Make Sense of a Changing World

Consumers are becoming part-time vegetarians in droves. Billions of dollars, euros, and yuan are being invested in alternative protein companies and other sustainable businesses. Hundreds of new companies are entering the market on a quarterly basis. And cultivated, fermented, and mycology-based proteins are just getting started. It can be hard to keep up. We have some tips for staying on top of the best and latest data. 

Tip #1: Sign up for the Cultivate Insights email newsletter, which comes packed with research insights for alt protein companies and sustainable brands. 

Desk Research 

Whether you just need to stay up to date on the latest trends or you’re looking for specific research, start with desk research to get a sense of the landscape and avoid reinventing any wheels. Using Google or your search engine of choice, try being as specific as possible with your search terms and then broadening as needed to get more results. Then try the reverse, using general search terms and drilling in where needed. When the sources that come up start to seem on point, go deeper than just the first page of search results. 

If you have an ongoing need for similar research, take your most fruitful and specific search terms (both words and phrases) and create alerts for them. That way, you’ll be notified every time a new piece of research becomes public that matches your preferred terms. From there, you’ll need to refine your approach and edit your terms to create a stream of data sources that is both meaningful and manageable with your limited time. 

And if you really want to go deep on certain topics, don’t leave out other databases like ProQuest (for news and magazine articles), ReferenceUSA (for business and consumer data), Elsevier (and other publication platforms, for academic articles), or Google Scholar (for a wide variety of journal articles). 

What to Look For 

The first step to making sense of research is learning how to be an intelligent “consumer” of research results. This includes honing your ability to identify sources of data that are reliable and trustworthy. Taking a page from the journalist’s handbook, we can start by asking the “five Ws and an H” questions of who, what, when, where, why, and how. 

Who conducted the study and do they have a subjective interest in the results?

What type of data was collected and is the analysis right for the data type? 

When was the study conducted and are the results current enough for your needs?

Where did the research take place and is the geographical scope relevant to you? 

Why did the researchers conduct the study and what were their hypotheses, if any? 

How did they collect the data and how transparent are they regarding methods? 

The last one is especially important because how the data are collected can dramatically influence a study’s results. For instance, an open-access survey of 200 visitors to a company’s website will be far less reliable than a representative survey of 1,000 U.S. adults. But too often, those details are not provided by the study’s authors. A lack of transparency should be a note of caution when considering research results. 

In general, the best data sources are from studies conducted by disinterested third parties based on representative samples and with full transparency of both results and methods. This study from Yale, which uses probability-based sampling to study issues related to diet and climate change, is an example of a very reliable data source. On the other hand, the most dubious data sources are often company- or industry-funded studies that do not fully disclose their research goals or methods. 

Organizations to Follow

If you’re operating in the alternative protein space, there are already a handful of organizations doing a good job of summarizing new research. Each is unique in their geographical focus and the kinds of data that they compile, but all are worth checking out. 

Good Food Institute: GFI is an important driver of animal-free foods and they are committed to collecting data and making it available to all companies in the space. Of particular note is the market size and trend research they provide based on retail scanner data. 

ProVeg: ProVeg serves a similar role to GFI, but with a focus on the European market. They provide original research reports, webinars, and newsletters to stay informed about consumer and market research pertaining to Europe. 

Green Queen Media: Based in Hong Kong, GQM has global coverage of alternative proteins and sustainable consumerism, with a focus on the Asian region. Their newsletters are packed with the latest trends and data covering the plant-based, cell-based, and cruelty-free markets. 

Plant Based Foods Association: The leading US-based trade group for plant-based food companies, PBFA aggregates and occasionally conducts consumer research and partners with GFI to collect retail scanner data on the plant-based food industry. 

Materials Innovation Initiative: A relatively new organization, MII encourages businesses to adopt and produce eco-friendly and animal-free materials.

Header photo by Javier Allegue Barros on Unsplash