Generational shifts are redefining the future of protein

Sustainability and technology are key ingredients to meeting global demand

By Chris Schraeder September 12, 2016

As changes in global population and consumer preferences shape the food people eat, the world will need to ensure there is enough access to protein and other dietary essentials. With a global population projected to reach 9 billion people by 2050, demand for protein from a variety of sources is expected to increase. Along with population growth, rising incomes in many regions are driving a change to more protein-rich diets. This creates new opportunities, and challenges, for the industry to keep pace.

“The market is growing for protein from both plant- and animal-based sources,” said Brian Sikes, corporate vice president of Cargill’s protein group. “That includes traditional sources like beef, poultry, seafood and dairy. And we’re also exploring emerging trends.”
Fueling those trends is a generational shift in preferences, which is creating a dynamic landscape for the future of protein. 

“Millennials are changing how food is being consumed, just like baby boomers did,” Sikes said. “And this generational shift is happening globally. As a result, we have to do food differently.” 

Three consumer trends in particular are helping redefine the future of protein, said Sikes. 

The first is convenience. The fastest growth in food retail is occurring in the direct-to-consumer space with home delivery options emerging as a new frontier for grocery. At the same time, consumers are interested in having protein options on the go. 

A second trend is choice. Innovation is bringing alternative protein sources into to market in increasingly palatable ways. Increasingly, plant-based options are competing in the marketplace. Meanwhile, the idea of meat grown in a lab or protein derived from insects are no longer the stuff of science fiction. 

Finally, transparency is high on the minds of consumers. 

“People are making choices to protect the planet and ensure the humane treatment of animals,” said Sikes. “They want to know the story of where their food comes from and feel good about what they eat.” This includes nutrition, animal welfare, food safety and the overall environmental footprint.

Cargill has a history of leading in all of these areas, advancing new technologies and approaches to sustainability across the supply chain. To name a few:

  • Cargill has limited antibiotic use in turkeys and cattle, removing all growth-promoting antibiotics from turkeys raised by independent farmers and eliminating 20 percent of shared-class antibiotics from about 1.2 million beef cattle. Cargill is collaborating with cattle ranchers, researchers, universities and allied partners to identify production practices and viable alternatives that could result in further reduction in the use of medicines for food animal production.
  • It is addressing water scarcity and quality in areas prone to drought. A Cargill beef plant in Friona, Texas, was awarded the Blue Legacy Award by the Texas Water Foundation for reducing water use by 23 percent and saving 150 million gallons annually. Treated water from the plant is also provided to local farmers, reducing their need for water from the stressed Ogallala Aquifer.
  • As a founding member of the Coalition for Sustainable Egg Supply, the company is working to better understand the impact of various hen housing systems on animal welfare, the environment, worker health, food safety and food affordability. It continues to provide a variety of responsibly sourced egg options, including cage-free, to its customers.
  • In an industry first, it has piloted a sustainable beef program in Canada in partnership with McDonald’s, successfully tracking nearly 9,000 head of cattle from birth to beef through a fully verified supply chain, resulting in the equivalent of 2.4 million beef patties for McDonald’s Canada. The pilot findings will be used to inform similar programs in collaboration with regional and market-level roundtables around the world. The company is actively involved with a number of roundtables, including the global, U.S. and Canadian Roundtables for Sustainable Beef.

As changing consumer preferences create new opportunities for product and supply chain innovation, Cargill continues to develop new approaches to protein to create a more sustainable, food-secure future. 

“We’re committed to do the right thing for the animal, the environment, our customers and consumers,” said Sikes.