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Veganuary and IP – Protecting Plant-based “Meat”


27th Jan 2020

The market for meat substitutes is growing fast, and the trend is not going to stop when Veganuary ends.

Driven by a variety of concerns about the environmental impact of meat consumption, animal welfare, and/or health considerations, large numbers of people are moving towards vegetarian, vegan, or “flexitarian” diets, where individuals reduce the amount of meat they consume. In the last 2 years alone, demand for meat substitutes has grown by 37% in America, and by 30% in western Europe [1]. Euromonitor expects the market for meat alternatives in both Europe and the US to double by 2022. And with growing public awareness of the impact of intensive animal farming on global warming, this trend is forecast to go only one way.

“Veganuary” – the movement that encourages consumers to adopt a vegan lifestyle throughout the month of January – has been growing in popularity in recent years. Even fast-food brands that became famous for serving beef-burgers and fried chicken are now waking up to the power of the vegan dollar: McDonald’s, Greggs, KFC and Subway have all launched new vegan options this month to coincide with Veganuary 2020.

Meat-free Technology

Thankfully for those who would like to cut back on meat without a wholesale change in habits, the technology behind meat substitutes is improving too. In this context “meat substitutes” means plant-based meats – foods that mimic the taste, texture and nutritional qualities of meat, despite being meat-free. This means that consumers can still have the experience of eating traditionally “meat-based” menu options like burgers, sausages and minced/ground-meat, while remaining faithfully vegetarian or vegan.

You can forget the cardboard-textured veggie burgers of years past – companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods (many other brands are also available) are now producing plant-based burgers and sausages that taste convincingly “meaty”. I’ve tried them, and in my opinion as a non-vegetarian, they are shockingly good.

It has taken years of development to get here, and different companies have attempted different ways of recreating the sensation of “meatiness” using only plant-derived products. Impossible Foods’ soya-based burger, for example, contains haem, an iron-rich molecule that exists in living things to help proteins carry oxygen. Haem gives beef its reddish colour, and it helps to create a meaty flavour once the meat is cooked. In the Impossible Burger, the formulation uses leghaemoglobin derived from genetically modified yeast. Beyond Meat’s burger, on the other hand, is made from proteins derived from peas, mung beans and rice, and the reddish colour is achieved with beetroot. The Beyond burger also contains coconut oil and cocoa butter that replace the fat in a real beef burger.

Bringing Home the Bacon Money

While meat substitutes may still be just on the outskirts of the mainstream, savvy investors realised long ago that these products are going to end up making big money. Impossible Foods has reportedly raised $700m in private funds, and its backers include Bill Gates. Beyond Meat also has its share of celebrity investors (Leonardo DiCaprio is just one of many), and after the company went public in May 2019 its valuation soared to around $9 billion by September 2019.

The Patent-y Bit

Unsurprisingly, when these products have taken years to develop, and are worth so much money, the manufacturers of meat substitutes are turning to the patent system in an effort to protect their innovations and market position.

A search for published patent rights in the names of Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, for example, reveals that both companies have filed multiple patent applications relating to their imitation meat and its manufacture. A basic search for published patent rights naming “Impossible Foods, Inc” as the patent applicant returns 174 results with titles such as “Ground Meat Replicas”,  “Methods and Compositions for Affecting the Flavor and Aroma Profile of Consumables”, and several variations on “Non-Dairy Cheese”. A similar search for patent rights relating to Beyond Meat (applicant name: “Savage River dba Beyond Meat”) brings up 34 published documents with titles such as “Meat-Like Food Products”.

Patent applications are only published 18 months after filing, so searching public databases does not reveal patent applications filed since July 2018. This means that the latest developments in faux-meat may well be covered by patent applications not yet visible on public registers.

As meat substitutes continue to move into the mainstream and investment in these products increases, further technical advances are sure to make plant-based meat more and more realistic. By protecting the innovations involved in manufacturing these meat-substitutes together with their compositions, the patent owners and their investors will be well placed to make themselves market leaders in plant-based meat substitutes in the years to come.

[1] https://www.economist.com/international/2019/10/12/plant-based-meat-could-create-a-radically-different-food-chain?fsrc=scn%2Fli%2Fte%2Fpe%2Fauto

This article is for general information only. Its content is not a statement of the law on any subject and does not constitute advice. Please contact Reddie & Grose LLP for advice before taking any action in reliance on it.

Author
Gavin Dundas
Associate
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Would you like to know more? You can talk to Gavin Dundas who will be able to help. Call +44 (0)1223 360 350

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