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By Emily Lehmann 17 September 2021 4 min read

The global population will reach 9.7 billion by 2050. This equates to a lot more mouths to feed and bellies to fill.

In fact, researchers predict we'll need up to 70 per more food to feed this growing world population, with a massive demand set for protein.

There are two other major trends impacting the food and the protein market. The world’s growing middle class increasingly wants to eat more high-quality meat as part of their diets. There is also the changing dietary patterns of the modern health and welfare-conscious consumer to address, such as ‘flexitarianism’.

As a result, we’re going to need to produce more protein, more sustainably, and from more sources to feed the world in future.

To address this challenge, we’ve launched our Future Protein Mission alongside industry, government and universities. The Future Protein Mission aims to create and value-add $10 billion worth of nutritious and high-quality protein products to feed the world. It will use innovative science and technology to achieve this ambitious goal by 2030.

Key innovation opportunities for protein

So, what future protein opportunities are being developed?

Future Protein Mission Lead, Michelle Colgrave, says we can’t farm from more land. So the opportunity lies in innovative science and technology to grow our protein products and sources.

"In a typical Western diet, most of our protein comes from just five animal and 12 plant protein sources. But there's so much more biodiversity and potential foods on the planet to consider incorporating into our diet," Michelle says.

It’s an exciting prospect when you start to consider the new products and flavours that could result.

"There is the opportunity to make the food systems we have now more efficient so that we’re producing more from the same," Michelle says.

"We can also make higher value protein products from food that we would otherwise waste. And we can come up with entirely new foods that don’t exist now."

The Future Protein Mission is working on all three of these areas by developing both animal and plant-based protein products.

©  Jennifer Jenner

Adding meat to the bones

Animal-based protein sources, such as red meat and dairy, will always play a vital role in human diets globally.

As Australia is a big exporter of red meat, particularly beef, the Future Protein Mission is looking at how to add value to meat products.

Working with Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA), we will co-create and diversify products that extend the use of meat and its components into a wider range of occasions.

Right now, about 20 per cent of the carcass delivers 80 per cent of its value. So there is a huge opportunity for the red meat and livestock industry to find innovative ways to utilise other, lower value, cuts as ingredients in products.

For example, it could mean high-quality natural protein powders and flavourless extracts derived from Australian red meat components.

"There is an opportunity for us to use red meat in a wider range of settings than what we typically see today. Examples include snacking, convenience foods and personalised nutrition," Michelle says.

"Adding value to red meat through use in new products is an exciting prospect as it will generate new revenue opportunities for producers in a way that’s also sustainable."

In order to take advantage of these opportunities and achieve its ambition to double the value of red meat sales by 2030, the red meat industry can utilise new food science and technology platforms. And that's where the Future Protein Mission steps in.

Lupin in grass

Sowing the seeds for plant protein production

Complementary to meat are plant-based proteins. Common plant proteins include pea, soy and rice. But, in the future, we could see these diversified to include many others.

Plant protein is considered a big growth market opportunity for Australia.

We grow many plant crops in Australia but typically export these as low-value commodities. If we can add value to these products onshore, we can export them at a higher price. With its partners, the Future Protein Mission is leading this transformation.

For example, Australia is a leading grower of lupins – a high protein plant source.

Despite its seeds being high in protein and dietary fibre, human food products use only a portion of lupins. The main markets being animal feed and farming.

Through the Mission, we’re working with Edith Cowan University to identify lupin varieties with specific characteristics suitable for breeding programs to meet emerging plant protein markets.

Capturing wealth from food waste

Food manufacturers could also benefit from the Mission’s focus on capturing value from waste.

Food waste, such as by-products from food processing and manufacture, often contains high levels of nutrients and fibre. There are a range of challenges to using waste – from capturing it, to applying it in a way that makes commercial sense.

"In terms of food waste, there is that which is lost during processing. Also the ‘ugly’ fruit and vegetables at the farm-end that wouldn’t make it to retail," Michelle says.

"We want to convert this waste into something we can use as a functional ingredient in protein products."

As an example, there are a huge number of mangoes grown in the Top End of Australia. Mango seeds contain high levels of protein, antioxidants and omega fatty acids and are often left behind as waste.

We're researching how to convert these seeds into a non-conventional protein source and high-value ingredient for food or animal feed purposes.

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