Growing demand for alternative protein sources, new report claims

By Michelle Perrett

- Last updated on GMT

Alternative proteins are hailed as holding future promise for the UK food industry
Alternative proteins are hailed as holding future promise for the UK food industry

Related tags: vegan, Supply chain

There is a growing demand for protein sources for both human and animal consumption, a new report from UK Research and Innovation's (UKRI's) Transforming Food Production Challenge programme has revealed.

Titled Alternative Proteins: Identifying UK Priorities​, it indicates that the UK needs to strengthen its capabilities in the alternative protein supply chain, with the ultimate goal of placing the UK as a world leader in the sector.

The report is backed by UKRI's Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund and has been created in collaboration with Growing Kent & Medway. It highlights that the food system has been experiencing recent shocks that are affecting both the availability and cost of many staple food products, with recent stresses, including Brexit, the COVID-19 pandemic and the conflict in Ukraine.  

It details a roadmap for the future of alternative proteins in the UK, identifying three key areas requiring investment and development: plant proteins; fermentation; and novel systems. 

Plant Proteins 

The report states there is an estimated £1bn market for plant-based alternatives in the UK, with predicted market year-to-year growth for meat alternatives (30%), dairy free milk (48%) and cheese alternative (38%). 

It argues this will be mainly driven through the expansion of start-ups. 

However, the industry will face some challenges as the plant-based protein sector is dominated by imported materials, largely soya. But it suggests that there needed to some new crops for protein sources such as algae harvesting. There are also suggestions for upcycled proteins, eco-innovative technology for plant protein extraction and scale up as well as a shift to bio-processing. 

Fermentation

On fermentation the report said the demand for mycoprotein products exceeds current supply capacities, with the scaling up of production to meet demand proving to be the largest technical challenge. 

It also suggested that there were many opportunities outside of meat equivalents within the alternative protein sector such as dairy and egg alternatives. 

On lab processed meat, it highlights that while there are multiple small companies investigating the potential of this cultivation there are challenges as cultures cannot currently be produced easily at scale, it is not commercially available at scale and the sector is at an early stage of its development. 

It states extensive optimisation of lab-cultured meat generation has the potential to provide a sustainable alternative to animal farming. But it accepts that achieving consumer acceptance for lab-cultured meat is one of the major barriers that must be overcome. 

Novel systems​ 

Addressing the topic of novel systems, it states that insect and new aquaculture protein industries are economically viable alternate sources of protein for human food and animal feed. 

However, it claims the insect protein industry is dominated by a few species. It adds there is a need to reduce the cost of production by scaling up and automating production processes, improving genetics, as well as using cheaper feedstocks that are currently unavailable due to regulatory constraints. It describes a 'huge opportunity'  to use insects to utilise on-farm and organic wastes to produce protein for animal feed and, in the longer term, human food. 

Major technical barriers included lack of breeding expertise for insect species, as well as lack of automation and the stigma around eating insects will need to be tackled. 

Tom Jenkins, deputy challenge director – Transforming Food Production Innovate UK, in the report stated: "The need to increase agricultural productivity to meet the requirements of a global population, predicted to reach c.10 billion by 2050, is well documented. Recent stresses, including Brexit, the COVID-19 pandemic and conflict in Europe, also highlight both the need and opportunity to increase domestic food production to mitigate against future supply chain challenges. Within this context there is a growing demand for protein sources for both human and animal consumption.

“Opportunities also exist to develop new domestic protein sources to displace reliance on global commodities like soya- and fishmeal in the animal feed and aquaculture sectors, which also have the benefit of helping to reduce the environmental impact of food production."

 

Related topics: Veganism

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