Hello! Who are you and what food-based non-profit do you work for?

My name is Matt Ball, and I work for The Good Food Institute. GFI is a global nonprofit building a sustainable, healthy, and just food system. Our scientists, entrepreneurs, lawyers, and policy experts are harnessing the power of food innovation and markets to accelerate the transition of the world’s food system to animal-free meat, eggs, and dairy.

Since our founding in 2016, we’ve grown to a team of about 80 people around the world, including in Asia-Pacific, Brazil, the EU, India, and Israel. We do everything from connecting people to form commercial companies to lobbying on behalf of the plant-based and cultivated meat industries at the state and national level.

TEDx Talk with Bruce Friedrich, an Executive Director of The Good Food Institute (GFI).

What are some of the organizations you’ve help transition to animal-free meat?

To take one example, consider the field of cultivated meat – that is, actual animal meat grown outside an animal. When GFI was being formed, not a single cultivated meat company had been announced. Now, there are over two dozen all around the world. 

Or consider another example – our Good Food Conference. This past September’s had nearly 900 spots available, and sold out weeks in advance. Thousands of people watch the livestream and YouTube videos of the different panels.

Many more people read about the conference in various media stories, especially about the big announcements companies like Kroger made at the conference.

Here’s a sample of the media coverage from Jerry Hagstrom, who has been coverage agriculture for decades: “The Good Food Conference, a meeting of more than 800 plant-based and cell-based protein entrepreneurs, scientists, investors, and marketers, was the most upbeat, joyful, and youthful American agriculture gathering in years.” National Journal, 9.12.19

What’s your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

The Good Food Institute was founded by people who are very concerned about the many harms caused by current meat production, specifically: environmental degradation (including climate change), global hunger, cruelty to animals, and damages to public health.

For many decades, a wide variety of organizations have argued and pleaded for people to eat less meat. However, per-capita meat consumption has never been higher in the United States or in the world. According to the United Nations, meat production is expected to increase by more than 50% by the year 2050.

The Good Food Institute is working to create a sustainable, healthy, and just food system.

The idea behind GFI is simple: Give people the meat the want, but produce it in ways that don’t have the many downsides of current industrial animal agriculture. But instead of starting a specific company to manufacture plant-based or cultivated meat, GFI exists to advance every field bringing about an animal-free food system.

One example of what GFI does involves basic research. The companies already in the animal-free meat, egg, and dairy fields face a variety of challenges in creating optimal products for the current market. Each of their scientific advances is proprietary. Everyone who wants to start another company or create an improved product has to do all this research all over again.

This is why GFI has a competitive grants program – to fund open-access research. GFI’s Science and Technology team has the expertise to understand what research is most important, as well as evaluate proposals from scientists and engineers around the world. We have funded millions of dollars in plant-based and cultivated meat research already, and will continue doing so.  

What ways are you helping to accelerate the transition to plant-based meats?

Good Food Institute Team Members

GFI has set up a number of structures to help interested people from around the world meet each other, ask questions, and gather information. For example, we have a monthly ideas forum, regular science and technology “office hours,” and our annual conference. We also connect new companies to venture capital.

Finally, we provide technical assistance to help companies fill in gaps in their current knowledge base and get up to speed quicker. This includes offering open-access information to everyone, as well as funding new research every year.

Related Reading: How I Started a Vegan Chocolate Bar Company with a Powerful Mission

For example, here is the feedback from Brian Spears (quoted here). Brian is the co-founder of a cultivated meat company that is currently focused on sausage:

New Age Meats is a GFI success story. We met through the GFIdeas forum, and GFI has helped us along the way. We’re making clean meat using automated cell culture and rapid R&D, and GFI’s expertise and open-access resources have been invaluable in developing both our product and company.”

Since launch, what has worked to share the message about plant-based meats?

There are many avenues we’ve pursued to promote the fields of animal-free meat, eggs, and dairy, including, as mentioned, funding scientific research and our Good Food Conference. Another area has been our Corporate Engagement team working with companies around the world to help them increase their offerings of plant-based options.

One of our more public-facing programs has been our Good Food Scorecard (goodfoodscorecard.org), where we evaluate the Nation’s Restaurant News’ (nrn.com) top 100 restaurant chains in the United States on the breadth and depth of their plant-based menu options and how they promote them. When we are talking with the restaurant chains for the scorecard, we emphasize some of the many reasons to offer more plant-based options:

  • 54% of US consumers would like to eat more plant-based foods.
  • 50% of Millennials eat meat alternatives at least a few times per week.
  • “Vegan” is now on 11% of U.S. menus.
  • U.S. retail sales of plant-based meat grew 23% 2017-18, reaching over $760MM.

And as we update our scorecard, we promote the top chains and the big movers with our contacts in the media, helping these chains get more publicity for their offerings (e.g., this story in Food Navigator). 

Plant Based Meat 101 from the Good Food Conference.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Things are going amazingly, shockingly well. It seems like every other week, there is something that would have been the biggest news of the year if it happened in 2018.

At the start of 2019, Carl’s Jr. advertised their new plant-based burger during the Super Bowl. HUGE! But that was not the biggest news of the year. The Impossible Whopper is now at every Burger King in the United States, and Beyond Meat’s nuggets and wings debuted at a KFC outside of Atlanta – and sold out in just a few hours.