Today’s episode is a continuation of episode 6, where we once again will look at solutions for continuing to feed the world's rising population, but more specifically a look at our future diets.
Our guest is Lars Horsholt Jensen, Chief Operating Officer at Food & Bio Cluster in Denmark. Food & Bio Cluster is a cluster gathering all the food and bio resources in Denmark into one network, driving to support company innovation. Lars will guide us through what the future of food looks like touching upon the topics plant-based, reactive, and genetically modified foods.
Your host is Mikkel Svold, CEO of Montanus, who will guide you through this interesting topic.
This podcast is produced by Montanus.
Link up with Lars Horsholt Jensen
Link up with Mikkel Svold
Listed below are the most essential timestamps from the podcast episode to make it easier for you to find the topics that interest you.
01:35 Introduction to Food and Bio Cluster and Lars Horsholt Jensen
03:08 Plant-based food
05:25 Should we expect everyone to go vegan?
09:32 The different plant-based products
12:47 Hybrid products
16:09 How to market hybrid products?
19:10 Plant-based foods are perceived as healthier
21:06 Are we transitioning to a plant-based diet automatically
22:28 Ways to force the development
26:16 Reactive food and genetically modified food
31:15 Will it get out of hand?
35:53 Branding issues and genetically modified food
39:04 The revolution of microorganism. Is it a question of if or when?
Relevant Links from the Episode
Mikkel Svold (00:23):
Hello, and welcome back to Big Ideas Only, and this is a podcast brought to you by Montanus, where we are specializing in producing high-quality content for technical marketing departments or marketing departments in technical companies. I’m your host, Mikkel Svold, and in this, and also the former episode actually, we were asking the questions and we are asking the questions, how do we feed 9, 10, 11-something billion people? And today we’ll focus on plant-based foods, which is a big thing obviously right now, and then also, I guess, for some people, still pretty controversial. And we’ll also look at something called reactive foods, and that I think is super exciting. So we will make room for that, even though we did skip a beat in the last episode. But this reactive food we will actually be looking at because it’s super exciting. So in the studio with me, I have once again invited Lars Horsholt Jensen, who is the Chief Operating Officer at Food & Bio Cluster in Denmark. Welcome back to you.
Lars Horsholt Jensen (01:23):
Thank you very much, Mikkel.
Mikkel Svold (01:24):
And I know that you mentioned this in the previous episode, but I think for new listeners, we still owe them just a brief explanation of what is Food & Bio Cluster and what you do there. Just very briefly.
Lars Horsholt Jensen (01:35):
I’ll do it very briefly. Basically, Food & Bio Cluster is the innovation actor that supports innovation, new ideas, new products, new technologies within the space of food and bio resources. And that basically just means all the way from the farm or the forest or the ocean to the fork and the consumer. So all the new products, all the new ideas, all the new startups that are emerging out of that.
Mikkel Svold (02:00):
There are a lot of startups in that field, right?
Lars Horsholt Jensen (02:01):
There’s a lot of startup in that field. We have 384 members, I think, and approximately a third of those at the moment are startups. And they’re really popping up everywhere in terms of this space because it’s relatable. Everybody knows that there’s a challenge here that should be solved, both the feeding the people challenge, but also doing it in a way that’s sustainable. And that’s really what we are supporting in Food & Bio Cluster.
Mikkel Svold (02:27):
Lars Horsholt Jensen (02:27):
And my responsibility is to oversee that whole space of inspiration events, networking events, and actual collaborative projects that is going on in our organization. And that’s I guess why I’m here, is to talk a little bit about what are we looking into when we’re talking about.
Mikkel Svold (02:46):
The broader perspective.
Lars Horsholt Jensen (02:48):
Yeah, the broader perspective of that. We have a lot of researchers working on very specific stuff, we have a lot of very skilled people in our organization, with specialist knowledge in all these fields. And I have none of that, but hopefully I have a little bit of the overview of what’s going on, and what we’re looking at and what are the interesting bits to dive into, yeah.
Mikkel Svold (03:08):
And I know that you have both plant-based and like you said, plant-based, but also fishing and meat-based, obviously, or what do you call it? Cattle-based members. But for now, we’re going to focus on plant because that, for some reason, which it might be illogical, but for some reason that’s the controversial part or that’s the new boy in class, I guess.
Lars Horsholt Jensen (03:34):
It is, it is. Yeah.
Mikkel Svold (03:36):
And the reason why I think it’s a little bit strange is because it’s the new boy in class, but not if you go back 300 years or 200 years even, then it was just the regular boy in class. And then we had a long period where meat was on the menu for even every meal. And now we are seeing a trend going the opposite direction. But just for people maybe not knowing the details of it, why is a plant-based food, why are we even talking about this today? Why is it necessary? What does it do?
