Social tensions may work in meat’s favour

Impossible Burger

New Zealand can use consumer concerns about food and farming systems to demonstrate a strong point of difference for its grass-fed, natural red meat products, says Nick Beeby, general manager, Marketing Development, Beef + Lamb New Zealand.

“New Zealand companies are using ‘clean meat’ as an effective slogan to promote what they do, and this is resonating with consumers. They are tapping into a social tension which is being driven by food anxiety and concerns about factory farming, which does not represent farming practices in this country. New Zealand can use this same social tension as a strong point of difference for our products.”

However, the industry is not ignoring the growing trend towards alternative forms of plant-based protein.

Protein research

In August last year, B+LNZ initiated a study into alternative proteins to better understand the shifts in food and food production technology that’s occurring today; identify threats and opportunities for New Zealand’s red meat sector; and identify the types of shifts and activities required to address these threats and opportunities.

“Our research partner conducted an in-depth analysis of the market, interviewing a range of experts across the value chain for red meat and alternative proteins.”

These included cultural experts, sociologists, influencers, chefs, nutritional guideline specialists and regulatory bodies. Primary and secondary consumer research was also conducted in the US and China to test research results. The outcome of this research will be announced shortly.

“The research’s findings will chart a path for the red meat sector to follow, but what will be crucial is the development of a New Zealand red meat story to help raise awareness of our premium grass-fed products.

“This will be underpinned by a National Farm Assurance programme which partners the New Zealand government’s world-class regulatory scheme and our investment in an environment strategy to ensure that our farmers and customers can be proud of what we do.”

Nick says the sector needs to focus on its story and getting that out to consumers.

Healthy diet

“Trying to regulate to stop alternative proteins using ‘meat’ or being placed alongside meat products will not stop the consumer trends which are driving this.”

Beef + Lamb is working with other meat industry bodies worldwide on campaigns to promote their products.

One example is, an informative website aimed at consumers and the media in the UK. It provides information on all aspects of beef, pork and lamb. Its key messages are that red meat is a valuable part of a healthy, balanced diet

Another is the Tri-Lamb Group, a collaborative initiative between the United States, Australia, and New Zealand lamb producers to increase awareness in the United States of the nutritional value of lamb and its place in a healthy North American diet. It’s website is

But when it comes to what foods to eat, Nick says that’s a matter of personal choice.

“Ultimately, this is a decision for consumers, but grass-fed hormone-free New Zealand red meat is part of a healthy and balanced diet.”

‘Impossible Burger’ product of Silicon Valley

On the streets of New York, and in fact throughout the USA, hamburger outlets are selling the ‘Impossible Burger’ with patties which look, smell, taste and even bleed like meat, but are made entirely from plants.

The burger is the first commercial product of Impossible Foods, the company founded by Patrick O Brown, as a Silicon Valley start-up with a mission to make the global food system more sustainable.

The patties are unashamedly a manufactured product; the ‘magic’ ingredient of which is heme.

The company’s website says “Our burger is made from simple, all-natural ingredients such as wheat, coconut oil, and potatoes. What makes the Impossible Burger unlike all others is an ingredient called heme.

“Heme is a basic building block of life on Earth, including plants, but it’s uniquely abundant in meat. We discovered that heme is what makes meat smell, sizzle, bleed, and taste gloriously meaty.

“We genetically engineer yeast to make a key ingredient: heme. The process allows us to produce the Impossible Burger at scale with the lowest achievable environmental impact.

“We start with the gene for a protein called leghemoglobin, a heme protein that is naturally found in the root nodules of soy plants. Leghemoglobin is similar to myoglobin, the heme protein that is exceptionally abundant in animal muscles, binds oxygen and gives meat its unique flavour and aroma.

“We add the soy leghemoglobin gene to a yeast strain, and grow the yeast via fermentation. Then we isolate the leghemoglobin, or heme, from the yeast.

“By producing our heme in yeast, we avoid digging up soy plants to harvest the root nodules, which would promote erosion and release carbon stored in the soil. This enables us to produce heme sustainably at high volume and make plant-based meat for millions of people, offsetting the environmental impact of animal agriculture.

“The Impossible Burger uses a fraction of the Earth’s natural resources. Compared to cows, the Impossible Burger uses 95 per cent less land, 74 per cent less water, and creates 87 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions,” the website says.


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