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Alt-protein without the alt-experience

The animal protein industry is ripe for disruption, and while plant-based protein has commanded the attention of consumers and investors to date, the answer to disruption of our current food system lies in an age-old technique. Gabrielle Munzer, principal at Main Sequence, looks at the power of fermentation.

OUR global food system is unfit for purpose, that much we know. With the global population set to grow to 10 billion by 2050, building an inclusive and sustainable food system has never been more important.

Fermentation isn’t a new technique, but it may hold the solution to obstacles the alt-protein industry faces.

“Fats are key contributors to the experience of eating meat, eggs, dairy, and more, they can be critical to nutrition, sensory characteristics, or functionality of animal products...”

Fermentation in the alt-protein industry refers to cultivating microbial organisms for the purpose of producing a foodstuff or ingredient such as proteins or specialised ingredients, like flavour, enzymes, proteins, and fats. In layman’s terms, it allows us to get the animal taste, without the animal.

Precision fermentation could disrupt the animal protein industry with RethinkX predicting lab-grown protein will be 10 times cheaper than animal protein by 2035.

Imagine if we could produce eggs without the chicken. Clara Foods does exactly that, using fermentation to turn yeast and sugars into the same proteins found in the foods we all know and love.

Clara is bringing proteins to the table that are not only produced without animals, but use less land and water, while matching taste, nutritional value, and the culinary properties of existing foods.

Food wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable without the flavours and textures fats make possible. This is the problem that the alt-protein industry faces right now, and until we’re able to make animal-free fats there’s only so far the industry can go. Separately, there’s also environmental and sustainability implications that come with plant-based fats. Coconut oil has a large negative impact on tropical biodiversity and vegetable oil can cause devastating physical effects on animals and plants.

Fats are key contributors to the experience of eating meat, eggs, dairy, and more, they can be critical to nutrition, sensory characteristics, or functionality of animal products but they are challenging to source from plants.

Nourish Ingredients is using fermentation to create more sustainably produced fats, because not everything that tastes good has to compromise us, animals, or the environment. Nourish is bypassing biology and using science to discover and design endless animal-free fat combinations to suit different protein flavour profiles. This means that plant-based proteins are not only more sustainable, but actually stand up to the real thing in flavour and texture. In other words, we get alt-food without the alt-experience.

In 2020, fermentation companies raised $587 million, a twofold increase from 2019. That accounted for 19 per cent of overall funding in the alt-protein sector and represents 57 per cent of all-time funding for fermentation companies.

This investment can’t stop now. Fermentation is the next pillar of the alternative proteins industry.

To get us there, significantly more investment is needed for R&D and the acceleration of the commercialisation of promising technologies.

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