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By Prof Michelle Colgrave Dr Katherine Wynn 22 March 2022 5 min read

Australia could capture an additional $13 billion to produce new and improved products for all types of protein.

Can we feed the world’s growing population sustainably and meet changing tastes and dietary preferences? To do this, we'll need to do things differently in our food production systems.  

Like any pressing global challenge, this is also a significant opportunity for business.  

As our new report finds, Australia could become a leader in protein food innovation. Australia could capture an extra $13 billion slice of the pie, open new markets and create up to 10,000 more jobs by 2030.  

And there’s a seat at the table for everyone. Our models predict growth across the protein sector. From new emerging plant-based markets to red meat exports and even edible insects.  

The challenge is how to use innovation to produce more of this protein, more sustainably and from a wider variety of sources.  

Our report highlights that Australia is in a unique position to step up to this challenge.  

Why Australia? 

Australia could become a global leader in protein supply in two ways. Firstly, by growing established protein products and markets in traditional protein industries. And secondly, by developing new, differentiated protein products.  

Australia can leverage more than 100 years of agriculture innovation. We also have a strong reputation for producing premium and safe food products.  

Australia’s proximity to Asia is also an advantage, with more than half of global protein market demand expected to come from the region. This demand is not only for meat, but complementary products as well.  

Protein demand is huge and can only be met by bringing together animal, plant and novel proteins.  

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Tech-led growth opportunities to deliver new protein 

To meet protein demand, we have outlined five science and technology investment priority areas. These include:  

  1. Strengthening product integrity and market access 
  2. Optimising quality and cost-competitiveness 
  3. Maximising resources and circularity 
  4. Enabling the scale-up of high-growth sectors 
  5. Developing novel protein production systems. 

Investing in these will enable several tech-led growth opportunities across Australia’s protein industry. More on the growth opportunities below.

Expanding new protein markets

Science can help Australia grow higher protein crops, like soybean (pictured).

Globally, there is rising demand for value-added plant-based products. These range from ready-made meals to alternatives for dairy milk and meat. Our models show it’s a growth opportunity for Australia to add another $6 billion by 2030 and now is the time to jump on board.  

Australia has significant potential to scale-up local production of plant-based products.  

We can also capture value earlier in the supply chain. For example, by improving the performance of our high-protein plant crops like soybeans, chickpeas or faba beans. We can then add further value by turning bulk commodities into high value ingredients onshore.  

Most plant-based products rely on ingredients, such as protein flours, concentrates and isolates, which are seldom made in Australia. It's common to find products that say 'Australian-made using imported ingredients' in our grocery stores. But we can change this.  

Ingredients can be locally produced by further building on investments into manufacturing expertise and facilities. This will reduce reliance on imports and create 100 per cent Australian-made products.  

Likewise, we could secure domestic supplies of white-flesh fish.  

Australia currently imports 90 per cent of white-flesh fish consumed, representing a huge opportunity to create a new, sustainable local aquaculture industry.  

Value-adding to Australia’s existing protein products

Australia can grow premium red meat exports into Asian markets. © Meat &amp; Livestock Australia ©  Jennifer Jenner

Australia’s annual animal protein exports, including dairy, are worth about $21 billion. From a revenue perspective, red meat is by far the most valuable Australian protein export today. 

Australia can continue to drive growth as demand for meat and fish increases with Asia's rising middle-class.  

Take Australia's premium steak and barramundi produce as examples.  

Through new digital and integrity systems across the supply chain, we could trace food from farm to fork. This data would verify key attributes like food safety, welfare and sustainability.  

It could open valuable new markets for Australian meat and fish exports and drive further returns.  

Another key growth opportunity includes turning lesser cuts of red meat into value-added products. New products to target health and wellness trends include protein powders and nutraceuticals. 

This would better utilise parts of the carcass that are low-value and transform them into higher value ingredients and products.  

Emerging protein opportunities

Our report also looks to develop cutting edge, emerging science to target niche products and food gaps. These are exciting new ways to secure greater world food security beyond 2030.  

Local production of insect protein sources could be expanded to provide new pathways to use food waste and become new protein sources for human food, pet food, and aquaculture and livestock feeds.  

Likewise, precision fermentation is an emerging technique to rapidly develop new and complex protein ingredients that can be developed in large volumes, using significantly less water and land resources. 

These emerging opportunities offer huge growth potential. But they need extensive research and development to understand and manage the benefits and risks before products enter shelves. 

Where to next?

As these opportunities highlight, we can’t only focus on growth. We know that food is one of the strongest levers we have to improve environmental sustainability.  

As Australian protein production increases, we must also prioritise protecting ecosystem health and biodiversity. This includes meeting consumer and market expectations for sustainability and protecting biosecurity. Sustainability needs to underpin everything we do. 

Sustainable growth is possible across all sectors of Australia’s protein industry to 2030 and beyond.  

But it’s going to take collaboration and coordination across the innovation system to achieve it. Our report highlights this and other considerations needed to grow our protein industry.  

Our Future Protein Mission is playing a critical role in bringing together partners in government, industry and the research sector. Together we can co-develop uniquely Australian products and capture the opportunities ahead.  

Australia can be a world leader in innovating premium food that’s nutritious, delicious and sustainably managed for the years to come. 

Read the full report. 

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