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29/08/2023 – Innovation / ADM / Alternative / Protein / Alt-protein / Plant-based / Jacquelyn Schuh


As food and nutrition giant ADM releases its new Alternative Protein Report, subject expert Jacquelyn Schuh – Global Protein & Savory Marketing Director, at ADM – outlines the four key forces currently driving expansion of the alt-protein ecosystem.

In recent years, the alternative protein ecosystem has witnessed remarkable expansion, driven by a confluence of factors that are reshaping the global food landscape. As the world grapples with the challenges of feeding a growing population, concerns about food security, health and wellbeing, and sustainability have prompted a search for innovative and scalable solutions, which are crucial to creating a more resilient food system.

The quest for expanded protein options has been propelled by new advancements in food technology, rising environmental awareness, shifting consumer preferences, and a surge in investments, research and development. Understanding the factors driving this expansion is critical for anticipating the transformative potential of the alternative protein space, and is poised to revolutionise how we produce and consume food. 

To meet consumers’ evolving needs and to advance the alternative protein arena, ADM has identified four key forces currently driving the expansion of the alternative protein ecosystem.

Championing consumer adoption

Approximately 60 per cent of the global population and 54 per cent of consumers in EMEA report following plant-forward lifestyles1. Even so, the success of alternative proteins is highly dependent on lofty expectations for taste, texture and nutrition, as they drive consumer acceptance. In fact, while environmental factors like sustainability are top motivators for plant-based alternatives2, research shows that taste, texture and nutrition must continue to advance in order to encourage consumer retention.

Globally, 73 per cent of plant consumers – defined as flexitarians, vegetarians or vegans – believe that taste and nutrition are equally important2. Global plant consumers are also stating that improved taste and texture is motivating them to consume more plant-based products as progress continues to be made by manufacturers creating offerings with favourable sensory attributes2. In addition to improved taste and texture, consumers’ number one motivation is still health and nutrition benefits in meat and dairy alternatives, as well as specialised nutrition products.

As we look to the future, hybrid alternatives are bridging the gap between the familiar and the new, bringing together plant-based and animal-based protein sources with novel ones such as fermentation-derived and cell-cultivated offerings. Hybrids can aid in consumer understanding and acceptance of new sources, science and technologies as a way to make them feel more familiar and approachable, while using the best qualities of each protein to optimise taste, texture and nutrition.

Research shows that, when asked about novel or next-generation sources, 74 per cent, 69 per cent and 66 per cent of global plant-based product consumers stated they have interest in trying hybrid protein sources in meat alternatives, dairy alternatives and specialised nutrition, respectively3. Additionally, consumers are also more likely to try products made by precision fermentation or cellular agriculture if they demonstrate to be high in nutritional value, safe, low in price and good for the environment4.

Furthermore, methods like precision fermentation are ideal for categories like dairy and specialised nutrition, as these products are already associated with the fermentation process. This association supports consumer interest of fermentation-derived proteins, offering a solution for specific dietary concerns like lactose and cholesterol, and this familiarity is helping lead to acceptance of fermentation use in other categories.

Better nutrition and wellness support

Globally, 44 per cent of plant consumers express a desire for plant-based products with an enhanced nutritional profile, which demonstrates increased consumer interest since 20202. This presents an opportunity to improve the nutrient density of food and beverage offerings, diversify diets and tailor nutrition attributes to fit the specific needs of consumers.

With health and nutrition remaining top motivators for consumers, many are focusing on consuming plant and alternative protein products that deliver key attributes including added protein, in addition to less fat, or digestive support2. Notably, 50 per cent of global consumers and 44 per cent of UK consumers note a strong interest in plant protein sources with additional health benefits1. For example, in considering meat alternatives, 55 per cent of global consumers note they want to try eating less fat1. Alternatively, 61 per cent of global consumers want to improve digestion through dairy alternatives, and 49 per cent want to build muscle with plant-based specialized nutrition products1.

Leveraging specific plant proteins from well-known sources, like soy, is important to the development of excellent nutrient-dense solutions that taste great and deliver nutrition and wellness support. Creating multi-functional alternative protein options that incorporate ingredients like fibre, microbiome-supporting solutions, botanicals, etc., can help manufacturers meet consumer demands for expanded food and nutrition optionality, and make protein alternatives more attractive to consumers.

Taking a tailored approach

Consumers in individual countries and regions have their own set of criteria that must be met for alternative proteins to be fully accepted, including preferences of formats and types of plant-forward foods and beverages.

