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Seaweed, insects, plant proteins: what new sources of proteins for feeding the world?

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In a world of galloping change where resources are growing scarce, environmental consciousness and trust are key factors for consumers. The food industry world needs to adapt, in particular regarding research into alternative proteins.

At SIAL Paris 2018, Céline Laisney, Manager of the VIGIE food monitoring system and the publications of AlimAvenir, gave her thoughts on these various issues and spoke about innovations.

Alternative proteins for tomorrow: meeting growing needs

 

With the Earth's population due to reach 9.8 billion in 2050, food demand is set to explode. This means having to find alternative solutions, particularly where food proteins are concerned.

Among all the theories circulating for the future of our food, doubling food production does seem to be the most logical one. Yet the catch-up phenomenon, which is affecting all emerging countries, casts our production model into question, and we shall need to produce ever more proteins in a context of ever-growing constraints (water use, land for farming, impossibility of doubling livestock numbers, etc.).

Alternative proteins: what innovations?

 

"An innovation that is not accepted by the consumer is not an innovation: it is merely an invention."

Food substitutes are already very common, as in the milk sector. In the USA, the proportion of substitute milk products on the supermarket shelves is 13%, as against 8% in France.

Companies are working on developing meat substitutes (1% of the market in France), with non-animal "meat" which imitates its taste and texture so as not to alienate the consumer. This is made possible thanks to enormous investment, such as that made by the Impossible Food start-up, with half a billion dollars in funds raised for products marketed in fast-food restaurants and canteens in the USA.

Microalgae and seaweed
A bowl of seaweed
A bowl of seaweed

Seaweed and algae boast significant nutritional qualities, with a protein content of between 65 and 70%, along with vitamins, amino-acids and minerals. However, its nutritional qualities are not on a par with what can be found in meat.

Concerning how consumers react in the face of these innovations, Céline Laisney takes account of the questions of economic profitability and/or environmental impact. Each alternative is compared to the real world, to determine the positive or negative impact, and the energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions associated with these innovations.

The question of how consumers perceive alternative proteins is central. With this in mind, a "Food 360" study was conducted by Kantar TNS on the changes that consumers would be ready to accept. Concerning seaweed, the Asiatic countries are open to the idea of consuming them regularly. However, even if 32% of the French have already eaten some, only 3% consume it regularly, and 31% - who refuse to try it - remain to be convinced.

Insects

This topic has become highly newsworthy: who today would dare to eat insects daily? It is worth remembering that insects are sold mainly in the form of powder and flour, and in modest quantities in products.

Yet consumer reactions vary, once again, from country to country. Two billion people eat them regularly (Thailand, Africa, etc.), while Europe remains sceptical (70% of those surveyed), with 3% of Europeans who have tried them saying they would not eat them again.

Insects are getting into our plates

The insect is sold in the form of powder, flour and in a small quantity of the product

In vitro meat

Thirty or so start-ups worldwide (in the USA, Brazil, Japan, Netherlands, etc.) have announced the marketing of in vitro meat within 2 to 3 years. Yet this is innovation that still raises hackles, with people in many countries referring to "Frankenstein burgers". Some statistics to show where France stands on this: only 7% of the French say they would be interested in this type of alternative protein, as against 43% in China. Not to forget, furthermore, that its price could be a sticking point for this innovation.

Our proteins reservoir: vegetables and pulses

 

We are already great consumers of all kinds of fruits and vegetables in France. As such, companies are developing products that find easier acceptance. Tereos has developed a mixture of wheat and pea that tastes like chicken; the start-up, Arian Co, proposes AOC pulse-based alternatives; etc.

Another avenue to be explored is the protein extracted from rubisco, present in salad waste, which would help reduce losses and wastage. According to a "flexitarian" logic, it may be a good idea to adopt a diet featuring mushrooms, to guarantee sufficient nutritional intake.

The question for the future remains this: in what forms will we be consuming these food innovations?