Lars Horsholt Jensen (04:12):
Well, it’s basically a more effective way to get nutrition. If we’re talking about in a climate context, if we’re talking about in a sustainability context, looking at the way we produce basically the proteins that we need to nourish ourselves. Today, we take those proteins, we grow them in the field, we feed them to the animals, then we eat the animals, more roughly speaking. And animals, especially cows, are quite poor at converting the input into output. So you lose a lot of the potential and nutrition that is already there. You lose that in the processing that is happening in the cow or in the pig or in the chicken before it becomes a product that you can eat. So it’s an inefficient way, on the global scale, to produce the proteins that we need for food. So that’s one way to look at it.
Mikkel Svold (05:13):
It’s about the, I guess, land mass that it requires to feed the cow.
Lars Horsholt Jensen (05:18):
Approximately 80% of agricultural area in Denmark right now is being used to produce food for animals, not food for people.
Mikkel Svold (05:25):
Lars Horsholt Jensen (05:25):
So we could bypass some of that. I’m not saying that we should do away with the animals or that we all need to go vegan. We’re not a political organization in the sense that we have a particular attitude in what is going to happen or what should happen. But we can see that if we want to convert, in a more efficient way, the resources that we have in the soil into food, then plant food is a one way to go. It’s one way to make a more efficient value chain, a more efficient production chain into food.
Mikkel Svold (06:00):
I think it’s quite interesting you say that you’re not an organization pushing for vegan or completely canceling all meat production. And it just reminds me of something I used to say to myself, that I actually thought it was basically, and I still think, I guess, it’s a little bit… Some people, they want everyone to be vegan. And I think that’s just such a far out goal to have that it becomes completely unrealistic.
Lars Horsholt Jensen (06:38):
Mikkel Svold (06:38):
And instead of going for, we should have people eat only half the meat they do, because the result of even that, that’s a way more realistic goal.
Lars Horsholt Jensen (06:50):
And that is an acceptable goal also. I mean, a lot of consumers and a lot of people today are saying, “We are willing to change our habits in relation to mitigating the climate crisis, we understand that this is a problem. We want to do something.” 50%, in a recent study, supports the fact that we need to eat less meat, 79% are willing to change their habits. So people know that this is a problem and are willing to change. At least they say they are. We might go into this a little bit later if they’re in fact changing their habits then. But I think that from our perspective, it’s about finding better solutions because we have a problem, we have problem that the agricultural and food production is about a third of the Danish emissions of greenhouse gases. So it’s a major …
Mikkel Svold (07:51):
And worldwide, do you know the numbers?
Lars Horsholt Jensen (07:51):
It’s roughly the same.
Mikkel Svold (07:52):
Lars Horsholt Jensen (07:52):
It’s roughly the same. But in Denmark, at least I know it’s about 35 or 33% of total emissions from Denmark coming from this field. So we understand that we need to do something different in order to mitigate the crisis. And we can do that while maintaining a healthy diet. So what I sometimes say is the Stone Age didn’t stop because we ran out of stones.
Mikkel Svold (08:19):
Lars Horsholt Jensen (08:20):
So, change comes about when we find better ways of doing stuff. Change comes about when we find better solutions on the whole, on the problems that we do have as a society and as individuals. And I think that plant-based, and we can see that when we’re looking at where are the new ideas coming? Where are the new solutions emerging? It is in the plant-based space, and it is a category that’s growing immensely in the retail markets. In comparison to traditional dairy, to traditional meat products, this is a booming sector. So from another perspective, why we do we need this? Well, we need it because this is where the growth is, it’s where the new business is. So that’s a different perspective on saying, “Why do we need to be part of this?” If we want to be an exporting global food producer, and be part of that solution for the future, then we need to transform a little bit into that area as well.
Lars Horsholt Jensen (09:18):
And I think many of the larger companies in Denmark have realized that, and are also exploring their options in that space and looking at plant-based alternatives to their existing products and even to hybrid products, which is really interesting.
Mikkel Svold (09:32):
Yeah, because I was just about to ask, what do we actually mean when we talk about plant-based products? Are we talking about, as I imagine it, there are two or three even categories? So you have products that are basically beans and other stuff that we already have where it’s mostly a question…
Lars Horsholt Jensen (09:52):
More or less unprocessed products.
Mikkel Svold (09:54):
Lars Horsholt Jensen (09:55):
That are directly plant, yeah.
Mikkel Svold (09:57):
Yeah. And where the question is whether we can get people to eat their meal without a piece of meat next to it.
Lars Horsholt Jensen (10:04):
Mikkel Svold (10:04):
So that’s one thing. But then there’s also the other category where the plant-based product takes in some kind of substitution role, so it kind of substitutes the meat.
