‘No success model’ for new protein ingredients

‘No success model’ for new protein ingredients

Novel protein ingredients face a difficult future with too many barriers to entry to make success likely – but there are brighter prospects for Quorn and some potential for insect protein in animal feed, says Giract.

The Swiss company, which recently produced a report predicting an uncertain few years for some protein ingredients markets, said novel protein ingredients made up less than 50,000 tonnes of the 5m tonnes total market, representing under 1% of annual production.

‘Too many barriers’

In the near term, there is little prospect of any novel protein ingredient entering the mainstream, according to Giract managing director V. Krishnakumar: “For a new protein ingredient to come into the market, there are just too many barriers.

You can say, ‘I can get alalfa or sorghum, or insect protein’ – but then, from a protein to a protein ingredient, there is a long way, particularly in terms of technical acceptability. Then you’re talking about the labelling and health issues – there it’s a completely different story. If you want any new claims, it’s also very difficult,” he added.

Krishakumar said pea protein ingredients provided a salient lesson, having taken many years and a lot of technical development to reach a current production level of around 120,000 tonnes a year, thanks to issues around taste.

Technical issues continue to plague most novel proteins, according to Russell Ward, managing partner at Giract: “If you look at insect, algae, or other vegetable proteins like rape-seed or even corn, there’s no success model. The reason there’s no success model is [because] a lot of these things are quite difficult to extract and concentrate – and quite a lot of companies have gone bankrupt trying.”

He said the one proven exception to this was Quorn, producing 25,000 tonnes of fungal protein a year, roughly half of all novel protein production.

They’ve built a whole meat-free platform around it,” said Ward. “There is a success story there – but it took a very long time to happen, Quorn’s been around for decades. But now they’re making it happen, and starting to expand outside the UK.”

‘Slightly freaky products’

Beyond niche products such as algae-derived protein ingredients, which Ward described as “exciting opportunities, rather than real success models” again due to technical issues, he suggested one potentially interesting area is the use of insect protein ingredients in animal feed.

I don’t think people are overly concerned with what animals are eating, except maybe for GMOs. So I think this is the opportunity for insect protein. There will be these slightly freaky products – bars with insects in, and pasta with insects in, and that kind of stuff – but the real opportunity is in animal feed,” he said.

At the moment it’s not allowed – there’s a registration issue, it’s not a permitted ingredient in animal feed, which is a bit strange as animals eat insects every day in the field. But I think there’s potential there, and there are EU-sponsored projects to drive that market. So if we get a change in legislation, that can drive the insect protein market, I believe,” he added.

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