KANSAS CITY — Making food more affordable and available in developing markets was a common topic in a July 19 presentation at the Institute of Food Technologists’ virtual FIRST conference.

Michael J. Leonard, PhD, chief technology officer for Motif FoodWorks. Inc., Boston, spoke about how plant protein alternatives, currently a high-end product, eventually could reach developing markets.

Arijit G. Mazumder, R&D director of the Asia, Middle East and Africa region for Mondelez International, Inc., Chicago, spoke about how the company is responding to the rise in extreme poverty caused by COVID-19. 

Motif FoodWorks seeks scientific ways to make plant-based foods better tasting, more nutritious and more sustainable.

“The growth of plant-based meats was explosive during the pandemic,” Dr. Leonard said. “I would argue that we haven’t achieved critical mass yet and a supply chain to truly serve a broader population. We barely were able to meet the needs of developed markets during that time. Developing markets is a completely different story.”

Motif FoodWorks has a future in developing markets, however, he said.

“If you believe in the plant-based lifestyle and movement, you have to believe that this is really a nutrition and sustainability story for the whole word,” Dr. Leonard said. “The scale for developed markets is probably what is going to come first.”

Scale must be achieved before plant-based products become affordable enough for developing markets. To achieve scale, repeat purchases must be achieved in developed markets, he said. Such repeat purchases could come through innovative ways to make plant-based products that match the taste and nutrition of conventional products.

“Once we get critical mass and a scaling of the industry, then we can really start taking a crack at affordability,” Dr. Leonard said. “Scale is required before we do that.”

Millions around the world are finding it difficult just to have enough food to survive. The World Food Bank last October estimated COVID-19 would push an additional 88 million to 115 million people into extreme property in 2020 with that number possibly rising as high as 150 million in 2021.

The pandemic especially has increased poverty in developing markets.

“It’s completely catastrophic and unprecedented,” Mr. Mazumder said.

Mondelez International delivered more than $30 million globally for COVID-19 relief efforts.

In India, Mondelez is making affordable health drinks fortified with vitamins and minerals available to children between the ages of 3 and 16, Mr. Mazumder said. Mondelez International has partnered with Save the Children, a humanitarian aid organization, in India for the past seven years, he said. The Mondelez International Foundation’s partnership with Save the Children in different areas of the world takes a three-pronged approach: offering nutrition education, promoting active play and providing access to fresh foods.