After two years of Covid dominating headlines and business plans, 2022 was a return to the normal pandemonium of the food & beverage industry. That became apparent as I looked back on the top stories and other issues of 2022 and looked ahead to what may come this year.
I think one of the more remarkable themes of the past year was the retreat of plant-based proteins as meat analogues. I never understood all the hoopla, never bought into the idea it was a tidal wave about to wipe out every livestock farm in America; but I knew it would find a niche, just as low-fat, zero sugar and gluten-free have. A niche. Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods suffered in 2022, and established companies dabbling in that business – JBS, Maple Leaf, even Kellogg – are backing out of it.
My other 2022 favorite was the evolution of cultured/cultivated meat. I've been following this topic with excitement since it first appeared on the radar. History was made last November when Upside Foods, formerly Memphis Meats, became the first to gain FDA approval for its process – only the first of several steps before its lab-grown chicken can arrive in stores. Other companies also have FDA and USDA applications in; will we see the first consumer sales of cultured meat this year?
Like cultured meats, I'm astounded by the advances in fermentation. The past year hinted that nearly any food raw material can be replicated by this process. Stevia and other expensive ingredients have been produced that way for a couple of years, but last year saw the arrival of biofermented milk, honey and chocolate. It amazes me that ingredients that were too expensive, too slow or too onerous to create could be replicated with the addition of a little yeast or other starter cultures.
And then there's the FDA. While it seems the agency always has been under fire for one reason or another in my 30 years of writing about the food industry, things may be coming to a head. Last April saw that blockbuster investigative report from Politico, and at year-end we read the Reagan-Udall Foundation report; both recommending sweeping changes, including the establishment of a single individual in charge of food safety. Somewhere in between was a bill introduced in both houses of Congress to create a new, food-only agency. None of the above is news, but the clamor is becoming difficult to dismiss.
In summary, the stage has been set for a challenging 2023. I hope you enjoy the ride.