A new report has highlighted that further investment in sustainable mass manufacturing processes would be needed to meet any growing demand for alternative protein sources.

The report, Alternative proteins: Responding to the growing consumer focus on Planet Health, has been published by the UK’s largest food and beverage manufacturing consultancy, NIRAS, and explores changing consumer diets and the impact the rise in popularity of alternative protein sources is having on the food and beverage manufacturing sector.

NIRAS’ analysis has found that macroeconomic challenges, such as sustained levels of high inflation and energy prices, threaten to dampen the growth of the sector which has intensified the need to scale sustainable manufacturing processes and supply chains.  

Paving the way to sustainable and scalable production

Although reduced discretionary consumer spending is a threat to the short-term growth of the alternative protein sector, NIRAS said changing consumer attitudes and the rise of purpose-driven leadership in boardrooms mean that a central focus on ‘Planet Health’ is needed to drive further innovation and help food and beverage manufacturers scale their production in a sustainable way.

As the sector adapts to rising demand for alternative protein sources, food and beverage manufacturers would need to invest in new technologies, processes and manufacturing facilities, as Matthew Carr, Business Unit director at NIRAS, explains: “Historically, a number of barriers, including cost, a resistance to changing habits, and a lack of desirable alternatives, have prevented many consumers from making the switch from a predominantly meat-based, to a vegetarian or vegan diet. The market is already on a journey to overcome many of these challenges, and the impact of their influence over consumers will only diminish with time. Long-term resistance to changing habits will wane as both the number of protein alternatives and the quality of product continues to improve.

“Investment in manufacturing capabilities from the sector will improve scale and drive cost efficiencies, meaning that the price to the consumer will also start to fall and closer align with traditional animal-derived sources of protein. Sustainable manufacturing is quickly becoming a ‘license to operate’, and our report highlights the opportunities for manufacturers and brands that can develop their processes and supply chains so that the means of taking ingredients from field to fork are as sustainable as the products themselves.”

More choices can equal better product range

The report also details the growing number of alternative protein sources being utilised by the food and beverage manufacturing sector. Nigel Devine, associate director, NIRAS, added: “Not only is the sector at the cutting edge of technology – which is being implemented to create new protein sources – we are also seeing existing protein sources utilised in new and exciting ways. The mainstreaming of both non-animal derived proteins such as seaweed, and animal-derived proteins such as insects and jellyfish are prime examples of the sector innovating to create and manufacture products in a much more sustainable manner.

“The widening range of protein sources is providing food and beverage manufacturers with new options and ingredients to create more desirable products. This in turn will combat some of the negative stigma with regards to the quality and limited choice within ‘plant-based’ ranges, but also when manufactured at scale, it will bring the costs down for the consumer.”

To read more about the trends, challenges and opportunities relating to alternative proteins in a manufacturing perspective, and to download the report, click here.