On 3 June, the ReThink Protein Challenge got one step closer to the end. A panel of nutrition and consumer behaviour experts discussed the importance of involving the consumer in the protein transition. This insightful session, which provided the student teams with important information, was followed by the announcement of the twelve finalists.
For months now, the student teams participating in the ReThink Protein Challenge have been working hard on their concepts. Imagining, designing, improving, and putting their ideas into practice. But have they thought about us, the consumers? That was the central topic of the live session hosted by Simone Ritzer. Two experts gave their thoughts on the subject: Gerda Feunekes, Executive Director of the Netherlands Nutrition Centre (Voedingscentrum) and Marleen Onwezen, Expertise leader on consumption patterns at Wageningen University & Research.
Think like a consumer
Why do consumers act the way they do? This is the question that Marleen Onwezen asks herself on a daily basis. In her research, she approaches the question from a psychological angle. In one case, she researched how changing the positioning of seaweed in a supermarket changed its acceptance. She advised the student teams to explicitly define the wants and needs of their target group, and strive for positive emotions and associations. After all, consumers are looking for things that taste good and make them feel good.
Gerda Feunekes emphasized the importance of sustainability. She explained how the Netherlands Nutrition Centre started out with a focus on food and health, but is becoming more concerned with sustainability. She also noted that consumers often feel that sustainability is a long-term issue, so it is important to show them that it is in their short-term interest as well.
Fortunately, most of the teams that made it to the final incorporated sustainability and circularity into their vision. Examples include MLB, which turns porcine liver (normally a by-product) into a protein-rich snack for Chinese children, Pemla, which turns nut shells into biochar for carbon storage, and MushBloom, which creates mushroom growing kits that use consumers’ vegetable waste as nutrients.
Giving the protein transition a push
The panel also discussed how to make the protein transition happen. Gerda Feunekes remarked that governments have a role to play here, by giving an extra push. Marleen Onwezen spoke about nudging. Previously, the central idea was that informed consumers would make better choices. Nowadays, there is a growing realisation that people’s surroundings have to be supportive of healthy, sustainable decision-making. Host Simone Ritzer mentioned Meatless Monday, and how this is an example of gradually changing nutrition patterns. Gerda Feunekes agreed: ‘step by step you make it the new norm’.
Presenter Simone Ritzer also opened the floor for people watching at home to give their input. They were asked a number of questions about their diet. Describing their diet in one word, many respondents answered ‘flexitarian’ or ‘vegetarian’, while others wrote ‘privileged’ and ‘balanced’. What do viewers find important when making food choices? Many answers involved taste, price and origin. Finally, a poll showed that 60% would definitely be open to changing their diet. 38% would have to think about it and only 2% would not consider changing their diet. These results should be encouraging for finalists like ProProtein, which is producing new dairy proteins by fermentation with yeast.
Simone Ritzer concluded by saying that many teams have made an enormous technological push, while the consumer side has received less attention. The learnings from experts might help them to sharpen their projects.
Twelve finalists, one winner
With tension mounting, all eyes were on Wim Hilbrands, project director at DSM and chair of the selection committee. He began by saying that it was hard to select the finalists, since there were so many inspiring stories and great ideas to choose from. ‘The variety in ideas was enormous. Some teams focused on animal rather human nutrition.’ For example, Flypro uses black soldier flies for poultry feed in Indonesia and Blue Chitin makes feed additives from shrimp shells for the aquaculture sector.
Hilbrands was also impressed by teams ‘tying to local solutions’. Indeed, many ideas are specifically aimed at a local target group. SAHARA produces cricket powder for consumers in low-income areas in Kenya, whereas mINc is developing bread spreads based on mealworms and other insects for the German market.
The twelve selected teams, joining via a livestream, enthusiastically cheered when their name was called. The other teams were also complimented for their outstanding efforts. Simone Ritzer consoled them by saying that all participating teams had done amazing work, and that all initiatives are needed to move forward with the protein transition.
As for the finalists, a few more weeks of hard work, finetuning and suspense await. Friday 25 June, the day of Grand Finale, has been marked in their calendars. Which protein concepts have impressed the jury the most, and why? Who will claim first prize in this year’s ReThink Protein Challenge? Join us on 25 June to find out.