Completely reproducing an existing product’s appearance, colour, flavour, aroma, texture, nutrition profile and palatability from synthetic components is challenging for a range of reasons.
Some specific ingredients and products have already reached the marketplace. But where the rubber really hits the road is the ability to fully replicate a product from synthetic components.
This remains some way off with a number of unknowns as to what might actually be feasible.
Regulatory regimes are often one of the most important influences in determining the course of technological innovation.
Synthetic foods face two major regulatory hurdles in the form of food safety standards and labelling requirements.
Both are complex with overlapping features and there is substantial variation between countries. For some of the emerging technologies, governing legalisation doesn’t even exist yet, or there are effectively blanket bans.
In some cases there is a gap between actual market practices and regulation too. All these dynamics suggesting regulators will need to play catch-up at some point.
• Consumer reaction
The consumer response is the ultimate test. Research and surveys on the topic seemed to vary substantially between finding there is limited appeal through to unlimited opportunity.
Until more products are in the marketplace it will be difficult to judge how consumers might actually respond.
Responsive to change
As Charles Darwin said, “it is not the strongest that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones most responsive to change”.
New Zealand food and beverage companies have many unique points of difference that can be leveraged to defend against synthetic substitutes.
There will always be a market for natural products, particularly in a world where the population is ageing and becoming more health conscious, but companies can’t solely rely on this to deliver sustainable returns.
Keeping ahead of the competition requires constant innovation and more investment into product development, marketing, production effi ciencies, food safety, animal welfare and environmental sustainability.
Con Williams is a Rural Economist at ANZ NZ