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Kellogg’s-Benson Hill deal aims to fix alt-meat’s sustainability issues

April 7, 2022

Crop genetics company Benson Hill has struck a partnership with Kellogg’s-owned MorningStar Farms to supply the latter with soy ingredients for alt-meat products. The financial terms of the deal are not disclosed.

MorningStar Farms will incorporate Benson Hill’s Ultra-High Protein soybeans into its lineup of plant-based meats that currently includes beefburger, chicken, and breakfast meat analogs.

The lowdown on Ultra-High Protein

St Louis, Missouri-based Benson Hill has developed selectively-bred soybeans with a higher nutrient profile that it claims is more ecologically sustainable than typical soy varieties.

  • Ultra-High Protein soy contains 20% more protein out of the ground compared to regular soybeans, the company says. In theory, that means more protein per acre – requiring fewer inputs, such as pesticides and manpower hours.
  • Through streamlining and eliminating certain steps in soy processing, Benson Hill says its soy uses 70% less water and results in 50% fewer carbon dioxide emissions than conventional varieties. 
  • The company previously reported a “strong” 2021 harvest of these soybeans.

Why it matters:

The Good Food Institute says that global demand for meat will double by 2050. Companies using soy, yellow pea, and other plant-based ingredients to replicate meat without the animals offer an enticing proposition to consumers: enjoy the taste of meat without the traditional livestock industry, which contributes 14.5% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions globally.

However, growing and processing crops for food still requires significant resources; and creating meat substitutes can also be energy-intensive. A recent report from the Brussels-based International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems suggested that plant-based meat’s claimed environmental benefits are “limited and speculative.” 

Benson Hill is trying to address this with its more-protein-per-acre soybean. To scale the product, it acquired a soybean crushing facility from Seymour, Indiana-based Rose Acre Farms last year, and Iowan soy processing firm ZFS Creston this January.

MorningStar Farms is a big name in the plant-based protein space, giving Benson Hill a strong starting point as it looks to get its Ultra-High Protein soybeans into the hands of other food manufacturers. 

What they say:

Sara Young, general manager of plant-based proteins at Kellogg’s, said in a statement that the category has become “a core principle of our brand, and having that as a driver, we think, truly distinguishes us from other players in the space.” Kellogg’s actually bills itself on its website as “one of the original plant-based food companies.”

Little wonder this is the case. Like other agribusiness corporates, Kelloggs is under pressure to not just announce climate commitments but also deliver on them. Benson Hill, with the “strong” results from its first season of Ultra-High Protein soy, may be able to provide a more efficient, sustainable protein ingredient that could add more weight to Kellogg’s and MorningStar’s sustainability claims.

Alongside the Benson Hill deal, MorningStar has also announced a couple of other environment-related initiatives:

  • New ‘recycle-ready’ packaging for foods in flexible plastic bags that consumers can recycle at participating drop-off locations.
  • MorningStar’s products will now come in paperboard boxes that are recyclable curbside.
  • MorningStar will also source 100% renewable electricity this year through a virtual power purchase agreement, as well as an investment in renewable energy credits.

All of these efforts are part of Kellogg’s Better Days commitment through which the company aims to address wellbeing, hunger relief, and climate resilience for 3 billion people by the end of 2030.

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