June 2019

Cardiff Met Nutrition Students Challenge

With constant negativity surrounding the meat industry and an ongoing attack from both a health and sustainability perspective – industry is being forced to innovate and constantly keep producing better, healthier and tastier products. Meat is often mentioned for being high in saturated fats and cholesterol (this doesn’t apply to all sources of meat), but opposingly it has numerous other health benefits such as being one of the best and most bioavailable sources of protein.

Protein has numerous benefits such as helping to maintain muscle mass. One of the controversial topics right now is how much protein should we be eating for an aging population. Many researchers have provided evidence and theories that as our age increases, so should our protein intake. This is mainly due to age-related issues such as sarcopenia and increased risk of frailty. Sarcopenia is the loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength as a result of aging. The current RDA for red meat is 70g/day, but with declining appetites and increased muscle loss, there is a need for ‘high in’ protein products especially for the older consumer.

Recently, Dunbia set a challenge for Cardiff Metropolitan University students to produce a high protein lamb or beef ready meal product, suitably catered for older consumers at risk of sarcopenia and frailty. The students were given 6 weeks to research, design, trail and produce their final product. The meal that the students decided to reinvent was a traditional meatball, mash and gravy dinner.

INGREDIENTS: Potatoes (36%), Lamb Mince (11.9%), Beef Mince (11.9%), Onion (10.75%), Water, Egg, Wheat Flour, Carrot (3.9%), Butter, Wheat Flour, Bread Crumbs, Sunflower Oil, Bovril, Beef Stock, Dehydrated Egg White, Mixed Herbs, Black Pepper.

Although this meal may look to have a basic flavour profile, the students have catered to the older demographic by providing something traditional that the elderly would be more familiar with and potentially more likely to eat. Also, the nutritional profile is much better than you would think!

Nutritional positives:

+ Clean ingredient declaration – this will allow consumers greater clarity as to what they are eating, making it easy to avoid allergens.

+ Although mashed potato is the most substantial ingredient, the students have been thoughtful to include egg white in their mash. Due to eggs high protein profile, the overall protein of the meal will increase too, hitting the brief for combatting sarcopenia.

+ Overall the protein content of the meal is 23g – Which could be just under half of some people’s requirements (based on a 60kg female)! This means that from a small meal there is a large proportion of your daily protein, making it easier for older consumers to get the nutrition they need to be healthy.

+ Not only is the meal rich in protein, it is rich in high quality protein. This means that it contains all of the 9 essential amino acids that individuals require to build muscle. Importantly, beef and lamb is a good source of essential amino acid leucine which has been proven to help reduce sarcopenia in those affected – especially when combined with exercise.

+ The salt content of the dish is almost half of the FSA guidelines (0.75g/100g). This is beneficial to health, especially to the older consumer who would be trying to reduce their blood pressure.

Although the students only had 6 weeks to design and develop, the potential health benefits that this type of product could offer to the elderly are immense. The European Working Group on Sarcopenia found the prevalence of sarcopenia to affect 1-29% in community dwelling populations, 14-33% in long term care populations and 10% in acute care populations. Therefore, by offering a protein rich ready meal, we would be helping combat the condition in the older consumer by offering them something which is a suitable size for a reduced appetite but is still high in quality protein. 

Reinventing the Midweek Meal

A campaign lead by the Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) has resulted in an additional £12million in pork sales.

Research conducted by Kantar has highlighted the 13.9% increase in Pork sales over the last 12 months, with pork medallions alone having sales increased by 24%. This is all a result of the AHDBs TV advert where a man is dressed up as a disgruntled chicken, and suggests replacing the midweek meal of chicken with pork – which has been seen by over 83% of UK households!

The aim of the campaign was to rejuvenate the image of pork focusing on fillet and medallions as quick, tasty and easy meal solutions which can be prepared in under 30 mins. Kantar data showed that this has improved customer perception of fresh pork as a suitable midweek meal, which can be seen by the increase in purchases of pork. AHDB have stated that for every £1 they spent on the campaign, they returned £7.31.

Influence on younger viewers

AHDB have stated that almost half of the total sales have come from younger customers in the 35-54 (years old) category, showing the success of the board in their hopes to encourage eating habits which can sustain the future industry. Part of the success has been accredited to the collaboration with social media influencers – such as health and fitness guru Lucy Mecklenburgh who encouraged shoppers to ‘break up with boring’.

Another reason why the campaign has been successful is due to showcasing the ease of cooking this versatile protein. In this day and age where cooking has been simplified so much that all you need is a microwave, people are becoming lazy and as a result don’t know how to cook or how to make a proper meal. The campaign has zoned in on this and is encouraging consumers to cook from scratch – also tapping into people’s busy lifestyles – by providing meals you can prepare and cook in under 30 minutes.

Misconception of pork

Alongside the campaign, AHDB had also commissioned nutritional testing to provide evidence that the cuts were low in fat and saturates due to the consumer misunderstanding that all pork cuts were high in fats. This is often a misconception of not just pork, but most meats – even lean cuts. According to data from the IGD 2019 the top 5 reasons for eating less meat are: for ethical reasons, to live longer, to lose weight/look better, it’s better for the environment and mostly because its healthier. However, a diet without meat isn’t necessarily healthier. For example, pork is naturally rich in protein, low in sodium and provides 10 vitamins and minerals* that contribute towards good health and wellbeing.

The next phase of the campaign is to showcase other TV adverts in Autumn 2019 and early 2020. These adverts will have an emphasis on health which will hopefully lead to more people choosing to purchase pork, once they understand that it can play an important role in a healthy diet.

