Are alternative proteins the way to a sustainable food industry?

In May 2016, a study by the Vegan Society revealed that 3.25% of the UK population are vegetarian or vegan, with numbers continuing to rise. There are also those that don’t classify themselves as vegetarian or vegan, but want to reduce meat consumption for environmental reasons. Some of the alternatives to traditional meat and dairy have a large potential impact on the food industry.

Cow’s milk without the cow?

According to a September 2018’s edition of The Grocer, 28% of Brits would buy synthetic milk, while only 16% would be willing to try cultured meat. Food startup Perfect Day are working on cultivating dairy proteins using genetically engineered yeast, and are looking to be ready for market “in the next couple of years”.

The yeast will undergo a fermentation process similar to craft brewing, to make animal-free milk which would taste like cow’s milk, with the environmental benefits of plant-based options. Trends are evolving, as the study showed that younger consumers are more open to trying synthetic milk than older generations.

From fungus to food

Quorn was introduced to the UK in 1993. Quorn contains mycoprotein, found in the fungus Fusarium venenatum. The fungus is dried and mixed with egg white (the binder), then processed into different products. Quorn developed a vegan range in 2011 which uses potato protein as a binder, and comes in the form of sausages, fillets, slices, burgers, and more.

In the US, Quorn products faced a lot of controversy when it was first introduced in 2002, with claims that it could cause allergic reactions, and “sickens 4.5% of eaters”. Attitudes to Quorn are now very positive, and prove to be a viable vegetarian option. Interestingly, in 2014 it was found that Quorn products were mostly eaten by meat eaters who are concerned with environmental impact of producing meat.

On a similar note, the CNN reported that more than 2 billion people consume soy products every day, since the 1960s. In 2017, a study from the Breast Cancer Family Registry involving over 6,000 American and Canadian women showed that soy foods actually help prevent breast cancer and decrease mortality in breast cancer patients.

Would you eat a grasshopper?

Eat Grub are a UK company that sell insect-based products, and share recipes featuring insects. Some of their products include roasted crickets, and “ready to cook” grasshoppers. Eat Grub claims that 2 billion people around the world eat insects as part of their diet. Dubbed as the “original superfood”, insects contain up to 69g of protein per 100g, compared to 19.5g and 19.4g in chicken and beef. Additionally, they contain more calcium and iron per 100g, compared to chicken, beef, or pork.

Eat Grub is harnessing innovations in farming and seeking alternative, sustainable protein sources. Insects use a fraction of the planet’s precious resources. They require a fraction of the water, feed and land compared to traditional livestock. We understand that this is a new concept and one that isn’t going to be first choice on the shelf (yet). But at some point eating insects may just be necessity. So one of our main drives is to make insects as tasty and accessible as we can, so people will find it easier and natural to switch maybe one or two meals a week to insects instead of meat.

—Pops Reid, Eat Grub

While this sounds like an excellent solution, there is the obvious issue of… well, eating insects. Can we overcome our issues with that? The Vypr platform can help test new product categories for market acceptance. Using the example of Eat Grub’s Peri-Peri Crunchy Roasted Crickets, they achieved a Vypr Score of 1.3, indicating that a small but notable percentage of consumers will consider buying this product.

Expanding tastes

History shows that we’re always expanding our taste palettes. Immigration from the end of the Second World War onwards brought in new flavours, including Chinese and Indian food, to every corner of the UK. The creation of Eat Grub establishes that some people are willing to try the most exotic flavours and foods. Are they simply odd, or the first generation of acceptance?

Ultimately, there are a growing number of alternative protein sources that could very well replace traditional meat and dairy products. With attitudes growing more progressive, the unusual or “weird” may soon become commonplace.

Photo credit: Rob Enwiki

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