Lars Horsholt Jensen (10:17):
Mikkel Svold (10:17):
And that could be, I know minced meat that is not meat, but which is plant-based. And that’s the other category. And now you just mentioned the hybrid category. And how are these weighed in terms of what’s interesting to look at right now?
Lars Horsholt Jensen (10:37):
I think it’s interesting to look, well, this is just my opinion. I think that there is going to be, as always, a new uptake of new ideas. There’s going to be, the first movers, the early adopters, and the early majority and the late majority. So there’s always going to be a market for the ones who are pure of heart and pure of mind, and who want to go completely vegan or completely vegetarian and want to go on an entirely plant-based diet. What we’re seeing now is really a boom in the hybrid category. I think that is going to be a big part of what is going to make the transition is it’s not entirely dairy, it’s not entirely plant-based. It’s somewhere in between. Because what we are looking at right now is one of the challenges with getting people to switch is that it’s, I want to say alien, that sounds a little bit too much, but it’s not the way … we conventionally think about taste, about texture, about how you build, culturally, a meal.
Lars Horsholt Jensen (11:47):
I think you were saying right now, in this day and age, a lot of us have learned, at least if we’re in my generation and the generations before, you build a meal around the meat. You have the meat, and then you have what you put next to the meat. It could be potatoes, it could be rice, it could be pastas, and some greens. And that is add-ons where the meat takes center stage. And that kind of cultural understanding and societal understanding of what meals are and how meals are built is really also one of the barriers to getting plants to take center stage or even to substitute it. So I think hybrids is a way to overcome that part because it still looks and tastes like the product you knew before. We have a company with us right now working on hybrid cheeses, we have hybrids in different types of areas.
Mikkel Svold (12:47):
So just briefly explain to me what is a hybrid version?
Lars Horsholt Jensen (12:49):
It’s hybrid is where plants are part of the solution, or part of the ingredients. But for instance, dairy or cheese is still a part of it as well.
Mikkel Svold (12:58):
So you’re talking the actual food product?
Lars Horsholt Jensen (12:59):
The actual sliced cheese is part plant, part dairy.
Mikkel Svold (13:07):
Okay, I just wanted to make sure we are not talking about some kind of flexitarian kind of…
Lars Horsholt Jensen (13:10):
No, the individual product is a hybrid between just plant-based, pure plant-based or pure dairy or meat. So you have that hybrid in the middle because today we have also some concerns still in the plant-based space to get the right texture, to get the right taste, to make it tasty. And not just tasty in the sense of tasting like meat, but also having a good experience with all these types of replacement products.
Mikkel Svold (13:39):
I think also one thing that I experienced myself, because we saw this minced meat in the cooler, and I was like, “Yeah, we’ve got to try that.” And I had some guests coming over and I tried to just make patted beef, and I just had such a hard time doing it. And I think that basically probably comes back to what you’re just talking about. It’s not just about the taste, it’s also about how you handle it in the kitchen.
Lars Horsholt Jensen (14:04):
Mikkel Svold (14:05):
Because I didn’t know.
Lars Horsholt Jensen (14:06):
No. No, no, exactly, exactly.
Mikkel Svold (14:08):
I just did whatever I would use to do, right?
Lars Horsholt Jensen (14:09):
Yeah, exactly. And you can do that where it’s just a drop in where you say, “Okay, this replaces exactly this product in the dish or in the cooler.” You can treat this as a beef patty in the same way you would do with a burger and so on. But then you also expect exactly the same experience when you chew into it or how you process it. And that’s not right. It’s not the way it’s coming out, neither the finished product or the process getting there. So that has some limitations, and we’re still struggling with those limitations because food is culture, food is practice, food is not just a technology that translate this into exactly the same experience. It’s all of those things combined, which means that the consumer have a hard time adjusting into this. And that’s also why when 79% say we want to make changes, 50% say we want to cut out in part or entirely the meat, only 26% support two to four meat free days in the cafeteria at their work station.
Lars Horsholt Jensen (15:17):
And when you look out in the retail, the vegan proportion is less than, I think I saw a number, less than 2% of turnover still across categories. So people are saying the right thing at the top, but then when it translates into action, then it comes completely different.
Mikkel Svold (15:37):
And why do you think there’s this difference between what people say and what they actually want to do?
Lars Horsholt Jensen (15:43):
Well, I think it’s a lot of issues combined. We already talked about the cultural stuff, we talked about the taste, the texture. I think there’s also still, because when the retailers look at the sales numbers, In the categories, they’re still also struggling with the way to place it into categories, saying, “Do we have a vegan section?
Mikkel Svold (16:09):
Or should it be next to the meat?
Lars Horsholt Jensen (16:11):
“Or should it be next to the meat? How do we work with it? And when the hybrids come, where are we going to place those?” So I think we’re also struggling still with the availability of those choices. And actually, there was a study made by what’s called World Resource Institute, looking at what are the key parameters to get behavioral change. And stuff like placement and promotion, where do you place it, is in the top 20, top 10 of the concerns that people have. And how you nudge, because you need to nudge.
