Why plant-based meat uses many protein sources

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Dive Brief:

  • A new report on meat alternatives from PreScouter, Inc., found all of the three plant-based firms it examined — Beyond Meat, Field Roast Grain Meat Co. and Impossible Foods — use more than one type of plant protein in their products. Pea protein is on every ingredient list except that of Impossible Foods, the report said, while other protein sources being used include rice, mung bean, soy and potato.

  • This situation could present additional market opportunities for makers of plant proteins, the Illinois research company added, because they may lend “more favorable textural, nutritive, and processing properties allowing the ability to achieve the desired appearance and feel.”

  • The 64-page report also looked at technologies used to produce meat alternatives — high-moisture extrusion cooking for plant-based products, 3D printing and cellular agriculture — and described some current academic research looking into potential protein sources such as lab-cultured insect tissue.

Dive Insight:

Barclays recently forecast rising demand and an increase in population will boost the global market share for meat alternatives from 1% now to about 10% in 2029. In dollar terms, that represents a jump from $14 billion this year to $140 billion in 2029. That’s still a far cry from the conventional meat market value of $1.4 trillion, but it’s not insignificant.

Because of this growth potential, producers of meat alternatives are jockeying for market position and trying to come up with formulations to appeal to flexitarians, carnivores and others looking to limit consumption of meat products because of risks from heart disease, high cholesterol​, Type 2 diabetes and cancer.

PreScouter acknowledged these concerns in the report, citing environmental and health issues as prime drivers behind the trend. About 18% of global human-caused greenhouse gas emissions come from animal agriculture, it said. With meat demand expected to rise 70% by 2050, these emissions will also go up.

The report indicated seven plant-based protein sources are most commonly found in the meat alternatives space. Pea protein is used the most, followed by rice, soy, potato, mung bean, seaweed and vital wheat gluten. Beyond Meat uses pea, rice and mung bean proteins in its products, while Field Roast relies on vital wheat gluten, pea protein and protein from other plants and grains, depending on the product. Impossible sources its proteins from soy and potato, the report said.

There have been concerns about the sustainability of pea protein — whether in the form of isolates, concentrates or flours — since it’s also increasingly being used in baked goods and other products. Diversification in protein sources may be a solid strategy for makers of plant-based meat alternatives. Besides market potential, the report suggested that mixing it up with protein sources could result in better texture, nutrition and other qualities to enhance visual and tactile appeal.

Manufacturers looking to emphasize such assets might find the PreScouter report useful, plus it might give them more information about what other companies and academic researchers in the sector are doing. 

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