Topics in the session "Get connected"
Processing protein crops into flours, isolates, and concentrates currently relies on chemical and mechanical methods that require large-scale infrastructure, and thus that only make economic sense at high volumes. Furthermore, current processing methods result in inconsistency from batch to batch because of imprecise control and variable input raw materials. Biological processing techniques—such as using classes of enzymes like proteases and crosslinking enzymes to finetune functional properties like solubility, gelling capacity, and fat- and water-binding capacity—may be able to impart the desired composition and molecular structure for alternative protein applications. And because these methods don’t rely on intensive chemical or mechanical processes, they may offer lower cost and increased precision at smaller scales, which would facilitate the introduction of novel ingredients for plant-based applications.
As demand grows for protein-enriched plant-based inputs (such as protein isolates and concentrates), the volume of sidestreams from the protein enrichment process will also grow. Finding high-value uses besides animal feed for the residual starch- and fiber-rich fractions and other leftover waste from producing or processing plant-based ingredients would improve the overall sustainability and profitability of the alternative protein industry. Techno-economic models that incorporate the degree of downstream processing required to obtain high-value products from these sidestream fractions will inform the economic viability of various options. It will be valuable to examine opportunities in food and non-food, as well as sidestreams as feedstocks for production of alternative protein sources.
A key area for pre-competitive, open-access research that could drastically expand the opportunity landscape for low-cost fermentation-derived proteins is to conduct a systematic, comprehensive analysis of candidate microbial strains as food sources. A similar analysis was conducted in the 1960-70s, leading to the identification and subsequent commercialization of Fusarium venenatum (the organism used by Quorn and 3F Bio). Half a century later, virtually no new microbial strains have been commercialized as high-protein human foods. Vastly more sophisticated analytical tools and process insights are now available, warranting an overhaul of these screening efforts. This research, especially if performed in an open-access manner, would drastically accelerate efforts to identify novel microbial strains that can outperform existing strains with regard to scale and cost reduction.
Conducting research on the most demanded product attributes by consumers and the extent to which existing offerings fulfill these desired properties would help improve the product-market fit of alternative protein products. While individual brands conduct this research, a pool of high-quality research on this topic that is open-access or licensable would help reduce barriers to entry and eliminate duplicative work. High-quality research in a wide variety of cultures would help the industry understand the optimal psychographic and demographic considerations for product formulation and marketing. See GFI’s list of Consumer Research Priorities for more specific research questions.
Through their primary and secondary metabolites, plants produce a wealth of compounds that may be utilized as functional ingredients in food, and/or beneficially contribute to a healthy and nutritious diet. The current food industry standard is to source a number of highly-refined food components which are combined and further processed to end products desired by consumers. Less processed, more complete components require less energy and water for processing, but do not yet meet the functional needs of the food industry. A critical look at what can be achieved through breeding and/or modification of the plant itself may present opportunities to create less-processed, still-functional components. Targeted programs may address specific nutritional deficiencies, especially for staple crops. Plants offer ready scalability and low capital requirements, but the complexity and timelines linking breeding with downstream processing and food technology make this a challenge.
A move away from dependence on imported soy for animal feed is a key component of the European protein transition. WUR has a compelling vision of circular-climate neutral animal systems, in which feed-food competition is eliminated and animals are repositioned as ‘recyclers’. Still, at the national and European level, there is a wish to move rapidly away from soy through identifying sources that are close to being ready for adoption at scale and potentially cost competitive. What are the most promising alternative protein sources and how can WUR contribute to making them ready for implementation in the short term? What projects and programs are missing from our portfolio to make impact in this domain?
A transition in feed systems is a major pillar of the WUR vision on the protein transition. Yet, it is clear that there is little consumer awareness of the impact of different animal production systems on the environmental footprint of animal-sourced foods. Citizens do emotionally connect to issues like Amazonian deforestation, yet few are able to translate this connection to their choices as consumers. This dilemma of a desired supply-side transition without a consumption-side driver impacts many of the dialogues related to the protein transition and creates a false dichotomy between supply and consumption. What strategies, approaches, and policies could bring supply and consumption together and ultimately contribute to accelerating the supply-side transition? What role could WUR play in turning this dilemma into an opportunity?