New Food Conference 2021: “The Pandemic Accelerated the Plant-Based Trend – Now It’s About Using the Momentum For Innovation”

Both disruptive protein technology and the market for sustainable food solutions are growing at a mind-blowing pace. The New Food Conference is Europe’s first and biggest conference on new-protein solutions and a key event for food-industry stakeholders. Katleen Haefele, International Head of Food Services and Events at ProVeg, talks to vegconomist about what to expect at this year’s online event. 

What is unique about this year’s New Food Conference and how does it differ from the debut event in 2019?
In 2019, we still had to convince people that alternative proteins were going to play a significant role in future market activities. Today, with plant-based sales skyrocketing, it is no longer a question of whether eating habits are changing, but how and how fast. In responding to the shift in perspective in the food industry, we decided to host two New Food Conferences this year so that we can go more in-depth with the topics: the April event is predominantly focussed on developments in the plant-based market, while the New Food Conference at Anuga, in October 2021, will have a stronger emphasis on cellular agriculture and fermentation technologies. The New Food Conference in April will be a completely online experience, allowing us to reach a far wider audience and will also allow participants to connect more internationally.

Given this new online format, how do you plan to enable professional networking?
Networking is at the heart of the New Food Conference and a lot of careful consideration has been put into setting up this year’s virtual edition in order to ensure effective engagement, interaction, and professional networking. It will be implemented via a state-of-the-art event platform with multiple technical features: Delegates can set up their profile and reach out to each other to request appointments for video calls. A personalised event agenda allows participants to see their favourite programme sessions and networking appointments at a glance. At the exhibitors’ virtual booths, delegates can reach out to chat with experts, as well as some of the most promising alternative-protein startups. Q&As and chat functions during the sessions will allow participants to actively shape the conversation. All sessions will be recorded and will be available for 90 days after the event, providing maximum flexibility for all those busy people in the food industry.

New Food Conference

What are this year’s programme highlights?
We are excited to have Josh Tetrick from Eat Just join us in a fireside chat. Not only is JUST Egg the fastest growing egg alternative in the US. It was also the first company in the world to gain regulatory approval for cultured meat – in Singapore in December 2020 – shortly after which they started serving cultured meat in a restaurant for the first time ever!

We will also focus on the regulatory framework in Europe and how it does and does not support plant-based innovation. One conversation will be about the EU’s Farm-to-fork strategy and its implications for businesses, while another will focus on the role of labelling, including a look at the outcome of the decision on Amendment 171. Additionally, the programme will cover developments in the food-service sector and advancements in functional ingredients, as well as sharing market data and looking at the criteria for retail placements of plant-based products. The goal is to explore the entire value chain and identify bottlenecks and opportunities for plant-based products.

The New Food Conference is the platform for alternative protein experts. What are the current challenges in the value chain?
Up-scaling and co-manufacturing are still challenging. Producers need to ensure reliable ingredient supply chains and, at the same time, have access to new production lines. Retailers are still the market’s ‘bouncers’ and decide which products will eventually find their way to consumers. As a result, we expect more companies to market D2C (“direct to consumer”) in order to bypass this bottleneck – a trend that small brands and startups in particular will make more use of in the future.

©ProVeg International

The HoReCa sector is probably facing one of the biggest challenges. Having been hit hard by the pandemic, only time will tell who will survive this shock moment. One thing’s for sure, though: the pandemic has accelerated the plant-based trend. Now, it’s about using this momentum to create new concepts in order to get food services back on track.

The event encourages conversation and discussion. Which topics will be new?
Agriculture – where the value chain actually begins – has not yet received the attention it deserves. It’s crucial to initiate a dialog with farmers on how to transform agriculture in a sustainable way, not only away from animal husbandry and towards protein plants for human consumption, but also with resilient crops and soil regeneration in mind. We need to look at how businesses and farmers can work together in a way that allows experimentation with new crops, without risking supply chain gaps?

We will also discuss the status quo of cellular agriculture: Where are cultured products when it comes to commercialisation – can we expect to see them on our plates any time soon?

Who should attend the New Food Conference?
Alternative proteins will continue to increase in significance for the food industry. Companies keep realising that this is where we are all headed and acknowledge that it is time to join in. They often wonder how they can increase their own protein portfolio – and this is what the New Food Conference is here to help with. We aim to be a platform of professional exchange for players from all along the food value chain, whether it’s startups, producers, retailers, or food-service stakeholders. We expect an international audience to attend, with the majority joining from Europe.

Additionally, we invite politicians to learn more about alternative proteins and their role in future-proofing companies – so that they can get a better understanding of how political and legal structures need to align with this transformation of the food industry.

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