Editor’s Letter: New Products

At some point during the pandemic, I found myself at the Apple Store in Austin. I needed a replacement for my MacBook Air and a lovely lady who helped me suggested I add a $400 Apple Watch to my purchase.

“Why would I need a watch?” I asked. Back then, I knew little about the watch, which I rely on to check my heart, log my workouts, and send my calls to voicemail. How did I live without an Apple Watch?

What I never saw in Austin before that day was any hype surrounding the Apple Watch. I’m both fairly immune and fairly resistant to hype. All these Apple projects in the Steve Jobs era weren’t sold to us because of hype, but because of their actual performance in the market. They filled needs we didn’t know we had.

Food Safety News receives a constant stream of new product presentations. I’m not saying we don’t occasionally stray into a topic involving a new product, but our policy is to avoid them. if Food Safety News writes about a new product, it means that the new product will be safe.

There’s no way we can know without significant market exposure

We pay attention to signs. We were surprised when PA-based Beyond Meat bet its “future of food” on security-stricken China for the production of its plant-based offerings two years ago. We weren’t surprised, either, when Bloomberg released photos of Beyond Meat’s home plant last week that appeared to show signs of mold, listeria, and other food-safety uses.

In the past year and a half there have been several positive tests for Listeria. According to reports, wood, metal and plastic were found in the product. Beyond Food has had an enduring good standing with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.

The company, which is launching a plant-based meat substitute, is clearly not having a good year. Its rollout deal with McDonald’s went bust, its annual loss is $97.1 million, and it laid off 19 percent of its workforce.

There was a lot of hype from others when Beyond Meat got the deal to bring its “McPlant” burger to 600 McDonald’s for a six-month pilot program. But either not enough McD customers have tried the “McPlant” burger, or those who have tried it have been put off by the taste. In any case, the pilot failed.

There’s also speculation that people stuck at home during the pandemic tried the meat substitutes bought at their grocery store and weren’t satisfied. These reactions could be why Beyond Meat sales are faltering. Not a good sign for the young company.

Beyond Meat is just one of many plant-based startups out there. Laboratory-grown meat and poultry from animal cells is another new product area. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) earlier this month approved UPSIDE FOOD’s plan to lab-produce chicken from animal cells. The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has yet to sign off.

While there has been hype around plant-based alternatives, the growth of meat and poultry in labs is likely greater, judging by venture capital and contracted PR firms. Examples of UPSIDE FOODs investors include SoftBank Group, Temasek, Norwest and Threshold Ventures, Tyson Foods, Bill Gates, Sir Richard Branson, Kimbal Musk, Whole Foods and others.

When you’re downstream of all the new product launches emerging from campaigns with billions at stake, it can seem like the wind never stops blowing. But that’s all the more reason why we have to be careful not to let ourselves be sucked in. We must constantly look for the food safety issue that these plant-based and lab-based offerings must either overcome or they will die.

I think the key to the safety of these lab grown offerings will turn out to be the labs themselves. It takes little memory to remember billion-dollar lab scandals.

Because of this, we will continue to focus on food safety and not the nature of these new product offerings. It would be foolish to do otherwise.

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