Can seafood made of plants boost interest in food alternatives and reel in consumers?
It’s coming to a dinner plate near you: seafood that wasn’t fished from the ocean but was designed in a lab. And Toronto startup New School Foods is betting its faux salmon will make a splash in the market for plant-based alternatives.
“What we’re really recreating here is the sensory experience, the texture of salmon,” said Chris Bryson, the company’s founder and CEO.
He said the whole-cut filet is one of the first products of its kind. It was developed with new technology to create muscle fibres made entirely of plants and promises to look and taste like the real thing.
New School’s salmon substitute, made of seaweed, algae and plant proteins, aims to replicate the nutritional profile of real salmon by adding Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, iron and vitamin B12.
Bryson said that’s top of mind for consumers concerned about the health impacts of real salmon, which may contain mercury or microplastics. He also touts plant-based alternatives as a better choice for the environment.
“Learning about how unsustainable our food system is … livestock farming is responsible for a massive amount of deforestation and greenhouse gases, the oceans are super overfished, so it’s very clear that we need better ways to eat.”
Cooking up some competition
Plant-based seafood has been slower to hit the market than other meat alternatives because it’s more complex to develop, but some Canadian companies are diving in.
Victoria-based Save da Sea reimagines vegetables, making smoked salmon out of carrots. TMRW Foods, headquartered in Port Coquitlam, B.C., cooks up crab cakes from jackfruit, while Konscious Foods in Vancouver offers plant-based sushi. All three companies have hit store shelves in the past year, picked up by major retailers such as Walmart, Loblaws and Whole Foods.
These startups come at a tricky time for the sector. Plant-based meat alternatives launched amid much hype, with U.S. grocery store sales growing 45 per cent in 2020, according to the Good Food Institute, a U.S. non-profit that promotes alternatives to animal products. Since then, consumer enthusiasm has waned, leading to a drop in supermarket sales. Industry analysts say some consumers didn’t want to pay the premium prices of many of the products, while others may not have been convinced by the taste.
“It’s been a function of not enough momentum to get the next wave of consumers to try the category,” said John Baumgartner, New York-based managing director for Mizuho Securities.
Baumgartner tracks the sector and said while it’s a work in progress, there is more momentum in the plant-based seafood space. The industry is still seeing billions of dollars of investment into plant-based alternatives, and new product innovation could be the remedy to slipping sales.
“We definitely think there’s a market for it,” he said. “The question is how quickly can culture change…. A lot of this adoption of plant-based meat, it’s going to require becoming ingrained into diets.”
Show me the menu
Restaurants have caught on, with nearly half of all restaurants in the United States offering plant-based alternatives, according to the Plant Based Foods Association, headquartered in San Francisco.
In Canada, some launches have proven more successful than others. A&W and Burger King both offer plant-based burgers; Tim Hortons added Beyond Meat products to its menu in 2019, but it quickly pulled them in 2020.
“There is demand, and we see the demand through research and through our own guests asking,” said Brandon Thordarson, corporate executive chef at restaurant chain Moxie’s who’s based in Vancouver.
The chain put plant-based burgers on the menu a few years ago. While initially about 15 per cent of customers were looking for meat substitutes, it’s now about 25 per cent, Thordarson said, adding that he has no plans to introduce faux fish just yet, but it’s always a possibility.
“Whether it’s a Beyond Meat burger or … fake chicken or tempeh or tofu or whatever it might be, it’s not going away.”
New School Foods plans to partner with Canadian chefs and launch its product at restaurants before venturing into grocery stores. Bryson said he hopes the faux salmon will catch on and help prove plant-based food isn’t a fad.
“We really as an industry need to move to the point where we’re matching on taste and price and texture,” he said. “Then at that point, I think you’re going to see a much wider level of adoption.”
US Fed announces latest interest hike in wake of banking turmoil – Al Jazeera English
The Fed has continued its cycle of rate increases aimed at stemming inflation, but indicated a pause could be on the horizon.
The United States Federal Reserve has announced its latest interest rate hike, a move aimed at lowering inflation by making borrowing more expensive for consumers.
The increase of a quarter of a percentage point on Wednesday sets the US central bank’s benchmark overnight interest rate in the 4.75 to 5 percent range, its highest level in 15 years.
The increase was widely expected and underscores the Federal Reserve’s determination to rein in inflation, which remains above policymakers’ long-term annual target of two percent.
