Gustavo Guadagnini is the Managing Director at The Good Food Institute Brazil. He spoke with ACE Research Intern Victoria Schindel on October 24, 2018. This is a summary of their conversation.
Can you summarize the work that you do at The Good Food Institute (GFI) in Brazil?
We started GFI in Brazil in February 2017. The first stage here is to help develop the national market. The market is very behind in technology, in market share, and in the types of products that are being sold here. Our work is trying to close the gap in the plant-based market by connecting companies here with licensed technology in the United States. We also help new companies get set up, and we provide support to local entrepreneurs. The idea is to do the same kind of work that you find in the United States—by looking at the supply chain and focusing on how to develop the plant-based and clean meat alternatives—but with the knowledge of the culture in Brazil, so that the approach can be adapted to work here. For example, in Brazil we have a supply problem with many raw materials (such as pea protein which doesn’t exist here because we don’t produce it). So we work with Researchers and institutions to find ways to develop ingredients for the plant-based industry while using the raw materials that we have available in Brazil.
For our entrepreneurial work, we are about to translate the start-up guides into Portuguese. At the moment we are helping entrepreneurs one-on-one with advice and guidance for their strategy, but we are trying to create programs that will help us to do this on a larger scale. We are also forming partnerships with universities and big institutions—including other nonprofits—to be able to better help entrepreneurs. We are also working a lot with early stage companies to help them to create business plans, grow, and scale up production. There is already an investor network that is set up here. At the moment, there are more people wanting to invest than there are companies ready to receive investments, but it’s good that we know money is available. Some Brazilian investors have already made investments in companies in the United States, so I’m thinking that the next step may be to bring these companies to Brazil.
Corporate engagement is also a big area for us with both producers and retailers. We have been training the retail brands on how they can work with plant-based products. We also work with the government. For instance, we are trying to create regulations for cultured meat and secure funding for entrepreneurs and companies to develop cultured meat and plant-based products. At GFI, we try to sell ourselves as innovators within the industry because by presenting our work as an opportunity, it helps stop the meat producers from opposing us the way they might oppose a traditional animal advocacy organization.
When you approach companies and the government, how open are they to your work?
They have been much more open than we expected. We only started on our work with the government recently, because the governance in Brazil is changing and next year we will have a new congress and President. That’s when the new congresspeople will choose which issues they want to focus on, which is why we are talking to them now. We have at least two ministers supporting our ideas and we have shown them to the Brazilian agencies for industrial development and technologies. They are actually very excited about it, although it is still a new idea for them so it will take some effort to turn the excitement into results (such as securing public funding, for example).
The retail companies are generally more open than the producers because they have more varied and diverse areas which allow for innovation. They are very up-to-date with what is happening in other parts of the world, so they see us as a group that can help them to keep up with innovation trends. The producers don’t necessarily oppose us, but they are more wary about how this may change their business. So far we haven’t had any real opposition, and we have been very successful in getting people together to create solutions that will work for everyone, including the producers of meat and animal products.
When you are talking to the government and companies, do you emphasize the animal welfare aspect of plant-based products and cultured meat? If not, what factors do you usually focus on?
Generally, we use a bit of everything. We show the four different areas that are impacted by changing to plant-based products, but focus on the one that is of the most interest to the party involved. The environment in particular is a topic that interests companies in Brazil because they understand that they could be held responsible for environmental damage. Companies don’t care about animal welfare, but they do care about the fact that activists are professional now. The companies are losing money because the activists are doing undercover investigations and they are blocking the ports when the companies try to export live animals. From my point of view, this show the companies that professional activism is here to stay and that they will need to deal with activists.
Health is definitely the most important reason for the Brazilian consumer. From our research, the main motivation for both vegans and reducetarians is health. For vegetarians and vegans, 50% said their change in diet was for their own health. For reducetarians, this figure was 70%.
For the government, the social issues are the most important aspect. We tell them that as things are, we won’t be able to feed the growing population. We don’t have enough space for expanding cattle raising or the soy that is fed to them, so we won’t be able to feed everyone who is born in the next thirty years.
Can you talk more about how the animal advocacy movement has become more organized and professional?
International organizations such as Mercy For Animals and Animal Equality started to establish themselves in Brazil a few years ago. It was the first time activism was well-structured and funded, and they started to campaign against companies. Since Carrefour (the biggest retailer in Brazil) made the commitment to go cage-free, I can now talk to retailers and explain that things are changing due to professional activism—which makes them pay attention.
Recently, activists have been coming together to fight meat companies on live animal exports. Companies have lost huge sums of money due to activists stopping the ships and blocking the ports. Activists have also filed lawsuits against the companies because they caused environmental damage by transporting live animals, so the companies have faced fines. These cases make companies understand that this is an important issue.
Both Mercy For Animals and Animal Equality have launched undercover investigations, which are completely new in Brazil. The companies know that the public won’t like to see what goes on in the farms. The federal police investigation that happened last year exposed bad practices concerning sanitary problems within the meat industry, so any new information from undercover investigations comes on top of a huge scandal. It gives the investigations significantly more power.
