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New alternative foods: pulses, plant proteins, seaweed, insects

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With 9 billion human beings expected on the face of the planet by 2050, the demand for proteins is likely to increase by 40%. 

Céline LAISNEY
Céline LAISNEY

Pulses, plant proteins, insects or seaweed: what are the resources in place to face this challenge? Where are proteins to be found? What are the opportunities and constraints that these alternative foods represent for industry?

New alternative foods to meet high expectations

Based on the VIGIE Food 2018 study, on the topic of: "The 10 great transformations for the food system in 2030", Céline Laisney presents three broad trends that go hand-in-hand with the search for new alternative foods.

 

Quinoa salad
Quinoa salad

©F. FOUCHA, X. MUYARD, L. DHERINES

The boom in particular foods with the advent of special diets

An increasing proportion of consumers are following special diets, either for reasons of health - allergies and intolerances - or out of choice.

In France, 3% of the population are vegetarians, the same as in China, while in Brazil vegetarianism accounts for 14% of consumers. The proportion of substitute milk products on the market represents 13% in the USA and 7.5% in France. As for meat substitutes, this accounts for less than 1% market share in France.

In other words, special diets represent a new field of opportunities for players in the food sector.

  

A hike in dietary changes due to allergies

Surveys have brought to light the considerable proportions of people who believe that they suffer from a food allergy or intolerance. In their sights are, of course, gluten, but also dairy products.

Consequently, in France, we have seen the market for "free-from" products grow to represent 5% market share. On both the manufacturing and the retail side, food intolerances need to be taken into account to meet a growing need among consumers.

Food confidence crisis: a meaningful trend among consumers

The Kantar TNS "Food 360" study, conducted for SIAL Paris 2018, showed that France is a country with high levels of food mistrust. What criteria need to be monitored? Mode of production, origin of products, existence of quality labels (organic, fair-trade, etc.), animal welfare, remuneration for farmers and producers, etc.: all these subjects require enhanced information sharing.

Faced with all these new issues, several responses are gaining ground, with a rise in alternative proteins, and the appearance of technologies to inform consumers (QR Code, Blockchain, etc.).

How will we go about feeding the world in 2050, starting from today?

 

How can we increase livestock farming in major proportions? Aquaculture is being strongly developed: it is no doubt an interesting resource, but which remains insufficient for now.

Seaweed

 

A bowl of seaweed
A bowl of seaweed

© StockFood / Mèche, Hilde

Since 2013, ALGAMA has been manufacturing seaweed-based products. Its founders consider themselves to be on a mission for converting consumers. In 2018, we constantly need to drive home the importance of reconsidering the way the way we nourish ourselves, and the ecological impact of the food we consume.

Currently, 70% of the microalgae market is occupied by spirulina. Why is this? Well, this type of algae contains 70% proteins, as well as minerals and vitamins. Not to mention that its production requires 50 times less water than meat. Spirulina therefore has many advantages going for it.

However, spirulina is anything but tasty, and so the algae has to be combined with other ingredients to benefit from its high dose of proteins, while obtaining a product that actually tastes good. Currently, R&D is being pursued on algae and seaweed as protein substitutes. Several tests have been conducted, and some have proved fruitful. For example, Algama has developed a vegan mayonnaise in which the egg and all the fats are replaced by seaweeds.

The problem is the fairly high price. As is regularly observed, a lack of knowledge and technical control make it difficult for producers to bring down the end cost.

 

A pan of fried grasshoppers
A pan of fried grasshoppers

© StockFood / Kuhlenkamp | SnackInsects

Insects

Another research field is insects, with a growing number of companies in fact looking into insects for feeding not consumers but livestock. Here is a solution that could address the new environmental requirements, with reduced water needs during the production phase in particular.

 

 

 

 R&D issues for food companies

 

More broadly, although the demand for substitute proteins may grow exponentially, several obstacles stand in the way of developments in this direction.

Organic Soybean Field in Vermont
Organic Soybean Field in Vermont

© StockFood / Boch, William

On this topic, Jean-Luc Perrot, boss of Valorial, pointed to the regulations which often fail to keep pace, in particular with regard to insects. This can sometimes lead to inconsistencies: for example, in France, you can sell insects but not produce them.

Furthermore, research is obstructed by a deficiency of knowledge, sometimes even technical failings. Indeed, managing the production of alternative proteins comes up against many difficulties, including price. How do we achieve an affordable end price for consumers when the raw material requires costly production or processing? The sole solution is a cutting-edge R&D strategy aimed at keeping the chains of production under control and bringing down costs.

Lastly, the Valorial director touched upon a crucial question concerning the protein autonomy of livestock farming. With a view to achieving this, there is a project to replace soy cake (imported products, mainly from North and South America) with pulses (such as pea, lupin and field bean).

What is for sure is that, faced with the emergence of special diets and ever more stringent environmental constraints, industrialists are seeking new food alternatives and alternative foods. This implies a significant - though indispensable - budget being dedicated to R&D in the agribusiness sector.