The consumption of plant-based proteins is growing rapidly. Pioneers in the field explained to the 250 participants of the Foodvalley Summit Proteins of the Future, on 10 October in Ede, that their growth is accelerating, and demands exceed production capacity. But there are still challenges to overcome.


Frank Giezen, CEO of Ojah, was one of the pioneers of green proteins. He started the company 10 years ago with 3 people. Now there are 45. Ojah develops and produces meat alternatives with long fibres, also called third generation meat alternatives. The company started as an ingredient supplier, and developed the ingredient brands Beeter and Plenti. Later Ojah also began making finished products for the business-to-business market.

Giezen emphasizes the importance of co-creation. “That means that you partner up with important customers and combine your research efforts. It provides you with a much more important and better strategic position.”

Growing demand

From 2011 onwards Ojah had an annual growth rate of 30 to 50%. “The growth of our production is only limited by the production capacity,” Giezen says. “The demand from the market is much higher than the capacity that we have at the moment.”

Jos Hugense was ahead of his time when he started in 2005 the company Meatless. With the ingredient that is also called Meatless meat companies can enhance their products with plant-based ingredients to create a better taste and a leaner product. Hence they can make hybrid products with a lower footprint. Thanks to a lot of research it is possible to create meat products with up to 80% plant material. Nowadays Meatless not only supplies ingredients for meat products, but also delivers solutions for the production of vegetarian and vegan products.

According to Hugense, CEO of Meatless, the demand for vegetable proteins grew only slowly in the early days. In 2006 Meatless had a production capacity of 1.500 ton per year, ten years later it was extended to 5.000 tons per year. In this period there was an average annual growth of 20%.

“If you look at the demand for vegetable proteins, the market is accelerating,” Hugense says. “We see that young people are moving more towards plant material.”

Isabel Boerdam made clear that eating less meat is not just a hype. She organised this spring the first Dutch National Week without Meat, and created a lot of buzz on social media and in the regular media. According to Boerdam the National Week without Meat resulted in a long term effect.

“We asked the participants of 2018 whether their eating behaviour changed thanks to the campaign, and 47% told us that they currently eat less meat thanks to the week without meat, and that doesn’t include the vegetarians, so it is really a change within the meat eater group.

   

‘Neo fobia’

During last year’s Foodvalley Summit one of the main topics to be discussed was the appearance of meat replacers. Some speakers questioned the fact that meat replacers should not necessarily look like meat. In practice, they often still do. Jeroen Willemsen – who is involved in The Protein Cluster and the Green Protein Alliance and was the moderator of both the 2017 and 2018 Summit on plant-based proteins – thinks that products with a familiar appearance are more likely to be bought by mass consumers. “The protein transition is now in the phase in which we appeal to the masses. We have to take into account ‘neo fobia’. If new products are too much different from what people know, they tend to drop out.”

That is why Jos Hugense from Meatless thinks hybrid products can play an important role in the protein transition. “You can also try to mix meat and vegetarian which might be a good idea, because it is a smaller step for people to go to a partly plant material based product than to a vegetarian product.” He argues that if you would add 20 or 25% plant material to processed meat, it would have a large impact.

Pulses

Mariët van de Noort stimulates with her company MFH Pulses plant-based protein rich products that are well known. Pulses are actually making a come-back. “Twenty years ago in an average supermarket you had brown beans and white beans in cans, and that was it. Nowadays you find organic pulses, pulses in a jar, in a can, in a standing bag, in ready meals.”

She says one new product in the Dutch retail looks especially promising, whole pulses combined with vegetables in a pouch. “It is very nice looking, and 35% of the buyers of this product was not consuming pulses before.”

Efficient use arable land

Ursula Bittner, co-founder and Secretary General of Donau Soy Association, pleads for a more efficient use of arable land. Livestock production uses 80% of arable land. Besides 80% of worldwide grown soy is for feed, and only 2% is for human consumption. In Europe only 2% of arable land is dedicated to soy and legumes. Moreover, soy is now mainly grown in Ukraine, 45% of European production.

