Progressive proteins paving the way for fresh food alternatives

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Twelve months on from the release of AgriFutures Australia’s research into the future of alternative protein, how is Australian agriculture tracking to capitalise on the $3.1 billion worth of opportunities by 2030, and what role do our emerging industries play?

The AgriFutures Australia and Australian Farm Institute report The Changing Landscape of Protein Production: Opportunities and challenges for Australian agriculture outlines the size of the alternative proteins trend and unpacks the likely implications for the agricultural sector. The report found additional opportunities for the protein market in 2030 are estimated at $19.9 billion, of which $3.1 billion will come from alternative protein categories.  

With these figures in mind, AgriFutures Australia Senior Manager Rural Futures, Jennifer Medway explained the emergence of alternative proteins shouldn’t be seen as a threat, but rather a means of diversification for producers, processors and consumers. 

“The report was compiled to help us understand the future of the protein market following industry concerns that traditional proteins could be at risk of losing market share with an increase in vegetarian, vegan, flexitarian and meat reducer diets,” said Ms Medway. 

“Instead, we found there are huge opportunities globally in both the traditional and alternative protein markets. There will be a rise in consumption of alternative proteins, but people will also continue to eat meat – the two industries can co-exist and can complement each other.”  

The current state of play in the protein field 

The Australian plant-based protein market has enjoyed substantial global investment over the past 12 months. Australian start-up v2food, a joint venture between CSIRO, Competitive Foods and Main Sequence Ventures raised $77 million in funding in October 2020, bringing their total funding to $113 million[1], while in May 2021, global grain trader and agrifood company Bunge invested A$45.7 million in Australian Plant Proteins (APP), a premium plant-based powder processing, packaging and distribution business, with facilities in regional Victoria.[2]

In addition to increased investment, Executive Director of Australian Farm Institute, Richard Heath said there has been strategy development and advocacy from all parts of the protein value chain since the report’s release.  

“In March this year, leading Australian plant-based companies including Sanitarium, Proform Foods, v2food, Rogue Foods and Nestlé Australia, along with Impossible Foods from the United States, launched the Alternative Proteins Council (APC) to lobby for positive outcomes in the Australian sector[3]. We’ve also seen traditional protein industry groups establishing taskforces and other industry efforts, such as consumer sensory testing[4], to promote and protect animal protein production.”

Meanwhile in the United States, the House of Representatives in Texas approved House Bill 316 to stop alternative proteins from being labelled as ‘meat’, ‘beef’, ‘chicken’ or ‘pork’. A sign of what’s on the horizon, international policy trends around labelling and ‘what’s in a name’ are likely to be closely followed by Australian food producers as the alternative protein market grows.  

Opportunity knocks for emerging industries 

The face of alterative protein is changing, with new products on the market and innovative emerging industries in Australia stepping up to meet demand.  

In 2020, v2food released their first product, the Rebel Whopper, across Hungry Jack’s stores throughout Australia, and have since expanded to include plant-based mince, sausages and burger patties that have been rolled out in supermarkets and meal kit services across the country.  

Speaking at evokeAG last year, Nick Hazell, Founder and CEO of v2food said that consumers don’t change their eating habits very quickly, and the trick with plant-based meat is to make it perform in exactly the same way as traditional animal protein.  

“We need to work with what we like, design a food system and food that fits in with who we are and what we like, rather than trying to force people to change too much.” 

Ms Medway said jackfruit and edible insects are two stand out examples of Australian emerging rural industries that have been a staple in many cuisines for centuries but are now pivoting to meet consumer demand and eating habits in the western world. 

“Protein powders, protein bars, dukkah, seasonings and roasted insects are just some of the ways that insects can be consumed, while jackfruit, which grows in northern Australia, boasts similar attributes to ‘pulled pork’,” she said. 

“On a per hectare basis, jackfruit produces high yields of edible food products. One project that AgriFutures Emerging Industries Program is currently supporting is developing processing systems to create ready-to-eat jackfruit products[5].”

AgriFutures Australia has identified that insect farming has the potential to reach $10 million per annum in the next five years[6], while CSIRO recently launched Edible insects: A roadmap for the strategic growth of an emerging Australian industry which suggests Australia can become a player in the billion-dollar global edible insect industry.[7]

 And it’s not just human foods that will benefit from the rise in alternative proteins. The burgeoning edible insect industry has been garnering interest in the animal feed space. AgriFutures Australia is also supporting a project that is the first of its kind in Australia – looking into the nutritional quality of insects and how they can be utilised in the development of pet foods 

Australian farmers to reap benefits from alternative protein demand 

According to Mr Hazell, Australia has the capacity to grow plant-based meat for the rest of the world, and the opportunity associated with plant-based meat is so much bigger than the threat. 

“The reality is that global demand for meat is going to double in the next 20-25 years… and it is physically impossible to double the global animal meat industry. We can’t grow enough grain to double meat consumption. Producers should be considering alternatives to feed our growing population – which is where the plant-based meat conversation is evolving.” 

In short, the global export opportunities for Australian grain and legume farmers are untapped.  

The good news, Australian Farm Institute’s Richard Heath believes, is that Australian agriculture is on track to capitalise on the alternative proteins market.  

“We’re seeing industries such as grains building new protein extraction plants to capture market demand. It highlights how a traditional industry, grown in abundance in Australia, can add significant value to industry growth,” said Mr Heath.   

“It’s an exciting landscape to be part of with ample opportunity. We know for some people the non-animal option will always be first choice, but consumers who like to make choices based on potential planetary impact have more options than ever before. For the farmer, now is an ideal time to consider how their industry might set themselves apart in the expanding global plant protein market.”  

Find out more in The changing landscape of protein production: Opportunities and challenges for Australian agriculture report.

The Changing Landscape of Protein Production: Opportunities and challenges for Australian agriculture

Download the report

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