By leveraging and elevating locally sourced solutions and expanding regional capabilities, the industry can help solve the nutritional, accessibility and sustainability challenges of each region. It’s also important that manufacturers also ensure that alternative proteins are easily accessible and deliver a positive sensory experience. As such, the development of tailored, affordable applications for and by the local markets are fundamental to overcoming this challenge. In fact, 63 per cent of global consumers look for products from companies that support farmers and local communities5.

Regional and cultural nuances also play a crucial role in understanding the relevance that foods and beverages have in the mind of consumers and their openness to try products made with next-gen technology. ADM research further points to regional differences when consumers are exposed to novel, next-gen alternative protein products that use fermentation, cell cultivation, new plant protein sources or hybrids of any of these methods6. For example, in EMEA, consumers have the deepest cultural ties to dairy and continue to indulge in conventional cheeses; whereas American consumers showed more interest in sliced cheeses for sandwiches and cheeses with better melting properties; and all are open to advances in next-gen tech that helps retain these expectations for consumer-preferred products by region6. European consumers are also less interested in perfectly mimicking the sensory attributes of meat, given the longevity of acceptance for more plant-forward diets; something Americans expressed a stronger interest in6.  This research indicates that preferences in this space are highly influenced by a combination of how relevant the food or beverage segment is in the region, and whether consumers are looking to solve an unmet need that will drive their interest in new and novel technologies.

Consumers are also showing interest in the sustainability and transparency claims of their food and beverage choices. Many of them understand that relying on a limited number of protein sources can put a strain on the environment, and that diversifying resources can reduce environmental impact. By leaning in to local and regional agricultural, production and technology strengths, manufacturers can help scale novel protein sources faster, while also delivering on consumer demands for taste, texture, nutrition and sustainability.

Additionally, expanding local and regional capabilities, technology and protein sources is crucial in bringing new alternative protein products to market at a time when 75 per cent of global consumers are willing to pay extra for food and drink products with a shortened supply chain7. ADM’s new extrusion facility in Serbia following the acquisition of SojaProtein is an excellent example of how locally sourced, non-GMO soy, along with locally expanded capabilities for origination and extrusion can specifically support regional demands and needs. The majority of the soy used is also grown within 100km of the facility.

Advancing into the future

Consumers are increasingly more curious and open to trying different protein options, without placing as much importance on the protein source itself2 as they have in the past. This is further fuelling opportunities to diversify plant protein sources across food and beverage categories, especially as the taste and texture of plant-based offerings continue to improve. This also enables brands to leverage new and existing protein sources for innovations in hybrid foods and beverages, which are important in supporting wider consumer adoption of novel protein options. 

Investing in technology, infrastructure, research and a diverse set of protein options that include plant-based, animal-based and novel sources are fundamental in continuing to grow consumer interest and acceptance of both near-term and next-generation protein offerings. When asked about interest in more novel or next-generation science and technological advances, global plant consumers are most interested in trying plant-based products with plant-based novel ingredients or hybrid sources, followed by fermentation-derived sources2. Hybrid options of plant proteins like soy and pea with fermentation-derived proteins – or, further down the line, cell-cultivated proteins – will be key in making protein options more accessible as advancements in technology improve.

Through industry-wide collaboration, strategic investments and partnerships, industry leaders and food technology companies alike can work together across the entire value chain to address concerns for food security and sustainability, while also expanding the alternative protein landscape globally.

Each of these four forces are essential for driving the food industry forward into the next generation of alternative protein sources and options. With capabilities spanning the globe, ADM is supporting the innovations of today and tomorrow by partnering with food technology companies and making continued investments to expand solutions and offerings in the alternative protein space, helping build a secure and sustainable food system with appealing and nutritious protein options.

Learn more about the four driving factors and find a breakdown of consumer and market insights here

1ADM OutsideVoice℠, Global Trends Research, May 2023

2ADM Outside Voice℠, Global Protein Consumer Discovery Report, January 2023

3FMCG Gurus, Meat Plant-Based Global Report, 2022

4The Hartman Group, Food & Technology, 2022

5ADM Outside Voice℠, Global Consumer Survey, 2023

6ADM Outside Voice℠, Global Next Gen Protein Report, March 2023

7FMCG Gurus, Route to Sustainability Report, 2022

Latest issue – Vol 1/23
– Health & Nutrition focus
– Gulfood 2023 Special
– Next level legume – The rise of the chickpea
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