What’s next for Australia and New Zealand’s alternative protein scene?20 Jan 2023
Australian and New Zealand brands in the growing alternative protein sector turn their attention to local production and precision dairy fermentation.
The Australasian alternative proteins sector has seen steady growth between 2017 and 2022, expanding from less than five plant-based meat brands to over 30. During this time, the market has also seen its cellular agriculture space go from one company to eleven, operating in cultivated meat and precision fermentation.
“While there is a significant presence of international brands in the commercial market in Australia and New Zealand, plant-based meat brands make up more than half of the 320 products on retail shelves nationwide,” Jane Sydenham-Clarke, CEO of Food Frontier, an independent think tank on alternative proteins in Australia and New Zealand, told Ingredients Network.
The sector is, however, recognised for its diverse players, with founders including award-winning chefs, former fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) executives and family-run meat businesses. Brands have also launched off the back of Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, which seeks to commercialise research and development (R&D) in the plant protein and precision fermentation space.
vEEF is a chef-led company producing carbon-neutral plant-based mince, Vow is set to launch its cultivated quail product ‘Morsel’ in Singapore, and Nourish Ingredients produces animal-free fats using precision fermentation, which may play a significant role in future ‘hybrid’ products.
A first for alternative proteins
On the new product development (NPD) side, Food Frontier heard from companies seeking to catalyse the protein ingredient sector by considering a wide range of Australian-grown plants grown beyond the standard soy and pea crops. Manufacturers are looking to leverage partnerships with the beer and wine sector to use their equipment for precision fermentation. Producers are also looking to solve human breast milk supply challenges through cellular agriculture.
The event also spotlighted growing government investment in the sector, with key developments in early 2022, including new protein fractionation facilities in South Australia and plant protein R&D facilities in Victoria.
Since the event, Food Frontier has seen further developments, such as the Victorian Government’s 2030 Manufacturing Statement, including alternative proteins becoming, for the first time, a priority area for investment. The New South Wales (NSW) Government has released a report, which includes a recommendation to investigate opportunities to promote the growth of the plant-based protein manufacturing industry in NSW, Sydenham-Clarke says.
“Demand for protein is growing, particularly in Asia, which is right on our doorstep,” she adds.
Food Frontier wants to see Australian and New Zealand alternative protein producers steadily grow and succeed in capturing these export opportunities. The independent think tank has partnered with Mintel to develop research exploring five key Asia markets for a report set to launch early 2023.
Value-add opportunities co-exist with cost challenges
“Australia and New Zealand are global leaders in food and agriculture production, with significant natural resources to leverage in becoming leaders in alternative proteins,” says Sydenham-Clarke. In particular, there is space in the Australasia region to lead in growing and processing plant proteins.
Food Frontier confirms that its nations’ grains and legumes producers are beginning to consider the opportunity to value-add their crops rather than sell them into volatile global commodity markets.
Many Australian plant-based meat manufacturers have expressed a desire to purchase and use more Australian-grown plant proteins in their products, representing both an opportunity and a challenge. There has been only one commercial-scale pulse protein extraction facility, though significant government investment has been announced to build another in South Australia.
Pictured: Precision fermentation dairy plant equipment © AdobeStock/olyasolodenko
A key regional challenge is reaching price parity with conventional meat. Rising costs, particularly of red meat, have made alternatives reach closer price parity. Cost concerns are even more significant for some brands, such as v2food, which base their positioning on launching their products at price parity. “However, without scale, smaller players have a journey to reach parity with animal meat,” says Sydenham-Clarke.
She also expects to see more precision fermentation dairy companies forming as the products progress through the regulatory process and get closer to market. In Australia, animal-free milk made by Eden Brew is expected to be on shelves in the next 12 to 18 months.
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