She advocates an increase in growing soy and other legumes in European countries. If 5% was used instead of only 2%, 56% of European demand could be met. That would mean that less needs to be imported, but the environment would also benefit from a higher nitrogen fixation by the crops, a better biodiversity and less use of pesticides.

Five hurdles

Thijs Geijer, economist of ING Economics department, referred in his speech to research which showed that one out of four Europeans expects to eat less meat in the next five years. In general young people are more concerned about environment, while elderly are more concerned about health. What drives consumers differs between countries. In the Netherlands many people are concerned about the environment, while in Belgium the main point of concern is health, and in Germany it is animal welfare.

Geijer argued that further improvement of plant-based products is needed. He spoke of “five hurdles food companies need to overcome”. Taste and texture could be improved; products can be made healthier by using other processing techniques; availability of the products could be better; and consciousness needs to be increased. Besides there is the price issue.

“Price is very powerful”, Geijer explained. He suggested that while both meat and fish are elastic products, plant-based products may not be. A small increase of the price could result in a dramatic drop in sales. Moderator Jeroen Willemsen commented that if you compare the price of meat replacers to the price of organic meat, meat alternatives are not expensive. Moreover, he questioned the low prices of meat. Meat successors are not expensive, but meat is simply too cheap, he argued.

  

New product development

Gert Jan Gombert of Vivera

Vivera is one of the producers of plant-based proteins that invest heavily in product development, Commercial Director Gert Jan Gombert explained.

“We think it is really important that we create a lot of creativity in our developers and that they do not feel limited in terms of what they can try, so we encourage them to just one day in a week just try to do whatever they want and whatever they feel they should try, and that is actually how our plant-based steak got invented.”

This steak was launched in May in Tesco in the UK, and later in other countries. Vivera got a lot of publicity with the product that looks similar to a real steak and even releases ‘meat juice’ made from beet juice, among other ingredients. It was sold out quickly and, as with several other producers, production is determined more by capacity than by demand.

Veggie Quarter Pounder

A couple of days before the Summit Vivera introduced a vegan quarter pounder. “The new Veggie Quarter Pounder was launched last week in Sainsbury’s and the reactions were very good. We have seen a lot of news that has been published already. People speak of a breakthrough product, which I believe it really is. It is the first raw burger on the market in retail in Europe and it looks exactly like an Aberdeen beef burger.”

Gombert says sustainability and animal welfare are among the main values of Vivera. “We think it is important to be as sustainable and as good for the animals as we can, and we want to use as less animal based product. We want to address everyone, also the vegans in this world. We think it is important to make all our plant-based and not use any animal products anymore.”

After his presentation, Gombert offered the new Veggie Quarter Pounder to Isabel Boerdam, initiator of the Dutch Week Without Meat and to moderator Jeroen Willemsen, who were both positive about the new product. The participants of the Summit could also taste the new innovative product.

  

Meat replacers?

In last year’s Foodvalley Summit, much attention was payed to how meat replacers should be called. If you use this term people are inclined to compare the new developed product with meat, and they may conclude that ‘real meat’ tastes better. That is why speakers then pleaded for a new term which stresses that the products need to be seen as a category of its own. According to Jeroen Willemsen, in both 2017 and 2018 moderator of the event, nowadays the term ‘plant meat’ is used more widely, first by influencers and the sector itself. Willemsen says he hopes ‘plant meat’ will also be accepted by consumers. “There’s animal meat, plant meat and also clean meat”,  referring to cultured meat. Willemsen, among others, also use the term ‘meat successors’.

Willemsen argues that the protein transition is in its final stage, that of acceleration, of ‘plantification’. “You see that all those entrepreneurs are profiting from plant proteins. They are turning a serious business into serious business.”

The Protein Cluster

The Protein Cluster (TPC) is the first global platform for ingredient suppliers, food manufacturers and other stakeholders working with plant-based, vegan or vegetarian solutions. TPC enables them to expand their business. The cluster has around 20 company members. The Protein Cluster is managed by Foodvalley NL. For more information, please visit theproteincluster.com, or send an email to info@theproteincluster.com.