Mikkel Svold (16:45):
Basically, the good old five Ps for marketing like promotion, place, price …
Lars Horsholt Jensen (16:50):
Exactly, exactly all the same things that apply to regular products apply to this category of products as well. But retailers need to make money, so can you outcompete in the corresponding category, the meat alternative? It’s rising, it’s a rising category, and it’s rising across categories as well. But we’re not quite there yet where we have established that in the marketplace. So that’s also part of it. It’s accessibility, it’s promotion. It’s how do you use the product in retail? How do you do the comparisons?
Mikkel Svold (17:30):
I think actually something that just sprang to mind was in Denmark, over the last, I would say, three years, four years maybe, there’s been quite a significant shift in another category, namely alcohol. So you’ve seen a shift where you could not really imagine, or you could imagine, but you would never buy an alcohol-free beer unless you had a previous alcohol problem, basically. That little niche product was reserved for not even people driving home, because they would probably have taken a Coke. Whereas now, and the reason why I say four years is because my oldest daughter is turning four now, and during my girlfriend’s pregnancy, she nearly could not get any alternatives. It was so hard for her to get alcohol-free alternatives. Whereas now, I have a nine-month-old as well, and during that pregnancy, you could go into the supermarket and you will find an entire aisle just with alcohol-free all kinds of things, from wine to beer, to drinks, to shakers, to everything in between. Even spirit substitutes, I know the ISH from…
Lars Horsholt Jensen (18:44):
Yeah, yeah, ISH Spirits, yeah.
Mikkel Svold (18:45):
And I just think that transition, could that serve as some kind of… Because that’s a cultural thing too, right?
Lars Horsholt Jensen (18:53):
Mikkel Svold (18:54):
Could that serve as some kind of example for the transition onto plant-based stuff?
Lars Horsholt Jensen (18:59):
It’s one of the things that, yeah, if you connect it, because I think that really comes also, to a large extent, from food as a healthy product.
Mikkel Svold (19:09):
Lars Horsholt Jensen (19:10):
And also food as functional. We’re seeing a lot of rise in those categories of innovations where it not just nourishes you, but it enhances your performance.
Mikkel Svold (19:22):
Lars Horsholt Jensen (19:22):
It enhances you in different ways. And you have a young generation, in particular, very focused on health, very focused on the way in which food can contribute to their physical wellbeing, to their physical performance, but also to their cognitive performance. So food and nutrition and drinks, they contribute to just not wellbeing, but also to enhance performance. So it’s really also a slightly different angle to take, and it’s difficult actually to combine them because plant-based also suffers from the notion that while it might be perceived as more healthy, it’s not necessarily more healthy.
Mikkel Svold (20:08):
Lars Horsholt Jensen (20:09):
There’s not a correspondence between those two things necessarily.
Mikkel Svold (20:13):
Lars Horsholt Jensen (20:13):
There can be, but not necessarily in all categories. One of the things is that you naturally get a lot more starch and carbohydrates into your diet.
Mikkel Svold (20:24):
You mentioned in the last episode.
Lars Horsholt Jensen (20:26):
We maybe mentioned in the last episode, yeah. So we need to mitigate that with the way you put your diet together all together. So there are still some issues and some concerns also when you’re looking into the dairy category, some of the probiotic properties that you get from yogurts, from some of those products, the sour milk products, you don’t necessarily get them with the plant-based alternatives. So there’s a lot of those crosscutting tendencies that make it really different or difficult to necessarily cross fertilize between those two.
Mikkel Svold (21:03):
You mentioned briefly the young generation.
Lars Horsholt Jensen (21:06):
Mikkel Svold (21:06):
Do we see a shift? And what I’m actually asking, does this shift onto a more plant-based diet? Is it going to happen automatically over the next 10 years where the young generation becomes the main buyers, or…
Lars Horsholt Jensen (21:18):
We can’t see it yet.
Mikkel Svold (21:19):
Lars Horsholt Jensen (21:21):
I mean, I think it was Salling Group. We just had an event today, I think was Salling Group who did this study on the consumers. And no, the young people are not doing it either.
Mikkel Svold (21:32):
Lars Horsholt Jensen (21:32):
They’re not necessarily buying into. This has to do maybe also with price. There’s still a price structure that not necessarily is helping these products along the way. But I don’t think we can necessarily say that this is going to happen, not through the young generation either, in the scale that we need in order for it to make an impact. So really what we’re looking at, we’re always talking about there are different options to support this development. There’s the preach-teach information, teaching people, understanding it. There’s also, to some extent, at least when you’re looking at the public sector and also the food service sector, the way to push, by force, to some extent. In a public setting, they do a lot of meals every day in nursing homes, in hospitals and so on.