Do activists have concerns for their personal safety when taking direct action?
Brazil kills more environmental activists than any other country in the world, so I can’t say that personal safety isn’t a concern. Going inside a farm in the middle of nowhere is very dangerous because you can just disappear. It’s completely different if a huge group of activists is blocking the ports with cameras, documenting what is happening. But if you were to go into the Amazon to show trees being cut down for cattle farming, or to go inside the farms, that would be much more dangerous than the work organizations are doing here. GFI is not seen as an activist organization though. We are seen as business consultancy so this doesn’t really apply to us.
Where is more research needed to develop the plant-based and cultured meat market?
We have discussed this a lot over here in Brazil with our research coordinator. I would say that research about products and labeling is still important and could be used in Brazil. For instance, in the United States we have decisions that have been made, such as not using the word “vegan” on product labels. Terms such as “meatless” might be used instead. We still need to create these terms in Portuguese and see how they can be used effectively in Brazil. Even the term “plant-based” is not a very good translation for us. Every newspaper uses a different term, and we don’t know which ones are more or less effective. There is a lot of knowledge in the United States and in Europe, and we need to start checking if the terms used there actually make sense in Brazil too.
Our initial research was quite broad—we looked at how many people are choosing these products and the results were already very exciting. Now we need to start looking deeper like some of the research that’s been done in the United States and in Europe. For example, some important questions include (i) how customers are affected by labeling, (ii) what people expect from products, and (iii) which product options are most important to the Brazilian customer. This research doesn’t necessarily need to be done by GFI—the industry can also start to look at these topics.
Are Brazilians receptive to dietary change advocacy? What factors influence their receptiveness?
Our research shows that about 30% of Brazilians are already changing their diet to reduce meat and animal product consumption. The market is not considered niche anymore, as a significant number of people are open to buying vegetarian and vegan products. When we ask people if they think going vegetarian is a good thing, more than 70% say yes. Most people see being vegetarian or eating plant-based products as a very positive thing.
I would say the health trend in Brazil is much stronger than in other countries, so this is something that we can take advantage of. The health market worldwide grows about 8% per year but in Brazil, it grows about 20% every year. People place a lot of importance on things like losing weight and building muscle. There is a new brand of plant-based sports supplements which people really love—brands that are health-focused grow very fast.
What are the challenges to growing the plant-based market in Brazil?
The research here confirmed what had already been confirmed in other countries. Price, taste, and convenience are the factors that will make a customer buy a product. At the moment, most of the plant-based products on the market are overpriced compared to traditional animal-based products.
There are two reasons for this. Most of the companies that are plant-based are small, and so they buy ingredients in small batches. When they need to transport products that are refrigerated, it is very expensive to do. Of course this is expected in a new market, and as they grow and can sell larger volumes of products, their costs will be much lower. The second reason has to do with product development. Many of the ingredients that the companies use are not produced in the Brazilian region yet. For example, protein products are made using imported pea protein. This is something that we think can be changed, and we are working with a large government research institute to make the same kind of protein using beans available in Brazil. Not having to import raw materials for ingredients will have a significant impact on the cost of producing these products. GFI just launched a grant (open to applicants anywhere in the world) to pay for research into using locally available raw materials for ingredients.
What is the role of education in dietary change and animal advocacy?
We are not so involved with education directly, but we do work as much as we can with the media trying to get them to change how they approach the subject. We’ve had some great success with this; we’ve been in several big articles in newspapers and in the biggest business magazine in Brazil. We’ve also been featured on several websites. We tend to talk mostly about the products and why they are a good thing. Education on the topic as a whole is much bigger than that, and it’s very important. There are some organizations that do this very effectively. For example, the Vegetarian Society of Brazil (SVB) has a group of nutritionists who educate people about plant-based eating. If I need a health professional to work with, I can access these groups who already have nutritionists.
How easy is it to engage with the media?
Last year it was a bit easier, because everyone wanted to write about plant-based eating and cultured meat as a result of the meat industry scandals. This year, we are talking about the elections and other political matters so we’ve not had a lot of media coverage.. It’s difficult to get attention with any consistency.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Brazil produces less meat than the United States but with a much greater environmental impact. This is mainly because the animals produced in the United States are genetically selected to grow bigger so there are fewer animals needed to produce the same amount of meat. Brazil is adding significantly to global warming and air pollution problems. Our cattle is raised on pasture, whereas in the United States it is raised intensively. Of course, intensive systems are worse for the animals—but raising cattle on pasture means that we have a huge problem of land usage. Almost 92% of the deforestation of the Amazon rainforest is due to expanding cattle farming or soy fields needed to produce feed for the animals. It also causes water pollution. We are very close to a tipping point—probably in the next five years—where the forest will no longer be able to recover from deforestation. The environmental issues in Brazil are much more urgent than in other countries, but there is a lot of openness and willingness to change so there are many opportunities here.