Meat and dairy replacement technologies continue to evolve – latest report

December 5, 2023 - 5 min read

Meat and dairy replacement technologies continue to evolve – latest report

5 December 2023 – Worldwide innovation in potentially viable alternatives to meat and dairy products is seeing continued investment, according to the latest patent data revealed by Appleyard Lees.

The leading intellectual property firm’s third annual edition of the Inside Green Innovation: Progress Report, has analysed the latest patent filings across several, alternative food-related technologies:

Cultivated meat – improving production, nutrition and texture

A milestone in the cultivated meat evolution was reached in July this year, with the first paying customers for the product – Upside Foods’ cultivated chicken – in the US.

Innovation in cultivated meat technology, as shown by patent filing activity up to 2021, has increased by almost a quarter (22.5%; from 80 to 98 patent filings) between 2020 and 2021 alone – though this growth rate is dwarfed by the almost 300% increase in the year 2019 to 2020 (from 21 to 80 filings).

Advancing cultivated meat technology focuses on equipment to both reduce production costs and increase capacity, such as bioreactors. Recently filed patent applications seek to protect developments in edible microcarriers/scaffolds – both with added adhesion capability and 3-D printable – as well as culture media with extra nutritional elements.

While US-based companies remain ahead in patent filings – including Upside Foods, developing cultured cells and methods for preparing cell-based food, among other innovations – South Korean enterprises have shown the highest year-on-year growth between 2020 and 2021 in patent filings (58% - from 17 to 27) for cultivated meat.

South Korean universities appear to be the source of this heightened activity: Yonsei University concentrating on innovation that offers different cultured meat textures, while Chungbuck University using cells taken from livestock to prepare in vitro meat.

Appleyard Lees partner and patent attorney, Chris Mason, said: “Despite major obstacles to cultivated meat being commercially viable and widely consumed, many companies are now investing in larger facilities to scale-up production with the aim of driving down costs so that cultivated meat can become an affordable option for everyone.”

Plant-based meat – the lows and highs of an emerging sector

The plant-based meat sector story is a conflicting one: while a pioneering company such as Beyond Meat has faced share price collapse, others entered administration, and UK supermarkets reduced plant-based meat ranges, innovation has continued unabated.

Global patent filings increased by about 36% in 2021 (the latest available figures), achieving a historic high for this technology area of 258 applications. European companies operating in plant-based meat have retained their position as the highest filers, followed by those in the US, Japan and South Korea.

Specific innovation appears focused on replicating the meat-eating experience: addressing residual, vegetable flavour; producing textures and a chewable quality that is more meat-like, and mimicking meat fat to make plant-based products cook in a similar way. Innovations aimed at substituting common meat-based foods such as pies, sausages and bacon with plant-based alternatives, are also the subjects of recent patent activity.

Appleyard Lees patent attorney Alice Smart said: “Global patent filings in this field have continued to grow and reached an historic high in 2021. Much of the ongoing innovation is aimed at mimicking the appearance, texture, juiciness and mouthfeel of meat. More research and development may now be focused on creating better nutritional profiles and aiming to reduce processing steps to allay consumer fears of ultra-processed foods.

“New applicants have continued to join this market but patent filings remain dominated by large and established non-specialist companies such as Fuji Oil, Cargill Inc, Nestle, Roquette, Unilever and Royal DSM.”

Insect protein – continuing an upward flight

This year’s move by the European Commission to approve two more varieties of insect protein for human consumption may herald greater innovation in the EU, though not necessarily in post-Brexit UK.

While 2021 patent filings globally have fallen from 2020’s all-time peak (by about 17%, from 302 to 251, yet still higher than any other previous year), the decade-long trend is upwards.

Innovation in this area is varied, and includes insect types, genetic modification, breeding and rearing, harvesting and processing plus food – both human and for animals – made from insects or larvae.

European companies – followed by the US and China – are challenging their previously-dominant South Korean competitors in the innovation stakes for internationally-recognised patents, reaching an almost 20-year high of 46 filings that lead to international patent families.

The top patent filing business in 2021 – French biotechnology company, Innovafed – is developing technology for producing insect eggs and collecting/treating larvae. Meanwhile, Ÿnsect, also French-owned, has applied to protect an edible product derived from insect larvae or worms.

Alice Smart said: “The overall trend in patent filings remains upwards although 2021 saw a small dip in the number of new applications. In contrast the number of filings in Europe increased, which may be a result of legislation change which appears to be driving greater innovation in the insect protein industry. This shows how regulators can help the development of an emerging industry – not least one which may offer a future-proof food source that has a relatively low environmental impact.”

The Inside Green Innovation: Progress Report – Third Edition’s focus on alternative protein was chosen because of its prominence in the global green innovation conversation, as referenced in the OECD’s and United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Green Innovation Database, a global innovation catalogue that connects needs for solving environmental or climate change problems with sustainable solutions.

*Appleyard Lees’ Inside Green Innovation: Progress Report – Third Edition is available to read here.

About Appleyard Lees

Appleyard Lees is a leading intellectual property law firm with approximately seventy patent and trademark attorneys and litigators. We help our clients protect and monetise their intellectual property and manage post-grant challenges, should they arise. We offer broad sector and industry knowledge, plus the ability to adapt our services to specific client requirements, in an agile way. With offices in UK innovation hotspots, we are positioned to give clients expert strategic IP advice in the UK and worldwide.

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