Mikkel Svold (22:28):
Lars Horsholt Jensen (22:28):
So you could force a development there. You could also, to some extent, force it in cafeterias, in private companies and so on. And they are doing that at the moment. You could also provide some incentives in order to change price structures, to try change knowledge and so on. So at different levers you can pull in order to support this transition. But of course, what it comes down to is creating the right products. And that is taking big leaps at the moment, from vegan ice cream to meat alternatives to sheer plant-based to stuff coming into all different types of categories from breakfast products to fish and seafood.
Mikkel Svold (23:17):
And also, I even think for myself at least, it’s also very important that I know what food to make. Because if you’re used to making all the foods, all the meals that you create at home, if you’re used to make them out of memory, it’s very hard to just suddenly shift the main ingredient. Whereas we, and I guess this is more out of a grocery list, that makes it super easy for me to go grocery shopping.
Lars Horsholt Jensen (23:53):
Yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly.
Mikkel Svold (23:54):
We have two kids and we need to have that sorted.
Lars Horsholt Jensen (23:57):
But it’s in your backlog of recipes.
Mikkel Svold (24:00):
Lars Horsholt Jensen (24:00):
And how do you change that backlog? And in a busy day, you don’t want to experiment too much.
Mikkel Svold (24:06):
And actually, well, I have a backlog in my head, but nearly all the meals that I create are out of recipes because I use that app.
Lars Horsholt Jensen (24:15):
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Mikkel Svold (24:15):
And that means that I can, from a rational point of view, when I’m not hungry and walking around in a supermarket, I can actually choose whether I want to create some sort of diet. So I think it’s called flexitarian diet that I want, which is basically a little bit of everything. So some vegan, some vegetarian, some fish, and I guess a third of it is going to be with meat.
Lars Horsholt Jensen (24:40):
Mikkel Svold (24:41):
And that push makes it so much easier for us, for our family, to be a little bit more into this without even thinking about it.
Lars Horsholt Jensen (24:51):
And that’s really what we want to also look at, is how can we make it intuitive? How can we make it easy, and how can we change those, just nudge those habits a little bit? We’re talking about just nudging things about a little bit, because as you say, it’s not an either vegan or just a…
Mikkel Svold (25:10):
Lars Horsholt Jensen (25:10):
A meat only diet. So, it’s somewhere in between an Atkins and a vegan. So it’s those spaces where we need to help people, we need to nudge people, and we need to incentivize, we need to push a little bit. Also, because at the end of the day, this only happens if there’s a business model for the farmer at the end of the day because they need to grow stuff in their fields, and they need to transition that into a product that is usable.
Mikkel Svold (25:38):
Lars Horsholt Jensen (25:38):
And can be sold.
Mikkel Svold (25:39):
Lars Horsholt Jensen (25:40):
So, it’s the whole value chain depends on each other in order to make this happen. We need to create interesting, exciting, new products in that space, and a lot is going on there. We also need to nudge the consumer in various little ways in the retail, in the buying situation, with all the even … better than me, all the different instruments you have there, but also those types of things at home where you can just where’s the cookbook? Where’s the app? Where’s those little things that help you make little bit better decisions in terms of choosing more plant-based, if that’s what you want.
Mikkel Svold (26:16):
Yeah, absolutely. Now, I want to shift the conversation now because time is running, and I think if it’s okay with you, I think I would like to dig into this a little bit more than just five minutes. Reactive food.
Lars Horsholt Jensen (26:28):
Mikkel Svold (26:28):
We just mentioned it, and when you mentioned it the first time we talked on the phone, I thought it sounded very radioactive to me.
Lars Horsholt Jensen (26:38):
Yeah. Sounds dangerous, doesn’t it?
Mikkel Svold (26:40):
Yeah, exactly. And let me just say, is it dangerous?
Lars Horsholt Jensen (26:43):
Not at all, not at all. And it sounds incredibly dangerous because what we’re seeing is microorganisms and bacteria basically can produce the food of the future in big steel tanks.
Mikkel Svold (26:56):
I think you need to explain that.
Lars Horsholt Jensen (26:57):
Yeah, yeah, yeah, I will. I think I’ll start with saying what I read in an American report that was out three or four years ago from RethinkX. They said, “We are on the cusp of the biggest paradigm change since the domestication of animals 10,000 years ago.” And 10,000 years ago, we went from being hunters and gatherers to domesticating both plants and animals to produce the food that we need. What this new biorevolution basically entails is now we have the maturity of technologies available to us to domesticate the microorganisms. And that’s basically bacteria, microorganisms of different kinds, into producing specifically the ingredients we need, the specific protein, the specific building blocks of the food stuffs that we have today. We can build that by using a single organism. Instead of building a cow, having that cow produce milk, which contains about 3% protein, that’s basically in a liter of milk, that is basically the value-add is in that 3% of protein in there, you can get that 3% protein without the cow.
