Cargill’s alt-protein chief answers Food Dive’s 8 questions

This is part of a new series at Food Dive of Q&A’s with iconoclasts in the industry doing interesting things and challenging the status quo in the food industry. This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Name: Elizabeth Gutschenritter

Where do you live: Wichita, Kansas

Occupation: Managing director of alternative protein at Cargill

Though Cargill has a rich and storied history in the food space, the company showed that it’s not afriad to embrace new food technologies and interests with the creation of an alternative protein division in 2019. Then, they appointed 17-year company veteran Elizabeth Gutschenritter to head it. 

Gutschenritter sees the alternative protein space as a complement to animal-based protein, not a replacement. Though it is still a nascent category, Gutschenritter believes her expertise in animal protein, as well as her belief in the impact alternative protein can have, will allow her to take the newly formed division to the next level. 

From heading the North American retail beef business to now the alternative protein category, Gutschenritter has gone from strategizing in a space she was two decades experience in to navigating start-up tactics in the growing alternative protein space. 

The Cargill executive discussed leadership style, the challenging hurdles of a new industry and juggling family life through it all. 

Elizabeth Gutschenritter, director of alternative protein at Cargill 

Permission granted by Cargill


FOOD DIVE: What was your first job? 

ELIZABETH GUTSCHENRITTER: My first job was as a cashier at Target and I was hired on my 16th birthday. I remember my mom made me a great breakfast that morning, and then told me to come back home with a job. She promised we’d celebrate that night – my birthday and my entry into the workforce. The neighborhood Target was hiring and doing open interviews. So just like mom asked, I came with a job and have been working ever since.

FOOD DIVE: What inspired you to focus on your current work?

GUTSCHENRITTERI started my career with Cargill on the animal protein side, and spent nearly two decades immersed in that business. But when the opportunity arose to take the helm of Cargill’s newly formed alternative protein group, I jumped at the chance.

People are sometimes surprised when I say this, but our alternative and traditional protein businesses are highly complementary. They reflect our inclusive approach to the future of protein and ambition to deliver the best protein to the most people.

Fortunately, I also love a challenge, because consumer expectations are driving innovation and evolution of the alternative protein category. Our customers are looking to us for solutions, and we are partnering to propel the category forward. There’s so much innovation happening in this space.

FOOD DIVE: What is the biggest change you have seen while working in your current role?

GUTSCHENRITTERAlternative protein is still a young and fast-changing category, and its evolution and volatility have been a big change. In a few short years, we’ve seen rapid improvement in technology and noticeable changes in consumer choices, too. All of this indicates that we’re still in the very early years of this developing category.

These patterns – new entrants, an influx of product offerings and players, competitive rationalization – are an expected part of the category’s evolution as it continues to grow.

But here’s the key. As an industry, we must unlock growth opportunities across all protein types so we can provide for a better future where protein is accessible for all. This idea is certainly central to Cargill. It’s what we do as a food company and has stood the test of time amid ever-evolving consumer expectations.

FOOD DIVE: What was harder than you thought it would be? What was easier?

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