‘No success model’ for new protein ingredients

By Eliot Beer

- Last updated on GMT

‘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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