Sometime during the pandemic, I found myself at the Apple store in Austin. I needed a replacement for my MacBook Air and a nice lady helping me suggested I add a $400 Apple watch to my purchase.
“Why would I need a watch,” I asked. Little did I know then about the watch that I’ve come to rely on for checking my heart, logging my exercise and sending my calls to voice mail. How did I live without an Apple watch?
What I never saw before that day in Austin was any hype about the Apple watch. I am both pretty immune and pretty resistant to hype. All those Apple projects in the Steve Jobs era were not sold to us on hype but on their actual performance in the marketplace. They filled needs we did not know we had.
Food Safety News gets a constant stream of new product pitches. I won’t say that we don’t occasionally stray into a topic involving a new product, but our policy is to avoid them. If Food Safety News is writing about a new product, the implication is that the new product is going to be safe.
There is no way we can know that without there being some significant market exposure
We watch for signs. We were surprised two years ago when PA-based Beyond Meat bet its “future of food” on safety-challenged China for the production of its plant-based offerings. Nor were we surprised this past week when Bloomberg ran photos of Beyond Meat’s home plant that appeared to show evidence of mold, listeria and other food safety uses.
Multiple positive tests for listeria were said to have occurred during the past year and a half. And wood, metal and plastic reportedly were found in the product. Beyond Food was able to point to their continued good standing with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.
The company that puts out a plant-based meat substitute clearly is not having a good year, Its roll-out deal with McDonald’s went bust, its net loss for the year is $97.1 million, and it laid off 19 percent of its workforce.
There was lots of hype from others when Beyond Meat got the deal to put its “McPlant” burger in 600 McDonald’s for a six-month pilot program. But either not enough McD customers tried the “McPlant” burger or more troubling those who tried it were put off by the taste. Either way, the pilot failed.
There’s also speculation that people stuck at home during the pandemic tried the meat substitutes purchased at their grocery store, and were not satisfied. Those reactions may be why sales of Beyond Meat are stalling. It’s not a good sign for the young company.
Beyond Meat is but one of numerous plant-based start-ups out there. Lab-grown meat and poultry from animal cells is another new product area. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) earlier this month approved UPSIDE FOODs’ plan to produce chicken in the lab from animal cells. USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has yet to sign off.
While there’s been hype about plant-based alternatives, the growth of meat and poultry in labs is likely larger if measured by venture capital and public relations firms under contract. Investors in UPSIDE FOODs, for example, include SoftBank Group, the Temasek, Norwest, Threshold Ventures, Tyson Foods, Bill Gates, Sir Richard Branson, Kimbal Musk, Whole Foods and others.
When you are downstream to all the new product pitches that flow from campaigns where billions are at risk, it can seem like the wind never stops blowing. But it’s all the more reason why we have to be careful not to get sucked in. We need to constantly look for the food safety angle that these plant-based and lab-based offerings must either overcome or they will die.
The key, I think, to the safety of these lab-grown offerings will turn out to be the laboratories themselves. Only a little memory is required to recall billion-dollar laboratory scandals.
That’s why we are going to stay focused on food safety and not the type of these new product offerings. It would be silly to do otherwise.
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