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Sustainable Food Forum: in conversation with Alberto Musacchio, Food Evolution CEO

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4 min read
AUTHOR: Stef Bottinelli
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CEO and co-founder of Food Evolution, a plant-based company producing meat alternatives such as vegan bacon, beef and chicken pieces, and burgers, Alberto Musacchio is a well-known figure in his native Italy. In 1979 he opened the first vegetarian restaurant in the country, followed by Country House Montali, a vegetarian hotel and restaurant surrounded by olive groves and perched on a peaceful hill in Umbria. Alberto has also co-authored a number of plant-based cookbooks with his wife, chef Malu Simões.

Passionate about food, sustainability and animal welfare, Alberto’s mission is to bring delicious plant-based food to consumers, and to continuously create and innovate to ensure Food Evolution‘s products are as healthy and sustainable as they are mouthwatering.

A veteran of the plant-based world, Alberto will be speaking on the Making the business case for sustainable food across the supply chain panel at Food Matter Live’s Sustainable Food Forum on 19 September in London.

Alberto, what brings you to Food Matters Live’s Sustainable Food Forum?

I’m honoured to have been invited and I have immediately seen a beautiful opportunity to meet like minded people, as well as trying to expand the plant-based network, for the benefit of the environment.

What are you hoping to get out from the event?

I hope it may contribute to making people more aware of the food industry’s impact on their lives. But also that it may help to find ways to make better products by sharing experiences and opinions.

Increasing demand of plant-based products will give a push to produce raw materials in a more efficient and sustainable way. Increasing sales and production quantities would surely help.”

When it comes to Food Evolution’s sustainability goals, what are the main challenges you are faced with?

To have to compete with much more expensive products, like meat products, sold for much cheaper, ‘artificial’ prices.

In terms of food production, do you think the supply chain is transparent enough as it is today? What needs to change? For instance, to ensure that ingredients are sourced ethically and sustainably, with little impact to the environment, and that workers enjoy good working conditions and are paid fairly?

I suppose the increasing demand of plant-based products will give a push to produce raw materials in a more efficient and sustainable way. Increasing sales and production quantities would surely help. But we always have to be aware and careful that the whole food industry doesn’t end up in the hands of a too small number of companies, which would own the entire global food market. This is a huge risk to mankind.

What are the main sustainability challenges you’ve experienced when it comes to R&D and developing plant-based products?

We often have to develop new products from scratch. There is still not a real widespread expertise in these fields. No well trained technologist [specialising in plant-based analogues] is easily available yet, so any innovation and/or change we need to make for new product development for example, needs to be studied and researched from scratch with huge costs and efforts.

Traditional agriculture receives government funding. Do you think the alternative protein sector should be afforded governmental subsidies too?

If we don’t achieve that, we won’t ever have fair competition, and plant-based products will never become mainstream food. The best option would be to give subsides to plant-based products as well, or stop subsiding traditional animal products. You can’t have ‘two weights two measures‘ [double standards, ed].

In your opinion, what are three key areas of the food sector that urgently need to change, in order to become more sustainable and ethical?

Surely the subsidies issue is one of the biggest. VAT charges too. From the technical point, we need to add a ‘culinary top touch’ to the products to make them taste better. Of course it will take time. We need to consider that, when we do eat a salami for example, we eat a product which has been developed for hundreds of years. [In plant-based formulation and production] we need to cover the same time span in a much shorter period [to create an equally palatable plant-based version of a product].

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