Mikkel Svold (28:24):
The same protein, that is?
Lars Horsholt Jensen (28:26):
The exact same protein. And then you just add liquid and some fatty acids, and some other things that also need to go in there, which you can in fact also build through microorganisms.
Mikkel Svold (28:38):
But it sounds so unnatural that also I feel like don’t go that direction, it’s dangerous and it’ll get out of hand and stuff.
Lars Horsholt Jensen (28:49):
Yeah, yeah. As it sounds completely farfetched, and it sounds like a world that’s ages away. But what the report said is with all the new technologies coming in, and this has been supported by some of the big guys, McKinsey and Boston Consulting Group, a lot of the universities around the world are looking at this and saying it’s a convergence of things we already knew, precision fermentation. It’s been used for, at least in the medicinal industry, for 30 years, since the beginning of the eighties.
Mikkel Svold (29:22):
Lars Horsholt Jensen (29:23):
The way that Novo creates insulin, they used to take out the pancreas of animals and extract it from there. Then they found a microorganism that in a big steel tank can produce exactly that active ingredient that they need to produce insulin.
Mikkel Svold (29:40):
Okay, so this is actually not new technology.
Lars Horsholt Jensen (29:40):
It’s not new technology, it’s well-known fermentation, has been known since the dawn of man, who create beers and bread and all of those things. So fermentation is well-known, random fermentation is very well-known. But precision fermentation, where you have one exact organism producing one exact output. We have had it in the medicinal industry, it’s just been too expensive to use in the food industry. But now, with this conversion of technologies, for instance, and this is a little bit controversial, but GMO, the CRISPR technology, where it can modify genetically microorganisms and organisms into producing exactly what we need. Computer simulations, sensors, internet of things, that can monitor these processes very, very effectively. We can in fact create a system where we, from a data bank of microorganisms, can more or less design our food stuffs at the end of the day. And the trigger is that the consumer will get the same product. You will be building exactly the same product just without the inconvenient and very resource-demanding animal in between.
Mikkel Svold (30:48):
And I guess it also opens up for adding the milk protein, I guess, to something that’s not milk.
Lars Horsholt Jensen (30:55):
Yeah, yeah, yeah. And basically when you’re saying, “Is it dangerous?” It’s not dangerous, it’s really opening up new avenues of potential ways to build even healthier foods.
Mikkel Svold (31:09):
I know that some people will ask, “Can this get out of hand?” Or no, they won’t ask, they’ll say,
Lars Horsholt Jensen (31:15):
They’ll say, “This will get out of hand.”
Mikkel Svold (31:15):
Can it? Can it go of hand or get out?
Lars Horsholt Jensen (31:22):
Well, where the controversy usually arises is around the genetic modifying. And that is an entirely new technology, so the properties that you insert into these microorganisms. Again, this is a hugely political question, but they are not inherited to the next generation of microorganisms. So you design specifically for that generation, a particular set of properties, and they’re not necessarily passed on through the generations. That’s a new thing with the CRISPR technology, that you can actually modify. But even without that, even without taking genetically modified microorganisms, these are just animals, they can feed on sugar, they can feed on residues from our own other agricultural production. They can even feed off, we have an example, and right now feeding off methane in natural gas.
Mikkel Svold (32:14):
Lars Horsholt Jensen (32:15):
So basically using natural gas or biogas to create a feed protein, and actually also later a food grade protein.
Mikkel Svold (32:24):
Lars Horsholt Jensen (32:24):
A company in Kalundborg.
Mikkel Svold (32:26):
Lars Horsholt Jensen (32:27):
So, you have that already, you have those abilities. And I mean, you, of course, place the same demands for safety and security, but it’s a very controlled process. And animals are not controlled processes. You have all these different contents, all these different things you get along with the protein that you want, you have all the other different things that some are very good for you, some are nutritional, some are not that good for you and not very nutritional. And that goes for plants as well. In a process where it’s all manufactured and you just get the single component, and then you build the food stuff like you build an app, basically, you made it from components that are already ready made, and then you just combine them into the food stuff you need. Then you don’t have that risk. And also, you can build entirely new proteins with entirely new properties, with entirely new nutritional value.
Lars Horsholt Jensen (33:21):
So it’s not necessarily that it is better or worse, it’s just when does this become economically viable? And what it’s saying is we might start with the cow, we might start with the milk protein, because that is the most inefficient process that we have today.
