The report, ‘Alternative proteins: Responding to the growing consumer focus on Planet Health’, found that macroeconomic challenges – such as sustained levels of high inflation and energy prices – threaten to dampen the growth of the sector which has intensified the need to scale sustainable manufacturing processes and supply chains.
While the short-term growth of the alternative protein sector has been threatened by reduced discretionary consumer spending, changing consumer attitudes and the rise of ‘purpose-driven leadership’ in boardrooms necessitate the need for a central focus on ‘Planet Health’ to drive further innovation and help food and beverage manufacturers scale their production in a sustainable way.
Matthew Carr, business unit director at Niras, argued that food and drink manufacturers can put themselves in a prime position to take advantage of the rising demand for alternative protein sources by investing in new tech, processes and manufacturing facilities.
“Historically, a number of barriers – including cost, a resistance to changing habits, and a lack of desirable alternatives – have prevented many consumers from making the switch from a predominantly meat-based, to a vegetarian or vegan diet,” he continued.
“The market is already on a journey to overcome many of these challenges, and the impact of their influence over consumers will only diminish with time. Long-term resistance to changing habits will wane as both the number of protein alternatives and the quality of product continues to improve.
Investment in manufacturing capabilities from the sector would improve scale and drive cost efficiencies, meaning that the price to the consumer will also start to fall and closer align with traditional animal-derived sources of protein, Carr added.
“Sustainable manufacturing is quickly becoming a ‘license to operate’, and our report highlights the opportunities for manufacturers and brands that can develop their processes and supply chains so that the means of taking ingredients from field to fork are as sustainable as the products themselves.”
Growing number of sources
The report also details the growing number of alternative protein sources being utilised by the food and beverage manufacturing sector.
Nigel Devine, associate director at Niras, added: “Not only is the sector at the cutting edge of technology – which is being implemented to create new protein sources – we are also seeing existing protein sources utilised in new and exciting ways.
“The mainstreaming of both non-animal derived proteins such as seaweed, and animal-derived proteins such as insects and jellyfish are prime examples of the sector innovating to create and manufacture products in a much more sustainable manner.”
This widening range of protein sources has provided food and beverage manufacturers with new options and ingredients to create more desirable products, said Devine.
“This in turn will combat some of the negative stigma with regards to the quality and limited choice within ‘plant-based’ ranges, but also when manufactured at scale, it will bring the costs down for the consumer.”