“Apart from the rapid population growth, now health concerns, changing eating habits and environmental awareness creates a higher demand for animal protein alternatives, meat replacements and other non-animal industrial ingredients. The recent changes in lifestyle, cultural trends and environment, all together have created remarkably favorable market conditions for plant-based proteins. The question now is how sustainable are plant-based proteins? Is the world ready to produce a regular supply of plant proteins?”
Swiss Aegean Trading GmbH
The food sustainability which history starts tens of thousands of years ago has never been important as it is in our time. 50 thousand years ago, when our ancestors started to settle in new continents from hunter-gathering, the most important condition for choosing a place was access to food. This access has become easier with each passing day, from the beginning of settled agriculture, which we know, about 11 thousand years ago, until it has developed continuously until today. The distances became closer with the new transportation routes and vehicles developed by the industrial revolution. Foods specific to certain geographies began to be grown and consumed wherever the climate was suitable, with an intercontinental transition for thousands of years.
Given their importance in our diet (15-20%), proteins certainly are one of the most essential nutritional components of our food system. The exceptional challenge to produce and distribute sufficient protein to feed over 9 billion people by 2050, in an environmentally sustainable way has made it inevitable to search for changes in our heavily carnivore diet.
The very high levels of the carbon footprint of the protein-rich carnivore diets have been proven to have a negative impact on climate change and food sustainability. Hence, in the last decade scientists have been working very hard to improve the sustainability of our food systems and resources. Plant-based proteins are obviously the highlight of these scientific studies.
Could plant proteins be the solution for our food systems’ sustainability? Yes, with their lower cost of production, easy access in many parts of the world and environmentally friendly characteristics plant proteins have lots of advantages but unfortunately compared to animal protein processing technology the plant proteins technology is still in its very early steps. Thanks to the recent studies of scientists with processes like extraction, fractionation, and modification; plant proteins can now be used in so many different food and feed applications.
Apart from the rapid population growth, now health concerns, changing eating habits and environmental awareness creates a higher demand for animal protein alternatives, meat replacements and other non-animal industrial ingredients. The recent changes in lifestyle, cultural trends and environment all together have created remarkably favorable market conditions for plant-based proteins.
Another reason for raising plant-based diets is the raising consciousness about human and animal rights which is creating a tendency and awareness which makes people against killing to eat.
By 2054, the total world protein demand is expected to be double and become almost 950 million metric tons. The alternative protein market, including plant-based proteins will be consisting of one-third of the protein market with a 14% annual growth by 2024. The global plant-based protein market today is approximately 10 billion USD and has an annual growth rate of 6.7%.
Today we see plant proteins being used in products such as plant-based meat substitutes, plant-based burger patties, plant-based soft drinks, low-fat praline fillings, cake, and pastry products (replacement of eggs), plant-based alternatives to dairy products (plant-based milk, cheese etc), plant-based ice cream, vegan crab and shrimp and so many other innovative products keep coming every day to our life. One of the latest products that came to the market is called Vuna, which stands for vegan tuna.
Of course, the use of plant proteins is not limited to food, there are lots of feed uses of plant proteins. One of the most recent examples of it is pet foods which contain peas protein. So it’s not wrong to say, our pets are also becoming vegan.
Plant-based proteins can also be used as a functional ingredient for different purposes as following:
The bigger the plant protein market gets, there will be more products and uses of them introduced to the consumers. Hybrid products, mixed with animal and plant-based proteins targeting to decrease their carbon footprint are also going to take their places on the shelves for the consumers.
As the plant-based protein market will keep growing, there will always be new products introduced to the consumers.
The question now is how sustainable are plant-based proteins? Is the world ready to produce a regular supply of plant proteins?
Today, 74% of plant-based proteins are being produced from pulses. Compared to the grains the pulses are more ecological products with their nitrogen-rich roots which benefit the soil and the next crops sown after them. Pulses, namely peas, chickpeas, beans, and lentils, are crops that need less water, and they are drivers of positive environmental change. Today the world pulses production is around 95 million metric tons. Producing countries led by India which is also the biggest consumer of pulses with their 21 million metric tons consumption annually. Canada and Black Sea countries are the other major pulses producing and exporting countries. Canada is the biggest pulses exporter with more than 5 million tons of pulses export annually. Black sea countries Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan are the new rising origins for the pulses. The pulses demand and production are obviously transforming since the start of the plant-protein boom. The main pulses-producing countries are becoming the hub for plant protein production and attracting big investments. Given all these changes, will we be able to produce enough food for almost 10 billion people by 2050?
The history of food which started thousands of years ago is on the verge of a big evolution now. All things considered, the whole world must sit at the same table as in the case of climate change and think of food sustainability for future generations. We were so lucky that our world was young enough to provide us with abundance of foods for thousands of years and we should leave a similar world to the next generations.
About the author
Cem Bogusoglu is currently the director of Swiss Aegean Trading GmbH which is a Switzerland-based Trading Company. Since his childhood, Cem has been in love with all legumes, especially the chickpeas grown and consumed as green snack in his hometown. This love of legumes made him to choose progressing in the pulses industry unconsciously. With his almost 20 years in the pulses industry, Cem has served in several different management positions before setting up his own company Swiss Aegean Trading, including Global Head of Pulses Trading, agricultural project management, pulses processing factory management and head of trading. After he was graduated from Gaziantep University Food Engineering Department in 2003 where he was playing guitar and singing for his tuition, his experience in the international pulses industry has evolved by becoming a member of GAFTA Pulses Committee in 2015 and joining the GPC Executive Committee in 2018 which he has been serving since then. To reinforce his management skills and knowledge he has also completed an MBA Essentials course at LSE in 2020.