With whole roast pigs, butchery competitions and an army of tong-wielding barbecue enthusiasts, Australia’s Meatstock food and music festival is a meat lover’s paradise. So when All G Foods, a newly founded producer of plant-based meat alternatives, showed up to serve its products to the attendees, the company had its work cut out.
For years, animal-free alternatives to meat have suffered a poor reputation. While many people recognise the environmental and ethical benefits of these products, they also may think meat substitutes simply don’t taste as good.
What, then, was the verdict on All G Foods when some of Australia’s most dedicated carnivores sampled its offerings?
"Four-and-a-half thousand people tried it," Jan Pacas, All G Foods’ Founder and CEO, says. "The response from over 90 per cent was: ‘What, are you kidding me? I don’t believe that’s not meat. You set me up here. It’s actually really delicious.’
"If the meat eater approves it, that lets me know that we are onto something."
Converting the attendees at Meatstock, Jan says, was just one part of a much bigger mission for All G Foods. The company is not aiming to be just another meat alternative, but rather to revolutionise the entire meat industry.
Before founding All G Foods less than two years ago, Jan launched two highly successful startups. The first, Mad Paws, is a platform to connect pet owners with pet sitters and has since expanded to cover a range of other pet services. The second, Flare, is a fintech company that helps Australians get access to better superannuation funds.
He got the idea for All G Foods after spending some time in the US and realising there was still a paucity of animal-free food options outside major cities. "I ended up eating salads for three weeks," he recalls.
His pitch for All G Foods to investors was far more ambitious than those for his first two companies. He wanted to hire top scientists to develop top-quality lab-grown meat and dairy products and bring them to market in just a few years.
"I guess I had a bit of an advantage having founded two companies before and raised some money, so I probably had a bit more credibility with investors," he says.
Woolworths have done blind taste tests on every product in this market, and we won.
While All G Foods works on developing its lab-grown meats, it is establishing a strong market presence with its plant protein-based meat alternatives. The technology to produce meat substitutes from plant proteins has been around for a while. But Jan believes that simply doing this better than the competition still offers plenty of room for growth, despite the lacklustre reception these foods have received in certain segments of the market.
"Plant proteins is a technology that was commercialised seven-to-eight years ago," he says. "Yet we still believe there are significant opportunities. Why? Because with plant proteins, most of the options that hit the shelves are very average. And if you have an option that is very average, you’re never going to accelerate the switch towards this new technology."
He adds: "We’ve all had these experiences in the past when we went to a surf club or wherever and had a veggie burger and said, ‘Never, ever again’, right? Because it doesn’t taste like meat, that frankly is a problem for the industry, where plant-based got a very bad overall wrap. So we’ve got to change that."
Blind taste test
As a first step toward making this change, All G Foods has started making sure its plant protein offerings pass the taste test, and the results have been positive. Not only do the meat lovers at Meatstock approve, but so does one of the country’s largest food retailers.
"Woolworths have done blind taste tests on every product in this market, and we won," Jan says. "So we’re best in class here. In terms of plant proteins, there are others in the market doing what we’re doing. What differentiates us is that we have a leading science team so that we were able to recreate, in record time, an incredible product that has won a lot of accolades."
What has been very clear to me is, I need to surround myself with the absolute best scientists in the world.
As a result of these taste tests, Woolworths not only entered into a strategic partnership with All G Foods, but also became a shareholder in the company. "We loved that because Woolworths is a very innovative company. It’s going to be a great win–win partnership where they get to access our technology and future technologies, and we get to access the Woolworths distribution partner network, which is obviously unparalleled in Australia.
"We believe we can absolutely still innovate," he adds. "We are winning very large venues and very large customers in record time, and we are winning against others. Yet still there’s a lot of differentiation opportunities."
Just eight months after All G Foods’ products first launched, they were available in over 1,000 venues or outlets, including those owned by Marley Spoon and Betty’s Burgers. "We are launching in many that I can’t reveal yet, with more and more to come. Over the next year, things will significantly accelerate," Jan says.
While All G Foods’ current offerings are proving popular, Jan says the really disruptive products are yet to come. In fact, the company’s current plant protein foods are setting the stage for what All G Foods calls next-generation dairy. This new lab-grown dairy will be on the shelves within the next 18 months, Jan says, and is made through a process called precision fermentation, something the company is perfecting with the help of a highly qualified research and development team.
"What has been very clear to me is, I need to surround myself with the absolute best scientists in the world," Jan says. "This is a hard, scientific problem to crack."
Bringing precision fermentation to market will be much more disruptive and futuristic than the advent of plant-based meat alternatives, Jan says. "We’re basically going to create food through cellular agriculture." This technology uses genetic information to recreate dairy products.