Mikkel Svold (33:37):
Lars Horsholt Jensen (33:37):
A cow is converting about 4% of the input it takes in. If we can bypass that, because we don’t need to replace the milk, we just need to replace the 3% protein that’s in the milk, that’s a value-add, that’s what people are paying to get. So actually, now this report is very optimistic or pessimistic, depending on whether you see it the one way or the other, but very optimistic about when this can happen. I think it’s going to take a longer, they said already by 2030, this will be entirely the way the milk industry has been overthrown.
Mikkel Svold (34:14):
I guess it’s one of those, I can’t remember who said this first, but probably Bill Gates or someone like that. The time it takes for technological development is always overestimated or underestimated, I guess. So people think that it comes faster than it does, but the effect of the change…
Lars Horsholt Jensen (34:35):
Always underestimated. The impact afterwards.
Mikkel Svold (34:36):
The impact, yeah.
Lars Horsholt Jensen (34:38):
And this is truly something where you’re saying, “Okay, this can actually be done not just for cow proteins or for milk proteins, or for meat proteins, or for egg proteins, you can build the proteins you need.” So, when is this going to be effective? Well, that depends. We’ll see. The Israeli startup, the Remilk, I’ll just mention them because we know them well, they’ve just launched their first 75,000 square meter production facility in Kalundborg, in Denmark.
Mikkel Svold (35:11):
Lars Horsholt Jensen (35:12):
So, it’s coming. It’s not music here for the future, it’s something that’s happening right here and right now. To what extent is it going to replace something, to what extent is going to be a supplement, but it’s happening, yeah.
Mikkel Svold (35:24):
I actually think it’s quite interesting that they choose Kalundborg because for most Danish listeners, they will know this, but other people might not know it, but Kalundborg is the center of medical development.
Lars Horsholt Jensen (35:37):
It’s exactly the same …
Mikkel Svold (35:40):
You have the huge medicaI … think also, huge medical companies.
Lars Horsholt Jensen (35:46):
Mikkel Svold (35:48):
Lars Horsholt Jensen (35:48):
Doing precision fermentation, doing the kind of technologies we’re talking about.
Mikkel Svold (35:52):
But does that mean that what people like Remilk, or does that mean that it’s closer assembling to medical production or medicine? And I guess, it won’t have any biological implications because it’s not actual medicine, but does it have any branding issues, I guess?
Lars Horsholt Jensen (36:12):
It could have, otherwise you can say it’s really, really safe because the medicinal industry, the pharma industry, has been using these processes for 30, 40 years. So what has really been the problem with it is it’s too expensive. It has been too expensive because in a pharma process, you produce small quantities at a high price, in a food ingredients industry, you produce huge quantities of proteins at a very low price. So that is really the inhibiting factor of those processes. They are available to us. And the reason why, of course, they’re locating there is to tap into that environment of people who know what they’re doing in terms of managing bioproduction processes on a large scale, and to be able to scale up their business. That’s one part. The other part is they want to be part of a world-class food ecosystem, where the entire value chain is there. So when they get a product, at the end of the day, there’s also a distribution channel, there’s a market there to go into, and a global distribution channel for that product.
Mikkel Svold (37:20):
Do you think you’ll see pushback from the people wanting to buy this? Because we already see on the milk bottle, there’s already, it says no GMO or something like that.
Lars Horsholt Jensen (37:31):
Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.
Mikkel Svold (37:31):
And I feel like GMO, I feel at least I think it’s a misunderstood concept, because gene manipulation, it’s been going on for years. It’s been going on for forever.
Lars Horsholt Jensen (37:43):
Well, I guess the cows we have now don’t look like the cows we had 50 or 60 years ago.
Mikkel Svold (37:45):
I know they’re not made in a lab, they’re not made in a laboratory, but they’re still chosen by humans.
Lars Horsholt Jensen (37:53):
Mikkel Svold (37:54):
They’re bred, and it’s the same thing. It is just a slower process.
Lars Horsholt Jensen (37:57):
Exactly, exactly. And of course, it’s a controversial discussion. I think just what I would like to do is to look at the new technologies that are merging in that field and say, “Okay, it’s not the same discussion as it was 30 or 20 years ago.” It’s a different discussion today because we have new ways of doing it. It should at least reignite the discussion. Leaving that aside because that’s not just a Danish discussion, that’s an EU discussion, and on a big, larger scale. Just even leaving that aside, we can still do these processes. We can still do it without genetically modifying, we can still do it with the thousands of well-known microorganisms, where we already know what the output is going to be without modifying it. So we can already get this ball rolling.
Mikkel Svold (38:43):
That would be a good place to start also, right?
Lars Horsholt Jensen (38:44):
It’s just a place to start where we’re not necessarily, we’re not dependent on the fact that we need to allow GMO or allow those types of technologies into the food system.
Mikkel Svold (38:57):
Okay. Now, what are you especially keeping your eye on for the future? Where do you think is the most interesting stuff going on?