But the interest rate increase follows the sudden failures this month of Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) and Signature Bank. Critics blamed the Fed’s relentless rate hikes for contributing to the failures, part of the biggest banking sector meltdown since the 2008 financial crisis, and some observers speculated that policymakers would be forced to pause the interest rate increases.
When asked on Wednesday if such a pause had been considered for the latest cycle, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said, “We did consider that.”
Nevertheless, Wednesday’s policy statement said the US banking system is “sound and resilient”. It added that recent stress in the sector was “likely to result in tighter credit conditions for households and businesses and to weigh on economic activity, hiring, and inflation”.
The Fed also indicated that a pause in interest rate increases may be on the horizon. The latest policy statement omitted the oft-repeated language that “ongoing increases” in interest rates “will be appropriate”.
That phrase had been in every policy statement since March 16, 2022, when the Fed made its decision to start hiking rates to address inflation.
Now, the language has been softened. On Wednesday, the policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee said instead that “some additional policy firming may be appropriate”.
That leaves open the chance that the Fed may still lift rates one more quarter percentage point, perhaps at its next meeting in May, but it also suggests that the next hike could represent an initial stopping point for the rate increases.
Wednesday’s hike was the same size as the central bank’s previous rate decision in February.
The three major US stock indexes, which were mostly languid prior to the Fed announcement, moved higher in the immediate aftermath, as investors digested the hike and the accompanying statement.
Meanwhile, Powell said on Wednesday that — while recent stress on the banking system has added uncertainty to the outlook — it’s still possible the economy may not face a sharp downturn as the Fed works to contain inflation.
In terms of a soft landing for the economy, “There’s a pathway to that, and that path still exists,” Powell said.
Officials also projected the unemployment rate would end the year at 4.5 percent, slightly below the 4.6 percent seen in projections issued in December. The outlook for economic growth also fell slightly to 0.4 percent from 0.5 percent in the previous projections.
Inflation is now seen ending the year at 3.3 percent, compared to 3.1 percent in the last projections.
Alberta premier pitches more gas-fired power plants as UN climate panel calls for phaseout
Premier Danielle Smith says renewable energy is unreliable and that Alberta should build additional gas-fired power plants for a more predictable source of electricity.
“This is a natural gas basin,” Smith told delegates at the Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) convention in Edmonton on Wednesday. “We are a natural gas province. And we will continue to build natural gas power plants, because that is what makes sense in Alberta.”
In response to questions from rural councillors, Smith also said she’s looking at ways to ensure solar and wind companies set aside money to reclaim land in the future for when a renewable installation is dismantled.
“I think that it needs to be addressed at the start, or we’re going to have the same problem that we had with the orphan wells, and why would we want to bring that to the province of Alberta?” said Red Deer County Mayor Jim Wood.
Smith said she met with power providers and learned the province’s electricity grid twice came close to needing more power than it could supply in the last few months.
She pointed to stagnant air and solar panels covered with snow and ice leading to a dearth of wind and solar generation at those times.
The emissions from natural gas plants can be captured and sequestered to meet climate targets, she said.
Smith’s promotion of more natural gas-fired power plants comes days after the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said wealthy countries should phase out gas plants by 2035 to prevent irreversible damage to the planet.
The premier said it concerns her to see solar panels and wind farms installed on arable land.
Kara Westerlund, vice-president of RMA, says rural councils share that concern. She told reporters the installations should be going onto brownfields rather than “taking some of the best growing soils and agricultural land out of production.”
She sees renewable energy sources as complementary to oil and gas.
“We’ve never felt that one is going to replace the other,” Westerlund said.
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RMA members previously voted for a resolution calling on the province to require renewable companies to pay for a bond that would cover the costs of removing solar panels or wind turbines past their useful lives.
The province already has a regulation from 2018 that stipulates how the sites are to be decommissioned.
Smith said she’s considering requiring renewable companies to set aside a proportion of revenue to save for site cleanup costs — and that the remediation money should transfer to any new site owners.
However, devising a solution for unreclaimed oil and gas sites is Smith’s priority.
“Once people feel comfortable that we’ve got the right model there, then the next obvious question is, what are we going to do about solar and wind?” she said.
According to the Alberta Energy Regulator, there are nearly 200,000 inactive or abandoned wells in the province.
Binnu Jeyakumar, director of electricity at the Pembina Institute, said inactive oil wells and renewable sites aren’t the same.
“We get orphan wells because we run out of viable gas production in these locations,” she said. “You don’t run out of wind or solar in a location.”
