Generational shifts redefining future of protein

Millennials changing food trends, including demand for choice and convenience in proteins.

As changes in global population and consumer preferences shape the food people eat, the world will need access to enough protein and other dietary essentials. With a global population projected to reach 9 billion people by 2050, demand for protein from a variety of sources is expected to increase. Along with population growth, rising incomes in many regions are driving a transition to more protein-rich diets. This creates new opportunities — and challenges — for the agriculture industry to keep pace.

“The market is growing for protein from both plant- and animal-based sources,” said Brian Sikes, corporate vice president of Cargill’s protein group. “That includes traditional sources like beef, poultry, seafood and dairy, and we’re also exploring emerging trends.”

Fueling those trends is a generational shift in preferences, which is creating a dynamic landscape for the future of protein.

“Millennials are changing how food is being consumed, just like Baby Boomers did,” Sikes said. “This generational shift is happening globally. As a result, we have to do food differently.”

Three consumer trends in particular are helping redefine the future of protein, Sikes said.

The first is convenience. The fastest growth in food retail is occurring in the direct-to-consumer space, with home delivery options emerging as a new frontier for groceries. At the same time, consumers are interested in having protein options on the go.

A second trend is choice. Innovation is bringing alternative protein sources into to market in more palatable ways. Increasingly, plant-based options are competing in the marketplace. Meanwhile, the idea of meat grown in a lab or protein derived from insects is no longer the stuff of science fiction.

Finally, transparency is high on the minds of consumers.

“People are making choices to protect the planet and ensure the humane treatment of animals,” Sikes noted. “They want to know the story of where their food comes from and feel good about what they eat.” This includes nutrition, animal welfare, food safety and the overall environmental footprint.

Cargill has a history of leading in all of these areas, advancing new technologies and approaches to sustainability across the supply chain, according to its website. For example, Cargill limited antibiotic use in turkeys and cattle, removing all growth-promoting antibiotics from turkeys raised by independent farmers and eliminating 20% of shared-class antibiotics from about 1.2 million beef cattle.

In an industry first, it also piloted a sustainable beef program in Canada in partnership with McDonald’s, successfully tracking nearly 9,000 head of cattle from birth to beef through a fully verified supply chain that resulted in the equivalent of 2.4 million beef patties for McDonald’s Canada. The pilot findings will be used to inform similar programs in collaboration with regional and market-level roundtables around the world.

The company is also addressing water scarcity and quality in areas prone to drought, as well as working to better understand the impact of various hen housing systems on animal welfare.

As changing consumer preferences create new opportunities for product and supply chain innovation, Cargill said it will continue to develop new approaches to protein to create a more sustainable, food-secure future.

“We’re committed to doing the right thing for the animal, the environment, our customers and consumers,” Sikes said.

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