GFI’s Symposium Highlights Fermentation’s Critical Role in the Alternative Protein Industry

BY Maille O’Donnell

How do we feed 10 billion people by 2050? Fermentation provides a promising solution.

Fermentation—the cultivation of a microbial species to produce or transform a food product or ingredient—has the potential for greater scale, lower cost, improved efficiency, and enhanced sustainability than animal agriculture. 

Fermentation can be harnessed to produce both primary protein sources and enablers for plant-based and cultivated meat, eggs, and dairy. It’s already being used across the alternative protein industry—from Quorn’s signature mycoprotein meat products to Perfect Day’s ice cream to Impossible’s signature heme iron ingredient—and will only expand as companies seek to improve the texture, flavor, and functionality of alternative protein products. 

The Good Food Institute recently held the first virtual Symposium on Fermentation as it relates to alternative proteins with live attendees from around the world. We were able to offer this event free of charge by virtue of the generosity of our donor community. Now you can watch the expert panels and learn about the opportunities, challenges, and enormous potential for the fermentation space. 

The fermentation industry is nascent, but rapidly growing. 

The first half of the day focused on the fermentation space broadly, including Fermentation 101, fermentation as the ultimate sustainability solution, and ingredient applications

Key highlights included: 

  • The fermentation sector is rapidly growing. Four out of five alternative protein fermentation companies have formed since 2015, and capital raised by the fermentation industry during the first half of 2020 exceeded fundraising in the entirety of 2019. 
  • With many possible applications, including as a primary protein source and ingredient/enabler, fermentation will greatly enhance the functionality and sensory experience of alternative proteins—enabling new product formats like steak or hard cheeses
  • Amid climate change and corresponding agricultural disruptions, fermentation will allow us to deliver low-cost nutrition across the globe. 
  • The inputs for fermentation can be inexpensive, sustainable, and easy to obtain. For example, Air Protein leverages a unique “reverse fermentation” process that uses carbon dioxide as an input. 
  • The “waste” products of fermentation can be used for other applications, including feed additives, biofuels, and fertilizer, though this potential is far underutilized. 
  • Input (e.g. feedstock) costs for fermentation are more stable and predictable than for animal agriculture. Inputs can be stored, allowing for greater responsiveness to demand in real-time.
  • Covid-19 tested the strength of the nascent fermentation industry, and companies successfully continued to innovate, fundraise, form new partnerships, and sell through new distribution channels, even as the conventional meat industry was shutting down. 


Fermentation is versatile, producing flavorings, ingredients, and whole products.

The final three sessions featured experts in each of the three main fermentation segments: traditional fermentation (transforming a food product), precision fermentation (producing high-value ingredients such as proteins or flavorings), and biomass fermentation (producing protein-rich biomass to be used as a primary ingredient). 

Key highlights included: 

  • Large animal protein companies and Consumer Packaged Goods companies are excited about the potential of fermentation. Fermentation can be used to create flavors, emulsifiers, and proteins that have traditionally come from animals. Producing these elements directly rather than raising an entire animal is more efficient and cost-effective. 
  • Fermentation is already used across the food and medical industry, making it low-risk for regulators, investors, and consumers. 
  • Biomass fermentation can replicate the muscular texture of meat without requiring extrusion, which is a common bottleneck for plant-based protein. 

Fermentation offers immense potential to realize a sustainable and efficient protein production system. To help achieve that potential, GFI aims to connect experts and industry players to leverage insights and facilitate the partnerships that will scale up the industry. The 2020 Symposium on Fermentation brought together some of the key stakeholders to help make the future of fermentation a reality.  

Watch the 2020 Symposium on Fermentation, and for an in-depth analysis of the state of the fermentation industry, download the 2020 Fermentation State of the Industry Report


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GFI Israel's Annual Report

Israel State of Alternative Proteins
February 2023

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