"This is a bio-identical or molecularly identical product, but still animal free," he adds. "If you look under a microscope and you look at a casein protein you find in milk, and you look at the one that we have created, they are identical. It’s a copy of genetic information that we then insert into bacteria yeast, and they become mini-cell factories and create whatever we program them to do. So the taste will be identical and in fact there will be better health credentials. It’s the best possible outcome for everyone."
The manufacturing process comes from synthetic biology, which in the past has been used mostly in the pharmaceuticals industry because of its prohibitive cost. Synthetic biology was, for example, involved in the production of COVID-19 vaccines.
If you look under a microscope and you look at a casein protein you find in milk, and you look at the one that we have created, they are identical.
"It made sense in the past to use it only in pharmaceuticals, because simply, from a price point, we were too far away from food," Jan explains. "But now we are at the cusp of getting very close to price points where very soon we’re not only going to match the price of conventional dairy, we’re actually in 10 years going to be significantly cheaper, and significantly more nutritious.
"Synthetic biology has – I don’t want to say it has no limits – but the technological development, like computers, is significantly and exponentially accelerating every one-to two-years, and we can leverage that," he adds. "We can create absolutely identical dairy proteins that we then can make into milk, cheese and other things, while those proteins become cheaper and cheaper and cheaper. And we don’t need the cows for that. We don’t need land for that. We don’t need any C02 and so on.
"This is highly disruptive."
Relieving land pressure
The higher purpose behind founding All G Foods is to address the global crisis in agriculture. Farmland is becoming more and more scarce as human populations increase. Industrial cattle farming is also placing a huge strain on the environment, while more people are acknowledging the cruelty that animals suffer under this system.
"If you look at how we manufacture meat or dairy today, it’s happening behind closed doors," Jan says. "But it has huge limits and pretty challenging consequences on how we feed the Earth full of billions of people. Every 30-to-35 years, Planet Earth has doubled animal agriculture. As we move to a population of 10 billion people, and as more and more of those people move up the socioeconomic ladder, we’re going to again need to double the supply of proteins that come mainly from animal agriculture, meat and dairy."
We’re not only going to match the price of conventional dairy, we’re actually in 10 years going to be significantly cheaper, and significantly more nutritious.
But most countries are running out of land to do that, meaning meat and dairy farmers are facing a crisis. "Fifty per cent of habitable land on Earth is used for animal agriculture, so imagine what happens if we double that. We’re going to end up with nothing," Jan says.
He also cites a statistic that shows animal agriculture creates more carbon dioxide than the entire global car industry, and is the second largest emitter of carbon dioxide after the fossil fuel industry. Then there is the strain that animal farming places on other resources. On top of that, excessive consumption of meat and dairy is having a negative impact on human health.
"There’s also obviously animal welfare, which again, behind closed doors, there’s probably practices that we won’t be proud of when we’re judged by our great-great-grandchildren," Jan says. "So I think what’s coming is necessary as we face a shortage of food supply over the next decade, and there’s also an opportunity to decarbonise the economy and simply create a much more sustainable future. That’s what we’re solving."
"We don’t have 100 years," he says. "We’ve got to change it much faster than that. We’ve got to change it in less than 10 years, and that’s why we are moving so fast."
Precision fermentation also allows All G Foods to make meat and dairy products that are nutritionally valuable and healthier.
"We can design it so that we don’t put lactose in the milk – most people are intolerant to lactose," Jan says. "We can make it high in A2 proteins, and so on. We can scale it up, whether we want to do it in China, in Indonesia, in Australia, in Queensland or in Victoria. As we build that capability, we can basically design and scale up many, many future molecules that will be the heart of replicating future food. That’s what we’re building."
Not a threat
While All G Foods is a response to many of the failings of the meat and dairy industries, Jan is adamant that this new technology should not be seen as destructive, but rather as an opportunity for these industries to save themselves.
"Lots of people think about this as a threat to the meat and dairy industry. I think about it as a necessary additional supply," he says. "If you come from a standpoint of, we need to double the protein supply over the next 35 years, there’ll always be a place for the farmers and the traditional way of doing it. But we cannot just double farm output."
Lots of people think about this as a threat to the meat and dairy industry. I think about it as a necessary additional supply.
Australia, he says, where All G Foods was founded, is perhaps one of the few exceptions to this, because its huge landmass means there could still be enough space to double farms. But on a global scale this is simply not possible.
"If you go to the Netherlands, if you go to certain Asian countries, they’re just absolutely running out of space and options, and it’s very crowded," Jan says. "So we basically offer significant additional supply at an absolute fraction of the impact on the environment, while providing superior nutritional values to consumers."
It is a major win for everybody, Jan argues. Agriculture is able to address a looming supply crisis, consumers get healthier and more ethical options, and there is less strain on the planet.
"Once we build this, we can create so many things in the future that it has the potential to solve a lot of the food challenges ahead of us," he says. "Plus, there’s zero compromise in terms of nutrition or taste."