future of protein production with plates with healthy food and protein

FPP Chicago Speaker Interview: Janet Helm, Founder, Food at the Helm Consultancy

March 1, 2024

Working as a global food analyst and nutrition communicator, Janet Helm has a keen eye for smarter ways to bring alt proteins products to market, and how to educate consumers on making the best choices for their health and for the planet

The field of strategic communications is at the heart of Helm’s work. “I’m a registered dietitian and culinary professional who has built a career in food marketing and nutrition communications,” she explains. “The majority of my career has been working with the global public relations agency, Weber Shandwick, where I served as chief food and nutrition strategist. Our clients ranged from some of the best-loved food and beverage brands to agricultural commodity boards. My focus has been on consumer insights and strategies, along with activations to leverage nutrition benefits, overcome barriers, or manage issues.”

Seeing a niche in the market to assist brands on the above topics, Helm recently started her own consultancy, Food At The Helm, “to help food and beverage brands intersect with food culture, tell their nutrition story, engage stakeholders, and deploy influencers”.

Working with so many different players, she has a unique vantage point from which to survey the sector. And when asked about the biggest trends and disruptions that she sees shaping the future of the alternative protein industry, Helm immediately says that, “One of the biggest topics in nutrition today is the debate over ultra-processed food. It’s certainly an issue that is impacting meat alternatives. This will be one of the most important obstacles to overcome.”  

According to Helm, a winning strategy for brands here will be to educate consumers about processing and product benefits: “The level of processing of a food is not related to the nutrition or environmental benefits,” she states.

Taste continues to be the top purchase driver of food, so we need to show how protein alternatives are unapologetically delicious and craveable. We also need to leverage other motivators, primarily health

Helm believes that the well-known Nova classification system has been a source of confusion for the public. “It’s a mistake to lump plant-based meats and alternative protein products into the same category as soft drinks and cupcakes – which is the situation with Nova. However, studies show that consumers are more likely to be accepting of technology or processing when they see a benefit. So, it will be critical to elevate the benefits of alternative protein products and demonstrate that not all processed foods are created equal.”

Expanding on that latter point, she cites a recent WHO study that helped to illustrate the notable differences between processed foods. “Increased consumption of ultra-processed food was linked to an elevated risk of multimorbidity involving cancer and cardiometabolic disease. Yet risks varied by the type of ultra-processed foods,” Helm explains. “Risks were associated with animal-based products and sugar-sweetened beverages. Risks were not associated with plant-based meats, breakfast cereals, and packaged breads.”

Alongside consumer education on the processing side, Helm believes we need to continue to break down the major barriers in the alt proteins category to increase both trial and repeat purchase. “Taste continues to be the top purchase driver of food, so we need to show how protein alternatives are unapologetically delicious and craveable,” she comments. “We also need to leverage other motivators, primarily health.

“Consumers say they want familiar formats that fit how they cook at home, from burgers or meatballs to crumbles to swap for ground meat. They also want protein alternatives that are indistinguishable from meat – they don’t want to sacrifice the culinary experience of eating meat but they want it to be healthier.”

Optimistic on the industry’s ability to overcome its remaining hurdles, Helm concludes: “We’re still at the beginning of the beginning of protein alternatives – but I’m in no doubt that there’s a positive future for the category.”

Janet will be moderating a panel discussion at The Future of Protein Production Chicago called, ‘From restaurant plates to supermarket shelves – breakout strategies and best practices to bring alternative protein products to market in 2024 and beyond’, which takes place at McCormick Place on 24/25 April 2024. Book your tickets today to come and hear a further 75 speakers, 30 presentations, eight panel discussions and network with +400 other attendees. Click here

If you have any questions or would like to get in touch with us, please email info@futureofproteinproduction.com

About the Speaker

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.

Every week, you’ll receive a compilation of the latest breakthroughs from the global alternative proteins sector, covering plant-based, fermentation-derived and cultivated proteins.
By clicking “Accept All Cookies”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts. View our Privacy Policy for more information.