Lars Horsholt Jensen (39:04):
Well, I have to say, actually, for me personally, and also I think for our organization, this last thing we’ve been talking about, about the revolution of the microorganisms, is something we are looking at with a huge interest. Because if it happens, it’s a complete turnaround, it’s a complete transformation.
Mikkel Svold (39:27):
And do you think we are talking if and not when?
Lars Horsholt Jensen (39:30):
I think I would say it’s a when, but it could definitely vary depending on who you ask when is this going to be a serious competitor or serious challenger to the existing food system? Because it has so many, all of the land discussions we had in the last episode, how do we use land? It totally circumvents that. You can use land in a completely different way, we don’t just have to take.
Mikkel Svold (40:01):
Plant forests, basically.
Lars Horsholt Jensen (40:02):
Yeah, you can plant forest, you can support biodiversity, you can have more waterways, because we don’t need that much agricultural land to support that type of production. The climate impact, gone, the land use problem, gone.
Mikkel Svold (40:18):
It sounds like we don’t really have any choice.
Lars Horsholt Jensen (40:23):
Well, I think we don’t have a choice because I think that the technology is maturing, which means the first thing will not be it goes into the consumer’s cooling desk, and here is a reactor beef, and here is a conventionally grown organic beef.
Mikkel Svold (40:40):
Lars Horsholt Jensen (40:40):
Exactly, it doesn’t sound right. The first thing that’s going to happen is it’s going to be an ingredient. So it’s going to be mixed in, it’s going to be a component, and that is going to drive down prices of technologies even further. And then we, at some time or the other, arrive at a tipping point where this is simply the cheaper solution to producing a lot of the ingredients and the food stuff that we know today. And then it’s going to happen because it’s a lot cheaper. And as a consumer, you really are already exposed to it, and you won’t know whether it’s industrially farmed or if it’s conventionally farmed, it could be one of those things where we look back in 50 years and say, “Did we used to have animals…”
Mikkel Svold (41:20):
Lars Horsholt Jensen (41:21):
Mikkel Svold (41:22):
Yeah. Oh, it sounds a little bit like, what’s it called? The book by Andrew Hughes, or whatever he’s called, Brave New World.
Lars Horsholt Jensen (41:40):
Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. Brave New World.
Mikkel Svold (41:41):
Brave New World.
Lars Horsholt Jensen (41:42):
Well, this is, of course, coming from a guy who’s obsessed with innovations and new ideas, and I think this is really exciting. I think a lot of the other things that are going on in the sector are exciting as well. Looking at the plant-based, looking at also the way we transform traditional animal production. How do we mitigate impacts? How do we create new products out of that? How do we create hybrid products? How do we change the way we use the land? Those are hugely exciting, it’s just not a complete transformation, flipping the whole thing on its head, which is something you have to look for, because we are a very animal-based business in Denmark. So we have to look for those things that can completely transform the business into something else. And we need to be part of that as well. And the companies in our cluster need to be a part of that as well. So that is part of what we do, so that’s why I’m very excited about the most crazy stuff.
Mikkel Svold (42:38):
Yeah, yeah. Now, where can listeners find out more about plant-based food and reactive food?
Lars Horsholt Jensen (42:44):
Mikkel Svold (42:44):
Where do you look?
Lars Horsholt Jensen (42:46):
A good place to start is always looking at our website, looking at our social media, particularly LinkedIn. We do a lot of events, so at foodbiocluster.dk, look us up, join our newsletter, particularly our events newsletter. We do over a hundred events every year, they’re open. A lot of them are webinars and online occasions, so it’s easy to access. So look us up, and we’ll be happy to direct you in any which direction this goes, including the ones that deal with reactive food or plant-based food.
Mikkel Svold (43:18):
Yeah, yeah. This is super exciting. Lars Horsholt Jensen, thank you so much for joining me again in this podcast. It’s been really, really interesting. And I’m sure that we are going to dig in a lot more into reactive food and all the different food and feed and how to utilize land, I guess, in the future of this podcast, because I really think it’s an exciting, and it’s also very super important place, right?
Lars Horsholt Jensen (43:45):
It is, it is, yeah.
Mikkel Svold (43:46):
And to you, dear listener, if you do like this podcast, just please help us by subscribing. And that actually does help us quite a lot because it brings the podcast a little bit further to the top of the search feed. And also, of course, sharing it with your friends and family or whoever you find or you think is interested in this kind of topic. And you can find the show notes with links to all the things that we’ve mentioned in this talk, there’s quite a few. So you can find those links and the show notes on our webpage, which is montanus.co/bigideasonly, and that was C-O without the last M. And of course, if you’re interested in building your own knowledge center like this one, or having your own podcast, and if you’re a technology company, reach out to us and we can help you build your own content universe. And you can find all the contact information that you need also on montanus.co. That’s it for now, thank you so much for listening.