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Feeding a growing global population with alternative proteins

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Protein source and product format are among the considerations for product developers.

By 2030, the global population is expected to reach 8.5 billion, which is up from 7.8 billion in 2020, according to data from the United Nations. Assuming this growth rate continues, UN projections indicate that more food will need to be produced in the next 40 years than in the past 8,000 years to feed the world. Meeting this need will require alternatives that extend well beyond conventional protein sources. To get there, investments in the alternative space, novel proteins, and new technologies are critical.

Fortunately, the industry is well on its way. Today’s market for alternative meat and dairy products alone is about US$30 billion, projected to grow to $125 billion by 2030 (FMI Global Plant-based Market Forecast Report, 2021). This rapid growth is also driven by heightened consumer demand for solutions that support their desires to lead a healthy lifestyle. Many people are looking for protein alternatives that are better for them and better for the planet. Active nutrition, snacks and ready meals are just a few categories that present substantial opportunities for protein innovation. Furthermore, a broader selection of alternative protein options will satisfy consumer desires while providing new ways to feed our growing population. A variety of trends in the space, from novel protein sources to innovation and transparency, are transforming the way consumers shop.

Emerging protein sources & technologies

Thanks to cutting-edge technologies, protein can be sourced from far more than animals and crops. Future-focused companies have discovered how to derive proteins from cells, air, volcanic ash, fungi, seaweed, and insects. What once was considered science fiction is now gaining consumer acceptance. In fact, 68% of global consumers show interest in lab-grown meat adoption, according to ADM Outside Voice research. Microbial fermentation is another novel method for developing alternative protein products. While expansive capabilities in food-grade fermentation are required to support the processing, lab services and consulting needs of food and beverage companies, fermentation “as-a-service” offerings can level the playing field and spur development.

In addition to these unique sources, the industry continues to rely on plant proteins. Consumers may automatically think of soy, oat, almond or coconut as meat and dairy alternatives, but ingredient diversification is incredibly important. Product developers are exploring how sunflower, chickpea, pea, wheat, rice, and other plant proteins can expand their offerings. This will not only provide optionality in the current marketplace, but also help support the quantities needed to feed future generations.

Expanded formats for different lifestyles

Beyond protein source, much emphasis is placed on product format. The next frontier in alternative proteins is creating authentic whole-muscle meat analogues, from steaks to chops to shellfish. Research and development across the industry is dedicated to overcoming challenges in structure and texture to unlock new applications. There’s already opportunity for expansion in the category, as ADM research showing that whole-muscle alternatives to meat are underrepresented in family meal occasions. Only 33% of family meal occasions include alternative meat products, while 67% include real meat products. Additionally, plant-based cuts, such as briskets, steaks, and cutlets, are currently only used in 13% of meal occasions, compared with 22% for comparable meat products. With continued R&D advancements, these whole-muscle alternative products may one day be sold in “raw” formats in the butcher’s case, which holds large appeal for both expanded cooking options and an enhanced consumer perception of freshness.

For today’s consumer, there is growing demand for convenient plant-forward formats that can help people more easily incorporate plant protein and wholesome ingredients in their daily routines. For example, shredded and pulled meats and crumbles and grounds have a wide variety of uses in at-home cooking throughout the day. Stir fries, stews, sandwiches, and tacos can easily become flexitarian favourites with plant proteins in place of traditional meats.

Cheese is another area of opportunity. Cheese is a highly nuanced product and formulating for stretch and melting point in alternative dairy offerings can be challenging. Plus, cheesemakers often use rennet to coagulate casein and form curds, but plant proteins have not evolved to function in the same way. R&D is ongoing to meet high consumer expectations of this category, and as new technology comes to fruition, innovation will expand the cheese alternative space.

Transparency, sustainability & consumer acceptance

Threaded through each of these trends is the expectation to produce tasty, nutritious alternative options with clean and clear labels that will entice repeat purchases. ADM research shows 70% of global consumers report taste and nutrition are equally important. However, taste skews higher for those in the United States, UK, and Germany, where more than a quarter of consumers believe it’s more important than nutrition. Companies that strike a balance between the sensory experience and nutritional quality are more likely to succeed with shoppers.

Transparency and sustainability are also key to achieving consumer satisfaction. People are increasingly aware of where their food comes from, and they expect more visibility into how food is grown, raised, processed, and packaged. Advancements in agricultural science are optimising harvests to reduce the cost, time and environmental impacts associated with plant protein production. For example, seed-to-fork initiatives apply innovative technology to improve seed breeding, which can produce seeds with higher protein content, a better taste profile and a more neutral colour profile. These attributes contribute to the improved finished food or beverage product consumers see on the shelf.

As the protein alternatives marketplace continues to evolve, brands looking to expand their alternative offerings will find success by partnering with a global ingredient supplier. With unique capabilities to ensure ingredients are sourced through traceable supply chains, furthering seed-to-fork initiatives, as well as tapping into a multicultural team of technical experts for the best sensory experience, the right partner can help companies rise to the challenge of feeding a growing population.

RamonaDumitrache_ADM_2.pngRamona Dumitrache is marketing director, Global Savory and Protein Solutions (EMEA), ADM; she joined ADM in 2021 and has over 15 years of B2B and B2C experience in food and nutrition. Based in Rolle, Switzerland, Ramona leads the category marketing for savory globally and is also responsible for protein solutions in EMEA. Previously, she held various senior marketing and brand management roles at Nestlé, Danone, and Mars. Ramona holds an MBA from IMD Business School in Switzerland.

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