26 Jul 2018

Opportunities of the Protein Transition for Flanders

Blonk Consultants and Technopolis investigate the opportunities
presented by the protein transition for Flanders

Flanders aims to be the European leader in food. The growing interest and demand for ‘alternative’ proteins to replace meat (driven by various social trends) provides many potential economic opportunities for Flemish businesses. Over the coming months Blonk Consultants will be working with Technopolis to gain an understanding of the current status and potential of the protein transition.


Broad focus: insights into the protein transition

Together with Technopolis, an international research and consultancy firm specialised in science, technology and innovation policy, we will research the potential of the protein transition for Flanders. The study is for VLAIO, the Flemish Agency for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

The focus of our study will be broad. We will investigate the scientific developments relating to agriculture, consumer behaviour and technologies in Flanders. In addition, we will identify the economic potential: what are the opportunities for ingredient and meat substitute producers, and for agriculture? Moreover, the study will generate insights into product innovations: what are the new proteins and protein ingredients, and do they have the right features, like colour, taste and texture?

The sustainability performance of the proteins and meat substitutes will also be studied. Of course, other important conditions such as consumer acceptance and legislation related to novel foods will be included. The study will have an international focus, since the protein transition is a worldwide development and may provide export opportunities for Flanders. This broad focus will allow the study to generate inputs and get insights in the opportunities of the protein transition for Flanders.

Protein transition over the years

One of the drivers behind the shift from animal towards more plant proteins in our food is concern about the major environmental impacts of an increasing demand for animal products. Animal production has been on the environmental agendas of governments since the 1980s. Initially, this was in response to local environmental problems, but later, in the 1990s, increasing numbers of studies revealed the expanding environmental footprint of animal products.

It became clear that feeding 10 billion people in 2050 while maintaining consumption patterns that include large amounts of animal protein will exceed global sustainability limits. The local focus shifted towards a global focus.

Early this century the concept of transition was introduced. A transition occurs at the system level when the old ways of production and consumption are constrained. The need for the protein transition was embraced in response to concerns about local and global environmental issues, animal diseases, food safety, animal welfare and human health. Over the past 10 years there have been many developments related to this protein transition in various European countries, consumers have been informed by government agencies about the health benefits of eating less or no meat, and growing numbers of consumers are now including plant-based alternatives in their menu.

Growing market and significant improvements of meat substitutes

The market for meat substitutes is growing. In the Netherlands a growth of 6% in 2018 and 8% in 2019 is expected. In the last few years, the texture and dietary benefits of meat substitutes have significantly improved. Recent research by the Dutch Consumers’ Association (De Consumentenbond) shows that meat substitutes in the Dutch market are complete substitutes for meat, with an equivalent nutritional value due to the addition of vitamins and minerals. Improved recipes and technologies are leading to better quality products, such as recent processing innovations that have improved the structure and sensory experience of meat substitutes.

In search for new proteins

The production of meat substitutes has become an important market for ingredient producers and major companies are adapting their production routes to deliver high-quality protein ingredients. In the 1970s, proteins arising as a co-product of the processing of starch potatoes were a big problem for wastewater treatment plants, but today the protein transition has turned these proteins into a successful business case.

Scientists and businesses are now looking for new alternative protein ingredients based on insects, algae, duckweed, fungi and other sources. Although the research and development process is often long, new products are regularly appearing on the market. European legislation on novel foods is sometimes a barrier and so many ingredient producers focus first on the animal feed market. Traditional meat companies are not only interested in alternative feeds, though, but realise that developments in the meat substitute market present opportunities for them as well.
The protein transition is in full swing. It offers opportunities for many different companies and organisations, from high-tech startups and food concept developers to big established companies in the food and beverage industry and retail and food service organisations.

More information

If you have any questions about this study or want to know more about the protein transition,
please contact Janjoris van Diepen or call +31 (0)182 579970.

Janjoris van Diepen
Team Manager