*Rich in thiamin, niacin, vitamin B6 and B12 and a source of riboflavin, zinc, potassium, phosphorus, selenium and pantothenic acid.

Cell-cultured meat – The future of farming?

In light of Cargill’s recent investment in cell-cultured meat company Aleph farms – who in 2018 managed to grow a steak directly from bovine cells – we take a look at the potential behind the growth of lab gown meats.

What is cell-cultured meat?

Cell-cultured meat (also called ‘clean meat’) is a ground-breaking technology in which real animal meat is artificially produced. Instead of rearing cattle which can damage the environment, cell-cultured meat only requires a small sample of animal cells which are replicated in a culture outside of the animal. The resulting product is 100% real meat.

How is lab-grown meat made?

The basic process of clean meat production involves isolating a small number of cells from a donor animal. This population then expands exponentially through the natural process of cell division. The resulting cells are placed onto a 3D scaffolding material where they can mature into the desired cell types – either muscle, fat or connective tissue. The scaffolding material contains nutrient feed which is rich in metabolizable energy sources (sugars, amino acids and fats), components that balance salt and pH, and a small number of signalling molecules that trigger the cells to proliferate or transition into muscle or fat. The scaffolding material can be made out of any edible, biocompatible material, such as a polysaccharide mesh which allows fluid and cells to move around within it. But researchers have hardly scratched the surface in terms of exploring the biochemical modifications of this scaffolding (e.g. integrating flavour components).

Why is it being produced when we already have traditional meat and meat-alternatives?

Since 2009, over $17bn has been poured into the plant-based food industry – $13bn of this within the last 2 years – so why would you need to create another type of meat alternative? Although the demand for the plant-based sector is rapidly expanding, so is the demand for meat. The Good Food Institute has shown that the global population is projected to reach 9.8 billion by 2050, and along with it, demand for animal-based foods is expected to rise by 70% too.

Not only is the meat sector expected to grow, but it is expected that the meat produced is also of better quality. Nutritionally, lab grown meat is identical to real meat, it is a source of quality protein and contains all of the beneficial nutrients you would associate with meat (such as iron, B vitamins and a high protein content). Also, due to its origin, the cell-cultured product is more likely to have a better/similar flavour profile to meat, instantly making it tastier than vegan alternatives but not necessarily better than meat.

Cultured meat can also be engineered to target and improve specific nutrition-related health outcomes by altering the amino acid and fat compositions, as well as adding vitamins and minerals that can exceed the amount in natural meat. For example, research has shown that individuals affected by sarcopenia respond well to a high leucine diet. Leucine is one of nine essential amino acids, meaning that it cannot be produced endogenously by humans – it must be consumed from food. Meat contains sufficient amounts of leucine, but to achieve the high intake needed to combat sarcopenia, more than the recommended daily amount will need to be consumed.  With the majority of the sarcopenic population being old and having reduced appetites, the likelihood of this seems small. However, if you could tailor cell-cultured meats to contain more of essential amino acid leucine, this problem could be significantly improved.    When compared to conventionally produced beef, the greatest achievements of cell-cultured meat are the reduced ethical and sustainability issues. With growing lab-based, it is speculated that less animals, land and water will be needed to produce this product. The greatest result of this, would of course, be the much lower methane emissions. It is estimated that 1,000kg of cultured meat involves approximately 7-45% less energy use, 78-96% less greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE’s), 99% lower land use and 82-96% lower water use – so you can imagine the huge impact this would have on sustainability if people converted from regular to cell-cultured meat.

Figure 1: This graph indicates the percentage usage of resources compared to conventional beef production. *GHGE’s = Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

Would consumers actually choose to eat lab-grown meat?

Although cell-cultured meat has potential sustainability and nutritional benefits over conventional meat, there is still a huge downfall in terms of price. The first cell-cultured meat hamburger was debuted in 2013 by Dr Mark Post from Maastricht University at a cost of roughly $330,000. However, over the last few years businesses have been trying to reduce their costs to produce a meatless burger at an affordable price. For example, San Francisco start-up Memphis Meats is producing cell-cultured meat for $40 per gram, which is less than one fifteenth of the original cost. Furthermore, Dr Post’s company, Mosa Meats, plans to sell its cell-based hamburgers for $10 a patty by 2020. Although this is still an expensive price for a meat alternative, due to the research and ongoing development, it is very likely that over the next few years prices will drop again.

As well as potential high prices, research has shown that people may not be as accepting of lab-grown meat as previously thought. A few years back, Pew Research asked 1,000 US adults if they would eat lab grown meat. 20% of respondents said yes, 78% said no and 2% were undecided. Similarly, a poll by the European Commission asked more than 12,000 Europeans if they approve of growing meat from cell cultures. 24% said yes, 12% said yes in exceptional circumstances and 54% said never. However, these polls did not provide any prior context, which can influence individual’s opinions. For example, a 2013 poll of more than 1,000 people in the Netherlands stated: “Imagine that you have tried lab-grown meat and you find the flavour, texture and nutritional values the same as traditional meat. Would you then be likely to purchase cell-cultured meat?”. After the consumers understood that clean-meat was the same as conventional, results showed 71% wanted to purchase it, 25% said they might, 4% said they probably would not, and 0% said definitely not – overall a much more positive response when the poll is assisted with some context.

Figure 2: This graph shows the poll results on people’s preference towards lab-grown meat. There is a comparison between the three polls as mentioned in the text. The numbers represent a percentage of the cohort asked.

While it seems that cell-cultured meat is the way forward for sustainable meat, there are still huge issues around price, production, development and consumer awareness. Also, with growing competition from the likes of impossible and beyond burger, it will be very hard for the currently expensive meat-alternative to break the retail landscape.