EATGroup News

Plant proteins come out of the shadows

PLANT-based proteins have moved well beyond the realm of ‘fringe’ food sources, according to the director of a leading Australian plant protein manufacturing and development company.

Brendan McKeegan, director of Australian Plant Proteins, says the growing popularity of plant-based sources of protein is due to far more than the increasing move to vegan and vegetarian diets.

“There’s a whole range of factors involved in driving greater consumer demand for alternative sources of protein,” Mr McKeegan said.

“There is certainly a big increase in the number of people turning to vegan and vegetarian-based diets, with Australia ranking third in the world for the percentage shift in that direction.

“But there’s also a very strong move to ‘flexitarian’ style diets in which people are not giving up animal-based food sources entirely but are focusing far more on plant-based alternatives.

“As well as being driven by ethical and health concerns, people are far more conscious of sourcing more sustainable food supplies, addressing the growing rate of food allergies, and dealing with the increasing cost of consuming meat and other animal-based foods.”

Australian Plant Proteins has commercialised a process to extract and manufacture high-protein powder from pulses, in particular faba beans. Pulses are often used in broadacre farming as a rotational crop to replenish nitrogen in soil.

Mr McKeegan said the faba bean extract yielded about 85 per cent protein content, significantly higher than tofu and other soy-based foods which typically contain between 15 and 40 per cent protein content by weight.

It also had good colour and flavour, as well as a favourable amino acid profile which was vital to allow the body to absorb protein.

“These key product characteristics make this a very versatile product that can be used for a whole range of food options, such as meat replacements or in manufacturing pasta,” he said.

“It also has good solubility so makes a good nutrition supplement or protein powder.

“One of the really exciting aspects is that second grade faba beans can be used, which creates a considerable value-add opportunity for primary producers and provides a lower-cost raw material supply.

“From a sustainability point of view, the more pulses that are grown, the less fertilizer farmers need to use to boost nitrogen in their soil. It also means they can access another viable income stream while developing effective crop rotation.”

Globally, the growth of plant-based proteins is expected to have a compound annual growth rate of more than 8 per cent over the next five years.

While soy-based products currently account for around 75 per cent of the plant protein market, increasing concerns over allergen properties and genetic modification of crops is driving a change in consumer preferences.

“Behind soy, pea proteins are leading the charge but we’re seeing the rise of other products, including ancient grains and legumes that were once a key protein source in many diets,” Mr McKeegan said.

“Demand for plant-based proteins is certainly on the rise, but with more than 300,000 different plant species in the world, we’re only scratching the surface in terms of food source possibilities.”

Mr McKeegan said the market for animal-based proteins remained strong and was forecast to continue growing strongly, but was likely to see a shift in coming years.

“Australia has a reputation for high quality, clean produce and there’s a significant opportunity to align the agricultural industry to changing global consumption habits,” he said.

“That includes developing large-scale, plant-based food products alongside premium meat, dairy and seafood brands for local and export markets.

“There’s little doubt we’ll see animal-based proteins becoming supplementary to a balanced diet rather than the mainstay of them as the world adapts to feed a growing population and to ensure far more sustainable land-use practices.”