April 19, 2021  

Ram Krishnan on the power of plant-based protein

In honor of Earth Day, PepsiCo’s Global Chief Commercial Officer explains why reimagining the human diet is crucial to fighting climate change. 

You may not immediately think of food choices as being on the front lines in the fight against climate change. This Earth Day, PepsiCo’s Global Chief Commercial Officer Ram Krishnan is working to change that.

"Plant-based proteins answer a provocative innovation question," writes Krishnan in a recent blog post. "What if we could create something consumers view as ‘meat’ without involving animals? The more I have learned, the more I am convinced this is an idea whose time has come."

Krishnan worked closely with Beyond Meat, an industry innovator, on The PLANeT Partnership, a recently formed joint venture with PepsiCo to develop, produce and market snack and beverage products made from plant-based protein. “I witnessed firsthand an elegant solution that actually breaks down plants and re-assembles them to create the nutrition profile, texture and sensory experience of conventional meat,” Krishnan notes. "It’s a lofty innovation achievement to create something consumers see as ‘meat’ – while cutting out the animal entirely."

As we consider how to do better by our planet, Krishnan urges others to join the plant-based movement — even if just for a meal or two. Read on for three reasons he’s confident that plant-based proteins represent an increasingly vital tool in our fight against climate change.

Eating less meat is a meaningful step every one of us can take.

“Many scientists say reducing consumption of animal proteins is the single most impactful thing any one person can do to help protect Planet Earth,” Krishnan says. “That’s right, simple mealtime choices can be more impactful than forgoing air travel for a year or driving an electric vehicle. Our individual steps can add up to significant collective progress.”

Changes we make at the dinner table are especially impactful because our global food system is responsible for at least 25% of Earth’s total greenhouse gas emissions, with farmed livestock accounting for the majority of that share.

People are ready for meat alternatives.

“As a lifelong vegetarian, I am accustomed to browsing a limited assortment in a single section of the grocery store to find plant-based products,” Krishnan says. “However, a couple of years ago I started to notice a change, where in almost every category I was seeing plant-based product disruption – from milk, to cheese, to meat, to sauces.”

Many consumers also may have noticed a change. On U.S. restaurant menus, plant-based options have grown 328% since 2018, and 20 major chains added meatless options in 2019. Meanwhile, countries in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region are seeing similar trends.

Krishnan believes this innovation reflects a steady cultural evolution. In North America, the number of vegans and vegetarians is rising, along with a growing number of “flexitarians”— people who, while they may still eat meat, are actively trying to reduce their consumption and add more plant-based foods to their diet. For his part, Krishnan is excited to support them.

The opportunities for innovation are endless.

Krishnan is fascinated by the many startups around the world now experimenting with what is known as cell-based meat. “The so-called ‘third generation’ of plant-based meat and dairy alternatives are being created in labs where scientists are learning to grow meat, milk and cheeses from cells and yeast — a different path to the same end goal of cutting out the animal entirely,” he explains.

Some analysts predict that by 2040, more than one-third of all meat consumed worldwide will be cell-based. “There are new techniques, new protein sources and new technologies to be explored, all of which can give increasingly conscious consumers more choices, help reduce pressure on the planet and encourage healthier lifestyles,” he says. “All without taking ‘meat’ off the menu.”

Read Ram Krishnan’s full post about why food choices should be on the front lines in the fight against climate change.