Food industry faces accelerating demand for alternative proteins

Food industry faces accelerating demand for alternative proteins

May 18, 2021

While global demand for sustainable protein grows as a solution to an increasingly food-insecure world, ramping up efficient, safe, production is relatively uncharted territory. A groundbreaking new report from CRB—a leading provider of sustainable engineering, architecture, construction and consulting solutions to the food industry, probes the rewards and risks of traversing this new market. From the realities of materials cost, regulation and scalability challenges, to speed-to-market and sustainability, CRB’s new Horizons: Alternative Proteins report finds the pioneers of the alternative proteins revolution at an incredibly dynamic moment.

“We asked our subject matter experts—some of the most respected in the food and beverage space —to analyze those industry responses and think prescriptively about where the market is headed,” said Tim Barba, Chief Operating Officer, Global Technical Operations, CRB. “The result is a candid but optimistic assessment of a market brimming with both challenges and big rewards.”

CRB’s Horizons report is based on survey responses from more than 300 industry leaders weighing in on key issues facing their organizations, from the need to progress to large-scale commercial manufacturing sustainably to navigating regulations as perceptions of affordability—and taste—change. The complimentary research report is available immediately.

“What is interesting about the results of the Horizons: Alternative Proteins report is that its findings managed to pinpoint a key barrier faced by producers of plant-based meat and dairy alternatives long suspected and now known to be true,” said Christopher Shanahan, Global Agriculture Research Director at Frost & Sullivan. “It’s not the lack of raw materials but it’s the inherent energy requirement in processing and bottle-necked throughput that is the limiting factor. Better, and smarter, tools and processes are clearly needed to address this growing industry challenge.”

The Horizons report explores some of the most important issues affecting alternative proteins and provides insights from some of the most respected experts in the industry. It discusses:

• Scale-up: Nearly three-quarters of respondents say they’ve yet to break through to commercial manufacturing, and those that have are operating with unsustainably narrow cost margins.

• Speed to Market: Building manufacturing infrastructure—new buildings and retrofits—is required to seize first-mover advantages. Respondents indicate they will have an average of 11 CAPEX projects in the next three years. The progression to large-scale commercial manufacturing will require larger budgets and integrated delivery solutions. About four in five respondents suggested they would consider an end-to-end approach that ranges from design and construction through to validation.

• Regulation: More than three-quarters of respondents said their companies should follow the same rules that apply to traditional protein products. Over half anticipate new regulations in the next two to three years and 36 percent in the next five to 10 years. The report, however, reveals confusion over the role of the FDA in regulating alternative proteins and gaps in compliance that could exacerbate challenges.

• Sustainability: Overall, sustainability is considered highly important to a company’s brand mission, with carbon footprint and energy/water consumption among the top concerns. Many respondents indicated they are considering the efficiency of their utility systems and the availability of new technology to help reduce water and energy loads.

• Safety and Packaging: While a majority of respondents are handling food safety in-house, most approaches do not directly impact the product’s composition, including environmental controls, hygienic zoning and packaging material selection.

• Alternative Dairy: The cost of goods is by far the top production barrier faced by alternative dairy producers, followed by quality control, lack of hygienic design knowledge or support, cross-contamination challenges and access to capital.

“Interestingly, what companies rank as important attributes for demonstrating sustainability is focused on input and energy source and utilization when it could be argued that focusing on other attributes such as packaging use, distribution and trade, and waste production may yield greater and faster results in terms of meeting sustainability goals and lowering overall costs of production,” added Shanahan of Frost & Sullivan.

The CRB Horizons report also explores some of the valuable takeaways from the biopharma industry’s long tradition of revolutionary change that manufacturers of plant- and cell-based products may find particularly important, especially when addressing two of the barriers ranked as most challenging: managing their cost of goods and designing scalable processes.

The Alternative Proteins report is the second in a series of survey-based Horizons explorations of key trends in the food and beverage and life sciences industries. Download the report.