New report reveals next steps for the alternative protein industry
The UK Research and Innovation’s transforming food production (TFP) challenge has published its latest forward strategy report, Alternative proteins: identifying UK priorities.
The TFP challenge, part of UKRI’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, is a £90 million program, jointly funded by government and industry.
The challenge aims to improve resilience, efficiency and sustainability in the UK food sector through innovative and data-driven solutions.
As part of this, the TFP program is working to strengthen the UK’s research and capabilities in the alternative protein supply chain.
The goal is to place the UK as a world leader within the sector.
The sector is estimated to be worth US$27 billion globally by 2027, also referenced in the recently announced Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs food strategy. Due to increasing demand, there is an ever-growing need to produce protein sources for both human and animal consumption. This therefore means the UK needs to strengthen its domestic food production in order to mitigate against future supply chain challenges.
The report highlights the three priority sectors where further investment and development need to be undertaken. These include plant proteins such as pulses, extracts from other plants, agri-food side streams, etc. It also pinpoints proteins from fermentation-based systems (based on algae, bacteria, fungi, or gas or energy-based systems), and cell culture technologies that are primarily developing lab meat products. And finally it points to novel systems, including new aquaculture and insect proteins.
The UK’s plant-based food sector is largely dominated by imported materials, such as soya, and faces a number of challenges, including a lack of diverse protein sources, difficulty procuring the technology needed to extract protein efficiently and sustainably, and overcoming negative social perceptions regarding the nutritional benefits. Other forms of alternative protein have faced similar difficulties.
As it stands, the UK is a world leader in mycoprotein fermentation.
However, the report calls attention to how the demand for products currently exceeds supply capacities, with cultured lab grown meats also facing varied consumer perceptions.
This highlights the need to educate individuals on the nutritional benefits and the naturalistic qualities of these alternative proteins.
The report also identifies the impact of a post-Brexit Britain. With the UK leaving the EU, the alternative proteins sector now has an opportunity to diverge from the existing framework, simplify regulatory processes for fermentation products, enable a more agile system that will benefit those within food production, educate the wider public on their health benefits.
For novel forms of protein, such as insects and aquacultures, the need to overcome public perception and regulatory constraints is particularly key.
“Currently, research into alternative proteins within the UK is organic and fragmented,” commented Katrina Hayter, Challenge Director for UKRI’s TFP programme. “The industry faces challenges around scaling-up production and new product registration. It is clear that support for integrated research and innovation is more important than ever, especially in helping the market meet growing consumer demand for healthy, sustainable and safe alternative proteins. We hope this report, underpinned by a roadmap that describes opportunities for both manufacturers and start-ups, can help accelerate research into the sector and support green growth opportunities here in the UK.
“With world-leading research facilities and technical specialists, the UK has the capability to drive innovation, both at pace and at scale, to capitalise on the rapid growth trajectory of the alternative proteins sector,” added Dr Nicola Harrison, Programme Director for Growing Kent and Medway, who supported the delivery of the report. “Optimizing the UK’s potential will require a coordinated, interdisciplinary approach which fosters collaboration between industry and academia. Access to a diverse range of funding and finance options will also play a critical role in exploring disruptive ideas and supporting collaborative research and development.
UKRI’s TFP challenge is delivered by Innovate UK and BBSRC
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