An in-depth conversation with Thomas Cresswell, Chief Business Officer at Melt&Marble (website), reveals the transformative potential of the plant-based food sector in reshaping our food system, planet, and health. As a pioneer, Cresswell brings a unique perspective on plant-based foods’ challenges, innovations, and opportunities.
The plant-based food sector has seen some groundbreaking innovations over the years. Companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have revolutionized the texture and flavor of plant-based alternatives. Yet, Cresswell notes a “gap” in matching the taste of traditional meat and dairy products. Industry pioneers are experimenting with novel technologies such as 3D printing and fiber spinning to bridge this gap.
One of the main challenges lies in replicating the complex chemistry of animal-based foods. As Cresswell highlights, “Plant proteins don’t naturally have the fibrous structure of muscle proteins, and the sensory properties of plant-based fats are very different to animal fats.” Yet, innovative processes like precision fermentation and cell culture are helping to make plant-based alternatives more comparable to their animal-based counterparts.
Urgent environmental and sustainability concerns also drive the plant-based food revolution. Animal agriculture, responsible for around 14.5% of global GHG emissions, significantly contributes to climate change. Cresswell asserts, “To have any hope of tackling climate change, there needs to be a large shift away from the high-intensity animal farming that makes up 90%+ of the industry today.” Replacing traditional meats with plant-based alternatives can have profound implications for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and land use.
The Chief Business Officer also asserts that plant-based foods are crucial to global food security. Plant-based foods can optimize land, water, and energy usage due to their resource efficiency. Moreover, they offer the potential to become more climate-resilient than traditional crops through advanced technologies like precision fermentation and cultured meat.
The rise of plant-based foods also has significant implications for traditional agricultural practices. Farmers and suppliers must adapt to this change by diversifying crops, adopting sustainable farming methods, and exploring new product opportunities. However, more work is needed to educate these stakeholders about the benefits of shifting to plant-based alternatives.
The perception that plant-based foods are more expensive than animal-based ones remains a hurdle for broader adoption. Yet, the industry is working hard to lower production costs and achieve economies of scale. As Cresswell notes, “The price of solar panels fell by over 90% between 2010 and 2020, and it is now more competitive than some conventional energy sources.”
Looking ahead, Cresswell envisions a future where plant-based foods become mainstream, driven by technological advancements, personalized nutrition, and a growing acceptance of plant-based diets. He also anticipates the emergence of new product categories, including hybrid products that contain ingredients from plant-based sources, precision fermentation, and cell culture.
Thomas is an experienced professional with a background in Investment Banking, Strategy Consulting, and Venture Capital, including roles at RBC Capital Markets, Strategy& and Cargill. His interest in food sustainability influenced his career path, leading to a focus on AgriFood strategies at Cargill and significant insight into the entire value chain. Moving into Venture Capital, he founded Cargill Ventures, leading over 15 investments in the AgriFood ecosystem, including precision fermentation, cultivated meat, and alternative proteins and fats.
Image provided by Melt&Marble