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Key Trends to Look Out for in the Alternative Protein Market

Published Date: May 9, 2024

As the global food landscape tackles the growing need for sustainability and health, the alternative protein industry emerges as a critical domain, representing the nexus of technological innovation and consumer dietary shifts. In recent years, the industry has experienced pronounced evolution, with the market trajectory suggesting a strong upward momentum. Higher consumer awareness regarding environmental impact, health and wellness trends, and advancements in food technology are broadening the scope of flavors and nutritional profiles in plant-based, insect-based, and lab-grown proteins.

There is an increased prevalence of strategic collaborations and investments among major market players, for enhancing product reach and diversifying portfolios. More companies are focusing on offering innovative, value-added products to sustain market growth. They are not just responding to the ever-growing demand for ethically sourced proteins, but also shaping the market through active research and development.

Besides, regulatory approvals in various economies have catalyzed the entry of cultured meats and novel protein ingredients into mainstream consumption. It has been an unprecedented occurrence anticipated to disrupt conventional food industry dynamics. The alignment of public policy with sustainability goals has provided a boost to the meat substitute market, signifying an era of transformation within the global protein supply chain.

According to a Global Market Insights Inc. study, the global alternative protein market value could exceed USD 190 billion by 2028. Let us look at some of the leading trends poised to define the industry outlook over the coming years.

 1) Protein-rich Poultry Feed Applications

Worldwide, there is a rise in demand for protein-rich diets for poultry that contain fewer anti-nutritional factors (ANFs). ANFs are substances that can interfere with the digestion and absorption of nutrients, and reducing their content in poultry diets can improve feed efficiency and overall poultry health. Alternative proteins, essentially derived from non-meat sources, represent a viable solution for high-protein content while minimizing the presence of detrimental ANFs.

Poultry is among the most consumed food sources in the world, becoming a major area of focus for providers of alternative nutritional feed. The European Union, for example, produces nearly 13.4 million tons of poultry meat every year and is also a net exporter of poultry products. The region thus becomes a strong market for alternative protein sources. There have been various developments in the segment across the globe in recent years.

  • A few years back, the EU had passed a law authorizing the inclusion of insect proteins in poultry and pig feed.
  • In December 2023, it was announced that Scotland’s Rural College was undertaking an innovative project to explore the use of red seaweed as a sustainable alternative for soybean meal across the UK’s chicken feed sector.
  • Recently, a research was published on the use of Spirulina sp. as a potential protein ingredient for poultry feeds, suggesting it to be the most suitable algae for alternative protein in feed formulations.

Poultry feed applications are expected to be a robust niche for alternative protein manufacturers to tap into, as they navigate emerging consumer trends.


2) Beef Export and Consumption Trends

In 2022, more than 76.2 million tons of beef was produced worldwide. The potential of alternative proteins in the realm of beef exports is significant, as consumer preferences shift towards more sustainable and ethically produced food sources. Alternative proteins, including plant-based, precision fermentation, offer potentially lower environmental footprints, which appeals to a growing demographic concerned with climate change and animal welfare.

Opportunities in Beef Sector1

The U.S., China, India, Brazil, and Argentina are the highest beef and buffalo meat-producing countries in the world, invariably being the prominent markets for alternative ingredients. China, the world’s largest beef producer, is planning to reduce its soybean imports for feed formulation, offering opportunities for the development of alternative protein ingredients for livestock production.

The U.S. exports around 14% of its beef products to countries such as Japan, Taiwan, and China. However, the nation is witnessing considerable spending towards R&D in alternative beef products. In fact, Singapore and the U.S. were the only two countries where cultured meat was allowed for commercial sale as of 2023.

For traditional beef producers, it could be possible to leverage their existing agricultural and food production expertise to venture into alternative protein markets, potentially mitigating risks associated with over-reliance on beef exports. Recent advancements and investments in alternative protein production indicate that these products might soon achieve price and taste parity with traditional beef, making them more accessible and appealing to a broader audience. As such, beef exporters may find it strategically beneficial to include alternative proteins in their product portfolio to remain competitive in the global market.

3) Consumer Demand for High Protein Content

The number of people demanding high-protein content foods is increasing every year. In response to this paradigm, the alternative protein industry players are looking to make products that offer the dual benefit of high protein content and clean labels. The nutritional profile of alternative proteins which are replete with essential amino acids and devoid of cholesterol resonates with contemporary dietary ideas focusing on balanced nutrition without compromising on environmental health.

