Three surprising trends driving growth in the alternative proteins industry

The survey conducted for CRB’s 2023 Horizons: Alternative Proteins report uncovered three big industry trends: increasing scalability, chasing sustainability, and pulling back on capital investment.  

In this episode, we’re joined by CRBers Sebastian Bohn, Sub-Market Leader of Alternative Proteins, Tony Moses, PhD, Director of Product Innovation and Fellow, and Jason Robertson, Vice President of Food and Beverage, who share their perspectives on the report’s findings and dig deeper into what the survey results mean for the future of the industry. 

“I think [the Horizons: Alternative Proteins report] can be a tool to help really identify what's the road map to production and and how can we help them get to market as quick as possible.” - Jason Robertson

CRB’s latest alternative proteins report takes a pulse on the current state of the industry and how it’s changed since the 2021 survey. This industry has undergone tremendous growth since then, so it’s not surprising that the 150 alternative proteins leaders we surveyed shared priorities, challenges, and strategies that differ from the last report. For example, scalability remains a key priority and challenge, though we’ve helped clients make progress in that area. But certain findings were surprising, such as the fact that manufacturers plan to spend half as much on capital projects as they did in 2021. Perhaps they’re putting that money toward sustainability instead. Many have budgets to pursue sustainability but do not yet have plans in place to achieve their green goals.

So what does this data mean for alternative proteins? Sebastian, Tony and Jason share their opinions about where this dynamic, exciting industry is headed and how they believe alternative protein manufacturers can continue being successful.


Here’s a look at the episode:

00:34 – How the Horizons: Alternative Proteins report helps industry leaders

03:33 – What three main industry trends are captured in this report

06:36 – How these trends around scalability, sustainability, and capital investment shape the future of alternative proteins




Get your copy of the 2023 Horizons: Alternative Proteins report:

Download the Report

Transcript of Episode 1: Three surprising trends driving growth in the alternative proteins industry

Ashley Martins: We are bringing the trends and data collected from the hundreds of surveys with industry leaders in the life sciences and food and beverage industries with CRB Horizons Podcast. Join me, Ashley Martins, as we dive into the latest Horizons: Alternative Proteins report with the subject matter experts who wrote it.

Tony Moses: Tony Moses, Director of Product Innovation and a fellow at CRB. I’ve been with the company for three years.

Sebastian Bohn: Sebastian Bohn, been with CRB for eight years and I’m the submarket leader of alternative protein.

Jason Robertson: Jason Robertson, Vice President of Food and Beverage, been with CRB for 16 years.

Ashley: With the rise in consumer popularity of alternative dairy and meat products, it’s no wonder that companies operating in the alternative protein market are being kept rather busy. These manufacturers have regulatory and commercial challenges that traditional food and beverage organizations don’t have a soul for. That’s precisely why we wanted to dig deeper into this report and interview 150 experts industry-wide to understand how, despite all the struggles alternative protein companies may face, they are thriving. How can these manufacturers do this even when it seems like they have all the odds stacked against them with regulations, large-scale layoffs and even high-profile recalls happening in the news? What purpose will this report serve to professionals in this space? 

Tony: Sebastian, this is kind of been your first experience with the report, right?  

Sebastian: Correct. 

Tony: What does the report mean to you? 

Sebastian: I have to say from, again, someone more on the execution side and seeing the day-to-day of this market grow and the startups, it’s a great opportunity to help share the information within the industry of what’s actually happening. So, there’s another resource that a lot of these startups, they might be, you know, tunnel vision just because they’re in the daily grind of really getting their business up and going, and so, when they’re trying to take a step back and look at what is the industry as a whole doing, you know, where some areas where maybe are we in line with what’s happening or are we not. What we’re able to provide through this Horizon report is really that, you know, a high-level industry view of where things are going. And it’s not, again, just from the perspective of people like us but it’s actually from the perspective of the startups and all the folks themselves that are, you know, doing the actual work of building the industry and the products. 

Tony: Yeah, that’s awesome. I mean, so often we get the voice of the consumer. This is almost the voice of the manufacturer.  

Sebastian: Yeah. 

Tony: Jason, this is your third Horizons report? 

Jason: Yeah, it’s been quite a ride. I’ll tell you, looking back, you know, we’ve been involved in alternative protein since 2016 and was really blessed to really be in that industry before it is really where it is today. And I would say that these Horizons reports, I think, really help the industry identify some of those risks and challenges. And, you know, many times these CEOs, you know, they’re great at fundraising, but from manufacturing and technology and scaling their efforts, I think this can be a tool to help them really identify what’s the road map to production and how can we help them get to market as quick as possible. 

Tony: Yeah, absolutely. You know, it’s great to pan back out and see all different aspects of the industry, not just fundraising, and I love that this report captures everybody from pre-revenue to over half a billion dollars a year in revenue. So, you really get a diverse look at that in the industry. 

Jason: Yeah, I would say that since the first report now there’s been a subsequent kind of deep dive back into the industry. I think we’ve seen a lot of, you know, changes. 

