The hemp-based meat will be marketed under the firm’s retail brand The Craft Meat Co, which already sells a range of plant-based products including mince, burgers, sausages and ready meals.
“Most of our products already include some hemp for its nutritional value, but the new meat analogue will be using hemp as its base which means it will have a total consumable protein content that is higher than even that of animal-based protein sources due to hemp being naturally so high in protein,” Sustainable Foods Co-founder Kyran Rei told FoodNavigator-Asia.
“Hemp-based meat will also contain very high levels of dietary fibre, up to 19% of the recommended dietary intake (RDI), an benefit that is not available from traditional animal meat or in many other plant-based meats.”
“Hemp is a very viable crop for New Zealand growing conditions, and we are partnering with medical cannabis producer Greenfern Industries as our exclusive grower to make our hemp-based meat analogues from 100% locally-grown hemp.”
Rei also highlighted that Greenfern Industries had built its own hydroelectric power plant, complete with a dam and electricity generator, and this would power the processing and production of its products, vastly increasing the sustainability of its processes.
“Having found a way to successfully utilise hydropower for processing and production has been a really big thing for us – New Zealand as a whole is predominantly regenerative when it comes to electricity as it is, and we like to think we’re a little, independent version of that too,” he said.
“Sustainability is obviously a very big thing for us, and as it is all our packaging in New Zealand is already made using Forest Stewardship Certified material for paper stock.
"Where plastic is necessary we have partnered with another NZ company Flight Plastics to establish closed loop recycling within NZ, with trays made of up to 88% recycled content, and are 100% recyclable within NZ. If we cannot YET eliminate plastic, the very least we can do is take responsibility for it.”
Along with co-owner Justin Lemmens, Rei's approach to Sustainable Foods' hemp-based meat production will be focused on minimal processing and natural ingredients, largely driven by consumer trends searching for healthier, better-for-you, more sustainably sourced foods.
“Health remains the key driver, which is being increasingly represented by the uptake of veganism and flexitarianism, a change we’ve always seen as permanent change rather than a trend,” he said.
“So in line with this, our processing will focus on making the product as close to a whole food as possible, so it will be minimally processed and every ingredient will be of natural origin.”
“There’s so much that can be done these days with natural food technology when it comes to stabilising, preserving and so on, so we really want to keep things natural.”
The hemp-based meat analogue will be launched in 2021 at an as-yet unconfirmed ‘well-priced range’, though Rei stressed that the prices will not be super premium as the firm’s main target demographic is still the average consumer.
“Health and sustainability and good flavour need to be affordable to enable a wide uptake and make a meaningful difference – people need to be able to afford to buy it,” he said.
Taste and texture
When asked how the taste and texture of hemp-based meat compares to that of animal-based or other alternative meats, Rei said that it delivered on the factors needed for consumers to feel satisfied during any ‘eating occasion’.
“Our primary goal is to meet the expectations of a desired eating occasion and not to replicate meat per se – even though along the way the product has managed to do so,” he said.
“Whether its enjoyed in a burger, or being able to throw it on a barbeque, shred it , fry it or slow cook it there are some consistent factors that people look for [when they eat meat] like umami, texture, bite and juiciness, and this is what we are focused on.
“It’s an inevitable comparison, and I’d say it comes close to the experience of eating chicken.”
Regulatory challenges and next steps
At present, Sustainable Foods’ activities are mostly concentrated in New Zealand, where hemp seeds have been legalised as a food since 2018, and it also dabbles in food service in Australia where this was legalised as food in 2017.
These two countries aside, looking at current regulations the firm may look to be limited in its choices for expanding to anywhere else in the Asia Pacific region, but Rei said that they have in fact been receiving enquiries from several Asian countries as it is.
“At the end of the day each APAC country will need to be treated differently due to the spread of regulations, but the goodness of hemp seeds as a food is increasingly being recognised and we are hopeful that over the next 24 months there will be much wider uptake and regulations will align with that,” he said.
“We have already been receiving enquiries from countries such as Thailand and Singapore which makes us hopeful, and we are working with the New Zealand Trade Enterprise (NZTE) to grow relations in the region. The New Zealand brand and plant-based product reputation is really strong, so that’s good for us.”
For the rest of the year, the firm’s primary focus will be on R&D which it is working together with the Riddet Institute on, before it moves into the commercialisation stage and launch for the hemp-based meat analogue next year.
Sustainable Foods is also working on creating a collaborative New Zealand Plant Based Hub with other alternative protein firms which would focus on the sustainable development of healthy plant based products made with locally grown ingredients.