based bacon, with a goal of producing as much as 1,000 tonnes of plant-based bacon in 2024.

We see alternative proteins as a new avenue towards sustainably feeding the world. ABUNDA mycoprotein (protein made from fungi) has been developed by ENOUGH through a more sustainable fermentation process using renewable feedstocks, and our expanded partnership with ENOUGH will further enable its large-scale production. In addition, we believe that adding ABUNDA mycoprotein to our offering complements  Cargill’s solutions portfolio to create delightful and value-conscious alternatives.

ClosePlease login
See all bookmarks