  • In February 2024, Beyond Meat introduced the fourth generation of its core beef platform, raising the standards for plant-based meat products and aiming to stay relevant during a declining demand. The product boasts of 21 grams protein per serving and does not contain cholesterol and GMOs.
  • Gaven Technologies, a startup based in Israel, has launched a protein-based alternative ingredient to replace butter and other types of animal fat in bakery products. Made with protein extracted from plant oil, it can help address the sustainability issues regarding soybean oils.
  • India-based Synthite, recently introduced a plant-based dairy alternative product, along with a plant-protein drink powder, by teaming up with U.S. company PMEDS. Just Plants is developed as a dairy alternative for tea, coffee, and hot chocolate preparations.
  • Tetra Pak, the prominent food processor and packaging company, is partnering with Lund University to derive proteins from bioprocessing to make F&B products. This will include the derivation of proteins similar to those in dairy, to create milk without cows through precision fermentation.

Collectively, these developments signify a nuanced response by the alternative protein sector to the intricate demands of modern consumers, who increasingly prioritize nutrition, health, and sustainability.

4) Government Support for Alternative Protein Sources

Government support for alternative protein sources, including plant-based meats, and algae protein, appears to be growing. Authorities are recognizing the environmental and health benefits of opportunities and innovations in the industry. In the United States, for instance, funding initiatives are set up to assist in the development of alternative proteins, for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in various stages of manufacturing and processing.

In November 2022, the European Commission launched an initiative to harness the potential of algae in the alternative protein sector as a more sustainable source. The EU expected seaweed demand to jump to around 8 million tons by 2030, which could cut down nearly 5.4 million tons of CO2 emissions annually.

APAC is the most populated region in the world and is home to major meat consuming nations such as China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia, and New Zealand, among others. In recent times the need to transition towards more sustainable protein sources, such as plant-based meat substitutes, has increased in the region. This shift is driven by a combination of factors including the demand for healthier diets, environmental conservation, and the need to ensure food security.

Government support for plant-based protein has witnessed a surge in APAC countries. For example, in 2023 it was revealed that the New Zealand Government would be investing over USD 450,000 in a project worth around USD 890,000 initiated by Kernohan Engineering, NewFish and Cawthron Institute. The project will identify and explore microalgae strains, with the aim to produce them at scale and process into alternative protein ingredients.

5) Challenges to Overcome in Alternative Protein Adoption

Despite the potential of alternative proteins to dramatically transform the protein supply chain, the path to widespread adoption is fraught with multifaceted challenges. Some of these are:

  • Consumer Acceptance and Perception - Traditional dietary preferences, skepticism towards the taste and texture of alternative protein products, and a lack of awareness about the environmental and health benefits of such proteins can hamper market penetration.
  • Scale and Production Efficiencies - Many alternative protein production methods, in segments such as cell-based meats and fermentation-derived proteins, are still in early stages, requiring sophisticated biotechnology and substantial investment to achieve economies of scale.
  • Regulatory Hurdles and Standardization - The regulation of insect-based proteins is nascent, with significant disparities between regions. Establishing comprehensive and standardized regulation is a critical step toward capitalizing on the potential of insect-based proteins.
  • Risk of Allergies - While touted for their potential health benefits, alternative proteins must undergo rigorous analysis to substantiate these claims. Continuous research is essential to understand the allergenicity of new and modified protein sources, ensuring they can be safely integrated into F&B products.

Challenges to Tackle for Alternative Protein Adopton

With multiple stakeholders, including food safety authorities, industry leaders, and academic researchers, most of the challenges to the industry can be overcome. To counter consumer hesitance, extensive awareness campaigns, education efforts, and the development of products that do not compromise on taste or texture must be done. Advancements in bioprocessing technologies, alongside investments in infrastructure, will tackle the scaling issues in manufacturing.

The trajectory towards alternative protein adoption is undeniably complex, embodying an interplay of social, technical, regulatory, and environmental factors. However, with strategic interventions addressing these core challenges, the alternative protein sector is poised for transformative growth. The advent of sophisticated processing technologies can enable the retention of protein integrity, leading to alternative protein offerings that are comparable and probably superior to their traditional counterparts.

Globally, policies on alternative proteins illustrate governmental commitment to this sector. Denmark, for example, has incentivized farmers to grow protein-rich crops, backing the country's burgeoning plant-based food sector with considerable investments to help achieve its climate goals. Simultaneously, Canada has been working towards becoming a hub for plant-based food innovation, aligning its economic and sustainability objectives. the shift towards alternative protein sources is likely to continue accelerating, reducing the ecological footprint of the food industry, and potentially transforming the global food landscape.

Author: Pankaj Singh