The four factors driving the alternative protein ecosystem

By Gill Hyslop

- Last updated on GMT

Consumers are on the look out for alternative protein sources, which the bakery and snacks categories are perfectly aligned to provide. Pic: GettyImages
Consumers are on the look out for alternative protein sources, which the bakery and snacks categories are perfectly aligned to provide. Pic: GettyImages

Related tags Adm Protein alternative proteins plant-based Fermentation Sustainability health and wellbeing Nutrition sensory adventure Taste

While food security, health and sustainability continue to shape the food landscape, consumers are still demanding a sensory experience, which means there is a growing need for expanded protein choices that can be incorporated into bakery and snacks. ADM’s 2023 Global Trends Report unveils the opportunities for the future of alternative proteins.

The Chicago-headquartered nutrition specialist has released its outlook on what’s driving the advancement of the protein ecosystem. The company has identified four factors that are driving the demand for alternative protein choices to feed the world’s growing population while keeping the planet’s best interest in mind.

ADM protein report 1

The world is facing an unprecedented hunger crisis. The World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that 345 million people in 82 countries are facing acute food insecurity, so a secure food system is more imperative than ever.

Protein is an important part of a basic diet, but already an estimated one billion people worldwide suffer from protein deficiency. The world needs good-quality protein urgently - and this need will only intensify with the increase in world population (projected to reach 10 billion by 2050).

However, consumption of animal protein is causing irreversible damage to the planet, so advancements in new technologies to support a wide array of alternative protein sources will be critical to support what’s best for the environment, while providing optionality for consumers.

“Creating a sustainable and secure food system that addresses the sensory experience, nutrition and accessibility is vital to supporting the needs of people around the world,” ​said Leticia Gonçalves, president, Global Foods, ADM.

“We’re excited to share what we believe is needed to expand the protein ecosystem and encourage additional consumer acceptance and adoption.”

Alternative proteins are not only trending on the wider food platform but offer vast opportunities in the bakery and snacks sectors, too. To understand the motivators, ADM has leveraged its proprietary consumer and market insights and identified four key factors that are driving consumer demand.

“Understanding current consumer needs, anticipating future trends, fostering industry collaboration and investing in advanced technologies is crucial for developing and innovating a protein arena that priorities both people and the planet,”​ added Gonçalves.

Anticipating the next wave of advancements

Consumers are increasingly more curious and open to trying different options and are placing less importance on the source than they have in the past.

This inquisitiveness - along with the progress that has been made in improving the taste and texture of plant-based offerings - is fuelling the opportunity to diversify plant protein sources across food categories.

In fact, ADM’s January 2023 Global Protein Discovery Report found that, globally, consumers are most interested in trying plant-based products made with novel ingredients or hybrid sources, followed by fermentation-derived sources.

Over the next several years, ADM expects an increase in acceptance of protein options derived from fermentation and noted that hybrids will be key in making cultivated protein options more accessible and affordable to mainstream consumers.

Globally, consumers are generally willing to try next-gen alternatives, but receptivity is largely driven by perceptions of how ‘close to nature’ new technologies are. As such, accelerating consumer acceptance of future-state tech will deliver a wider array of protein sources designed to feed a growing population.

Closer to home, though, that optionality will opens the door for innovations that leverage new and existing protein sources in the bakery and snacks arena.

Championing consumer adoption

Solving today’s consumer experience by addressing taste, texture and nutrition by merging what consumers want and communicating that effectively to encourage the adoption of protein alternatives or hybrids.

The adoption of alternative proteins - both presently and in the future - will not succeed if they don’t meet consumers expectations.

While environmental factors like sustainability are top purchase drivers for plant-based alternatives, taste, texture and nutrition must continue to advance to encourage consumer retention.

ADM protein report 4

ADM’s January 20203 research found that taste and nutrition are important for 73% of plant consumers (flexitarians, vegetarians and vegans), reflecting an increase in the significance of these factors over the past three years. At the same time, global plant consumers note the improved texture is motivating them to consume more plant-based products.

Meeting these consumer demands is becoming more achievable through the use of sources like soy, oat and pea, while hybrids of lesser-known alternatives - such as fermentation and cell cultivation - will make what’s new feel familiar and approachable.

In fact, research by The Hartman Group in 2022 indicates consumers are more likely to try products made by precision fermentation or cellular agriculture if they were demonstrated to be high in nutritional value, safe, low in price and good for the environment.

Bridging the gap to better nutrition

ADM believes the alternative protein arena is ripe with opportunity to improve the nutrient density of food and beverage offerings, diversify diets and tailor nutrition attributes to fit the needs of consumers.

When asked about their preferences for future alternative protein innovations, 44% of plant consumers expressed a desire for enhanced nutrition - an increase in interest since 2021 - with more focus on attributes like added protein, lower fat content and digestive support.

ADM protein report 3

Products that target specific nutrition needs and provide an exceptional sensory experience are quickly gaining consumer acceptance - and is a great way for those in the busy bakery and snack categories to differentiate themselves. By incorporating things like fibre, microbiome-supporting solutions and botanicals, manufacturers will be on point to meet demand while making protein alternatives more attractive to consumers.

Solving accessibility with a tailored approach

A one-size-fits-all approach to protein accessibility will not cut the mustard, says ADM.

Countries and regions have their own set of consumer preferences of formats and types of plant-forward products, while relying on a limited number of protein sources puts a strain on the environment.

Leveraging locally sourced solutions will address food supply challenges, and producers will go a long way in helping to overcome the nutritional, accessibility and sustainability challenges of each region. Leaning into regional strengths in agriculture, production and technologies will help to scale novel protein sources quicker, while also meeting consumer demands for taste, texture, nutrition and sustainability.

ADM protein report 2

A recent example is ADM's innovation centre in Brazil, outfitted with state-of-the-art tech and equipment to develop specific products targeted for the Brazilian market. The opening of a new extrusion facility in Serbia less than a year after ADM’s acquisition of SojaProtein is another example of how a locally sourced ingredient is supporting regional needs. On the sustainability side, the majority of the non-GMO soy used is grown within 100km of the facility.

In conclusion, ADM says each of these focus areas are imperative to lead the food industry into the next generation of alternative protein innovations. And with capabilities spanning the globe, ADM is perfectly position to support what’s now and what’s on the horizon, ultimately helping to build a secure and sustainable food system with appealing, nutritious protein options.

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