When equipment breaks down, it may be viable for an owner to install new turbines or panels, she said.
Jeyakumar also challenged the premier’s assertion that solar and wind are unreliable sources of electricity. She said hours of sunlight and weather are predictable: an electrical system operator can plan for those fluctuations by using diverse sources of energy, and by building more storage, transmission and distribution systems.
Most solar panel systems are built so snow and ice slide off or melt, she said.
She said building a new gas plant is a risky commitment in a world where energy prices fluctuate wildly and the power plant is likely to be around for another 30-to-40 years. She said there are sound reasons why investors are turning to renewables.
“I’m not saying we should only build solar,” she said. “But we should be basing our grid on solar and wind, because they are the cheapest options.”
‘We are a natural gas province’: Smith says Alberta needs power plants, not wind and solar
Alberta’s premier assured a ballroom of rural leaders Wednesday that she does not want to see the province move away from electricity generated from fossil fuels, while complaining about solar panels covering farm land.
“This is a natural gas basin. We are a natural gas province and we will continue to build natural gas power plants because that is what makes sense in Alberta,” Danielle Smith said.
“Yes, hydro makes perfect sense in Quebec and B.C. and Manitoba. And Ontario has nuclear and hydro as well. But we have to keep fueling our economy with natural gas power plants.”
Smith made the comments at the spring convention of the Rural Municipalities of Alberta (RMA) that was held in downtown Edmonton. The RMA is made up of 69 counties and municipal districts.
She added that carbon capture and usage will help Alberta meet emissions goals, but didn’t mention climate change.
The premier’s comments on power came after she was asked about a lack of municipal control in project approval and solar panels covering “prime land” without cleanup bonds in place to make sure companies pay for reclamation.
“I’m supportive of solar and wind projects where they make sense. But I can tell you from conversations with people in my own community that putting solar panels on prime agricultural land does not make sense,” Smith responded.
“Especially like the one I drive past in Brooks every day I go down there. It’s covered in ice and snow and not generating any power at all.”
Jim Wood, mayor of Red Deer County, also asked Smith what Alberta is doing to make sure renewable energy companies clean up projects that one day become defunct.
“The concern is this: Some of these solar may be only viable due to carbon-credit grants and so forth that may not be here forever. The companies may not have enough finances to in fact do the cleanup,” Wood said.
“And if they’re not viable enough to put a bond up to cover their cleanup, then they’re not viable. And I think it needs to be addressed at the start or we’re going to have the same problem as the orphan wells. And why would we want to bring that to the province of Alberta?”
Smith said legislation requiring cleanup bonds is an “open question” for her government and one she plans to consult rural leaders on in the future.
The premier has faced widespread criticism lately over a plan to give royalty breaks to oil companies for cleaning up inactive wells, which they’re already legally required to.
The province’s energy minister last week called the Opposition “anti-oil and gas activists” after an NDP MLA demanded companies pay for the cleanup themselves.
The NDP claims the government’s proposed $100 million Liability Management Incentive Program is only the start of a $20 billion giveaway to oil and gas companies.
MLA Marlin Schmidt called the initiative “a scam” in the legislature, drawing a warning from Speaker Nathan Cooper for use of the word.
On Wednesday, Smith acknowledged Alberta first needs to figure out how to get orphan wells reclaimed before requiring renewables companies to do the same, but like wells, believes it will become an issue in the future.
“In the case of wind-turbine farms, as I understand it, when installing them typically is 1,500 truckloads to install them, that means someone has to pay 1,500 truckloads to take them away,” she said.
NDP Leader Rachel Notley agreed that there needs to be plans in place to clean up all energy projects, but said the government is going about it in the wrong way.
“Danielle Smith is campaigning on giving billions of taxpayers’ dollars to financially solvent companies that are choosing not to clean up after themselves. She can’t be trusted on this issue,” she said in a statement to CTV News Edmonton.
Political scientist Duane Bratt said he wasn’t surprised by Smith’s comments because being loud cheerleaders of the oil and gas industry is a clear strategy of the UCP government.
“When they talk about renewables, they talk about it not working when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining and so pivoting to waste issues on renewables, that’s totally on brand,” he said.
Last year, Alberta had an installed capacity, the maximum electrical output under specific conditions, of 67 per cent from natural gas and coal and 31 per cent from solar, wind and hydro, according to Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO).
In 2019, about 89 per cent of Alberta’s electricity came from fossil fuels and 10 per cent from renewables, according to the Canada Energy Regulator.
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