The alt-meat market is on the rise, expected to grow to $140 billion during the next 10 years, according to a report by Barclays. At the same time, Google Adwords data shows vegan-related searches on Google increased by 47 per cent last year.
This growth is attributed to increasing awareness of animal welfare, food security and other concerns.
Speaking at the Plant-Based Asia Summit this week, Dr Dalal AlGhawas, programs director at Big Idea Ventures, shared the future of protein from innovation, nutrition and supply chain challenges.
She helped establish the first food technology accelerator program in Hong Kong and has worked with more than 50 startups focusing on plant-based protein, cellular agriculture, and sustainability. She holds a doctorate in Philosophy, Food Science, and Food biotechnology from the University of Hong Kong.
Founded in 2019, Big Idea Ventures is an investment firm supporting food technology companies in the alternative protein ecosystem.
The Future of Protein: Innovation
According to Dr AlGhawal, innovations in biotechnology, fermentation, and cell-based technologies will attract a larger portion of Big Idea’s investment funding.
She cited a few companies in the firm’s portfolio which she believes are some of the key players in the category.
Evo from India specialises in developing plant-based eggs, Singapore-based Karana uses jackfruit to develop a minced-meat alternative with the same texture that can be added to all types of food products, from dumplings to toppings. In the Philippines, Worth the Health (WTH) recreates Filipino dishes using plant-based ingredients like mung beans.
“You can see now in Asia, it’s not just about creating the burgers, but it’s really about creating foods that Asians love and that local communities love,” she said. “Adding the right flavour profiles, making sure that it can be reincorporated into traditional dishes is becoming very important.”
The Future of Protein: nutrition
There are different sources of plant-based meat alternatives; legumes such as soy protein or pea protein are popular because of their high protein content and nutritional value.
For food manufacturers, Dr AlGhawal advised that the best way to assess the nutritional quality of a protein source is through its digestibility score – the amount of nutrient absorbed by the individual.
She says pea protein is also a good source. However, other sources such as oats, wheat, barley (cereals) have the lowest score, especially in terms of digestibility.
“When you look at the way that you process these protein sources and the way you extract them, you can change the digestibility score as well,” she explains.
“One of our companies from India is doing fermentation techniques on mills, and they’re able to increase the digestibility score from a cereal grade all the way to a legume grade. I think it’s very important for food producers to tap into some of these innovations and find ways to constantly improve the digestibility score.”
Dr AlGhawal also encouraged consumers to get their protein from both categories, cereal and legumes, to achieve a balanced diet and optimal nutrition.
The Future of Protein: Challenges
One of the most common questions consumers ask is,“Why are plant-based protein products so expensive?” According to Dr AlGhawas, some of the challenges come back to the supply chain.
“It’s a very similar story to the organic foods movement,” shared Dr AlGhawas. “Why are they so premium? And the reason for this is there are exponential costs that are unfortunately being worn down to the consumer.”
According to Dr AlGhawas, in terms of the full supply chain – from sourcing the raw material to the production facilities up to transportation and distribution – there aren’t just enough policies that are willing to support alternative protein.
A lot of manufacturing facilities available are not exclusive for plant-based protein, and they are not trace-free from animal and dairy byproducts. Furthermore, most equipment for plant-based meat production is expensive because the technology is new and still undergoing research and development.
“Unfortunately, this is something that needs to be improved upon to make these products more mainstream and affordable,” she said.