Op Ed: Alexandra Clark & Tom Chapman of Sentient Ventures, on Reinvigorating the Alt Protein Market

Describing itself as a “movement of change-makers”, UK-based early growth-stage fund Sentient Ventures, founded by Manish Karani and Alexandra Clark, is focused on funding “the best international companies that are developing superior successors to animal products,” and says its work is to “enable the innovators and change-makers to accelerate the removal of farmed animals from our food production systems, allowing our planet to heal and thrive.”

Partner and Co-founder Alexandra Clark leads strategy and operations at Sentient Ventures having spent over a decade leading the EU advocacy for a policy and regulatory landscape to incentivise a shift away from animal product production and consumption. She joined impact investor Veg Capital as an investment adviser before co-founding Sentient Ventures. Tom Chapman, Head of Food Systems Impact, previously worked with the GFI to create the first-ever ESG framework for the alternative protein industry.

“We are excited for what the future holds”, say Alexandra and Tom.

An industry at a crossroads: reinvigorating the alternative protein market

By Alexandra Clark and Tom Chapman

The alternative protein market, championed as a beacon of hope for a sustainable and ethical future, is at a crossroads. The pre-2022 boom was driven by curious eco-conscious consumers. Despite this year’s negative news, evidence shows that willingness to shift away from animal products remains at an all-time high, particularly among the younger generations.

Sodexo - Chesapeake Mini-Cakes
Chesapeake Mini-Cakes © Sodexo

A recent study by Sodexo, one of the world’s largest food service providers, found that 81% of students chose a plant-based meal instead of meat when it was the default option. Across the UK, we are seeing a similar trend. Students from 20 university campuses have demanded access to plant-based options, and several towns have signed up for the Plant Based Treaty.

An opportunity, not a setback

However, across society, alternative protein adoption has been stymied by the cost of living crisis, concerns about ultra-processed foods, and their taste, or lack of, leading to a number of notable companies closing-up-shop. We see this as an opportunity, not a setback. The emerging companies are now in a prime position to address the main consumer pain points preventing increased uptake; taste, price, and nutrition, ensuring that products can truly rival animal products.

“The emerging companies are now in a prime position”

The pricing issue is particularly significant. For many consumers, it is not feasible to regularly purchase alternative protein products that cost more than their animal-based counterparts. This is combined with limited accessibility, where products are restricted to a handful of urban supermarkets and health food stores, often leaving low-income communities underserved.

© Onami Foods

Taste and texture are another key focus. Although strides have been made, the sensory experience of many alternative protein products needs further development to convince many meat-lovers. From the juicy burst of a burger to the delicate texture of a fish fillet, replicating these experiences with non-animal ingredients is a complex challenge. We are already seeing progress with better techniques and exploration of different ingredients to fill this gap.

“…the majority of plant-based foods score better than animal products for protein”

Another major focus area is nutrition. While like-for-like, the majority of plant-based foods score better than animal products for protein, saturated fat, fibre, and other macronutrients; there is growing concern around ultra-processed foods and their arm-long list of ingredients.

Consumers are increasingly savvy about their nutritional needs, and thus more must be done to achieve cleaner-label products and to effectively communicate the nutritional benefits.

Sentient Ventures
Sentient Ventures co-founders Alexandra Clark and Manish Karani with La Fauxmagerie’s co-founder sisters Charlotte and Rachel Stevens. © Sentient Ventures

A call to action

These hurdles are not insurmountable, but rather a call to action. Consumers are interested in sustainable, ethical food choices and are open to trying new products. They generally want to consume better. The industry must rise to this challenge and meet consumers where they are, with further innovation and exploration of manufacturing techniques and new ingredients.

“This is not just about offering a choice; it’s about offering a better choice.”

We are excited for what the future holds. The alternative protein market has the potential to truly revolutionise our food system, combat climate change, drive down biodiversity loss, and significantly reduce farmed and marine animal suffering. To do this, it must move beyond novelty and niche markets and deliver products that meet and exceed mainstream consumer expectations. This is not just about offering a choice; it’s about offering a better choice.

ClosePlease login
See all bookmarks