Australia's grain sector to tap into plant-based meat substitutes
The consumer appetite for plant-based meat substitutes has become popular in recent years, and Australia’s grain, oilseed and pulse producers could be well placed to capitalise on this rapidly growing market segment, according to a new report.
Rabobank said in its research that Australia’s plant-based meat substitute market could offer opportunities for local growers if exports can also be captured and if both local and international markets value Australian-origin plant proteins.
The report said as a net exporter of cereal grains, oilseeds and pulses, Australia has more than enough plant-based protein to meet the relatively small local market demand for plant-based meat substitutes.
However, the ability to capture opportunities, both domestically and globally, would depend on the type of plant protein consumers demand as the industry evolves.
Currently, soy and wheat products are the dominant ingredients used in Australian and global plant-protein offerings, with niche products — such as chickpeas, black beans, mung beans, lentils, black-eyed beans, rice and buckwheat — comprising just 7% of the market.
But it was these specialised crops that held the most potential to capitalise on the plant-based meat substitute movement, Rabobank senior grains and oilseeds analyst Cheryl Kalisch Gordon said.
“Underpinning our expectations of continuing demand growth in the plant-based meat substitute segment over the next decade is that consumers will be more discerning in the choice of products that meet and hold their interest, and so manufacturers will need to expand the range of plant protein ingredients they use,” she said.
Currently, around 50% of the plant-based meat substitute products Australians purchased at retail level are imported offerings ready for consumption — meaning there are no local plant proteins included.
“For locally manufactured plant-based substitutes, the majority of wheat proteins used are local, but overall most of the plant proteins are imported as isolates, concentrates, textured proteins or partially transformed ingredients,” Gordon said.
This reliance on imports, she said, was in part due to the small local soybean crop but also limited local capacity for commercial pulse fractionation — the technology that breaks pulses into protein, starch and fibre components for use as ingredients in food processing.
Building export market
Gordon said faba bean and lentil fractionation capacity had been built and recently begun production in Victoria, while fractionation of lupins was being trialled in Western Australia.
“Export pathways would be key to this processing success — with a strong local supply of lupins, faba beans and lentils, and only a small domestic demand base for plant-based meat substitutes at present,” she said.
Collaboration with local manufacturers of plant-based meat substitutes would also be critical for strong export and local demand.
“The industry will need to work with manufacturers who can achieve superior retail margins by capitalising on the Australian provenance and non-GM (genetically modified) plant proteins that Australia can produce at volume.”
Dr Gordon said Australia’s opportunities in this market would further strengthen once the Asian demand for plant-based meat substitutes grew.
“Global growth in the segment is being led by Europe and North America, and, at this stage, Asia is lagging as the region already has plant-based meat substitutes through the likes of tofu and tempeh,” she said.
Gordon said many consumers across Asia still tended to eat more meat as their income grew, but the plant-based meat market was expected to strengthen in the region over the next decade.
And with Australia’s availability of cost-competitive protein sources from faba beans, lupins, canola and wheat, she said, it would be well placed to serve a growing Asian and global market.
“To realise this opportunity, however, Australia will have to follow Canada’s lead, where several pulse-fractioning plants and substantial canola-fractionation capacity are coming online to support both local and export demand.”
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