Ashley: This report takes a pulse on the alternative proteins industry. The last report was published in 2021. With even just two years difference between the last report and this one, it’s clear that there are some trends that stood out. Plus, there’s been some recent media headlines that questioned whether consumers will ever adopt alternative proteins at scale. Now, there are three main areas of focus: scalability, sustainability and capital investment. We all know the basics of the industry, like there’s a rise in consumer demand for alternative dairy and protein products but this report came with some big takeaways that surprised our SMEs. 

Tony: So guys, let’s talk about what are the three most interesting insights that we’ve taken away from the report here. You know, when I look at this, I was a little bit afraid to get the data back. There’s been a lot of bad headlines out there, so I was concerned to see this industry might be shrinking and might be contracting. However, I think the good news on that side is that companies that are looking to build a new facility or renovate an old facility brownfield their capital spending realistic expectations seem much more realistic to me, so that was very promising. And then, I think what is not in the headlines that our data was showing about the industry here is that we had two years ago, only a quarter of the companies were in commercial phase and now we’re seeing over half. So, we’ve seen tremendous progress over the last two years. Hopefully, some of those companies can start now realizing revenue from operations rather than fundraising, but that’s an optimistic way to look at it. Jason, how about you? What popped out at you? 

Jason: Well, I think we’ve seen that the trend of sustainability continues to be a driver. And as you reflect back at how we make decisions in those grocery store aisles, I think the consumer is still looking for making sustainable decisions on those products. And so, I think whether it’s ESG type of decisions or whatever it is, that that’s a main focus that you see in the consumer. I would say probably the other is just the de-risking of the technology, and as those folks are going through that venture stage, who’s walking beside them. And, I think the scale-up will continue to be centered around price parity and how can they get there, so those are a couple of takeaways I’d add. 

Tony: Nice, thanks. Sebastian? 

Sebastian: I think there were a lot of interesting points. Obviously, the capital investment was a big one, just like you mentioned, Tony, in terms of how much they wanted to spend a couple of years ago, only to now how that big shift has happened. However, one of the other interesting data points that we did see, and which aligns with what we’re seeing in terms of the macroeconomic situation, is just the fact that more people are going to start looking at co-manufacturing to just to help offset that initial capital expenditure. 

So again, that’s a play that is well-timed, I think, just based on everything that’s given. However, it’s still exciting to see. And then with, you know, everyone that you talk to you within the industry, the excitement has not dissipated. 

Ashley: So, what’s on the horizon for alternative protein manufacturers? Is it safe to compare their work to that of traditional protein manufacturers? What’s at stake and how can they overcome the challenges they’re currently facing? Tony, Jason and Sebastian share their thoughts on this. 

Tony: When you look at like the competition here, right, what you’re trying to reach price parity with, you’re talking about processing an animal through a facility. You’re probably not at one or 2% yield on those animals, right? I mean, you’re probably closer to 50% coming out of there. So that’s at least an order of magnitude difference. That’s a pretty high hurdle to tackle. 

Jason: Trying to catch up. You know, that industry continues to want to compare itself. And, you know, I think it’s about trying to perfect your scales, get it scaled up and not necessarily worry about, you know, chasing the conventional, you know, meat market, in my opinion. 

Sebastian: Well, yeah. And I’m sure you’ve seen a lot of traditional meat manufacturing and you don’t really understand the scale until you go to one of those facilities or just, you know, whether it’s how many hogs, how many cattle are going through it. And then at the end, you know, again, you’re measuring everything in tons. You’re not measuring it in pounds or grams at that point. 

Tony: I just think that’s a challenge that the industry will be able to tackle. Like what’s it going to take to get to that scale? These are technologies that we want to replace a significant amount of protein or add a significant amount of protein, I should say. What’s it going to take to get to that scale? 

Jason: You know, there’s a lot of perspectives around that. But when I look at that, I think as you think about really global demand for protein for folks that think we’re going to replace, you know, conventional products in the U.S. it’s tough to believe that. I think when you’re thinking about global demand and places that might not be able to provide, you know, a ton of soybean meal total to ultimately go to a feed mill and, you know, grow, you know, animals, I think that’s why the innovation’s ultimately going to have a hard, larger impact globally than in the United States. 

Sebastian: Yeah. And I mean to that point that the global aspect of it I mean, we’ve seen clients all across the world now start to not only from a startup perspective, you know, other countries are developing their own startup hubs in the food tech area. But then from a regulatory perspective, other countries are now getting on board and realizing, hey, this is a great opportunity to increase food security, food stability, and back to the point where, you know, might be, if you’re in the Middle East and you don’t have any farmland, so this is going to be your next option to really develop that. 

Ashley: Whether it’s supporting our clients feed the world or discovering new ways to improve our clients’ current processes, CRB’s team of professionals is pushing the industry forward and they’re all excited about the potential on the horizon for the alternative proteins industry. To download your copy of the Horizons: Alternative Proteins report, visit We will also share that link in the show notes. Be sure to subscribe to the show to be notified when future episodes get released. Thanks for listening.