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Alternative proteins are no threat to red meats yet. They will need to develop whole-of-value-chain thinking, commitment to the development of a new sector over many years, and significant investment

Alternative proteins are no threat to red meats yet. They will need to develop whole-of-value-chain thinking, commitment to the development of a new sector over many years, and significant investment

The title of the report released by Emerging Proteins NZ asks the question “What will it take for the sector to thrive” in New Zealand?

The answer would appear to be to take a whole-of-value-chain approach to a suite of initiatives that will collectively underpin success in emerging proteins, as well as formalising and funding a collaborative national network to coordinate delivery, establishing a single cross-government working group, and developing a coherent national strategy that is aligned with areas of competitive advantage.

Given the sheer scale and size of the work implied by these recommendations, other questions could also be why, how and who. The ‘why’ should be assessed first to establish the value for New Zealand of having its own alternative proteins sector, especially as the report willingly concedes demand for traditional proteins such as meat and dairy will continue to grow.

One stated reason is to provide growers with the opportunity to future-proof their business through better environmental performance and satisfying growing consumer demand for new food products. Apart from a small, admittedly growing, proportion of committed vegans and vegetarians who will never consume animal proteins, there are increasingly the flexitarians who are keen to introduce plant-based alternatives to their diet for reasons of health and wellness, in spite of the fact these may lack all the benefits of animal proteins.

Consumer research indicates a growing number of people seeking minimally processed ‘healthy’, ‘sustainable’ and ‘natural’ food products while at the same time demanding convenience, shelf life and taste.  Great taste is more important than protein content with few brands promoting health benefits, almost certainly to avoid legal challenges. From a nutritional or environmental perspective consumers do not appear to distinguish particularly between the composition of plant and plant-based meat analogue products which are made from highly refined, possibly genetically modified, additives like Impossible Burger. But it is possible consumers of these two types of protein may become more sophisticated in their willingness to differentiate between a healthy product with great taste and a highly processed product which tries to replicate the feel, look and taste of meat or dairy.

There is a lot of uncoordinated work into alternative proteins being carried out in New Zealand universities, research institutes and economic development agencies without the benefit of a national strategy. This report is a timely stocktake of the present situation and will serve as a good starting point for the ‘how’, identifying New Zealand’s best options for an emerging proteins sector with collaboration held to be an essential component of success.

Our agricultural sector is continually told it should pursue the world’s highest value consumers, because we can only supply a small percentage of the world. The same must apply to alternative proteins, especially if their production looks to divert agricultural resources from more profitable uses and markets. The EPNZ report recognises the need to develop a unique provenance story for New Zealand plant-based proteins, similar to our sauvignon blanc and manuka honey, which could draw on Te Ao Maori traditions of indigenous plant, seaweed, fungi and insect species.

Clearly this will be a slow process, as the report acknowledges “it will require whole-of-value-chain thinking, commitment to the development of a new sector over many years, and significant investment – not just in infrastructure but also in gathering consumer and market insights, research and optimisation across the value chain, regulatory frameworks, and marketing and branding.”

The report is quite clear the alternative protein sector should grow alongside, not try to replace traditional protein production for which New Zealand already has a firmly established reputation. The main opportunity for New Zealand producers and food businesses is to diversify its food portfolio as opposed to replacing traditional agriculture or attempting to outgun the meat and dairy analogue producers with their large financial backers.

Wageningen University and Research in Holland, an international leader in research into emerging proteins, supports the presence of livestock in sustainable food production systems, but proposes to redefine the role of animals as ‘protein converters’ rather than simply as sources of protein. This perspective is seen as better reflecting the consumption of protein (grass and crops) to produce protein in the form of meat, milk, and eggs.

The ‘who’ includes a whole raft of people and organisations across the whole food chain from research scientists and farmers to food and ingredient producers and marketers, assisted and facilitated by government agencies and regulators.

The report sees New Zealand’s alternative protein sector as a combination of SMEs and larger scale food businesses, given the international trend has been for smaller start-ups to partner with or be bought by large companies which can scale up quickly. Other potential business models include partnering with overseas food producers, either to produce the finished product closer to the market from raw materials from New Zealand and other countries, or to take advantage of the IP from our food science and innovation capability without using New Zealand raw materials.

Because of our relative lack of size and scale, market segmentation will be essential to identify appropriate niche products and consumer groups for food companies to target. It will also be critically important to ensure farmers and producers are made aware of the types of alternative protein needed and given appropriate incentives to grow them without putting all their eggs into one basket.

New Zealand is a long way from being able to develop its position in the alternative protein sector, but the change in consumer tastes mean we cannot afford to ignore it.


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18 Comments

Oatly milk did an IPO this week on the Nasdq. Will be interesting to see how the Southland Oat Milk business goes. I hear potential growers are offering up to $400/acre (yes, acre) to lease land.

Oatly disclosed 2020 financials that showed sales jumped 106% to $421.4 million, while losses widened to $60.4 million from $35.6 million in 2019.
Oatly was founded in 1994 in Sweden, but it gained worldwide recognition when it entered the U.S. market in 2016. Products include ice cream, yogurt and baking supplies like vanilla custard.

https://www.investors.com/news/oatly-ipo-share-price-oatly-stock-tradin…

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CO, how does $400/acre compare to baling hay for sale?

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You could make more profit from hay/balage (hay alone can be tricky to make off multiple cuts due to weather in Sthland) but does require machinery/contractors and fertiliser. Leasing usually requires no cost to landowner.

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Hmm,
So there isn’t much added value being passed to the farmers...again..

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Well balanced report and article. I think we just need to be aware that it’s not only what happens here but also in offshore competition. I just worry that we don’t comprehend the level of investment and intellect being thrown at this. Not just in product development but branding and marketing. If the consumer can be convinced and price bought down it’s a bit scary. Wool is a classic example a great natural product that ticks all the feel good environmental boxes by far - reality is synthetic fibre has destroyed it through price and marketing. Who would have said 15 20 years ago we would be where we are now trying to stop the ship sinking on that. I’m building a house and will get wool carpet (my farming friends would never talk to me again plus I do want to support them and like wool) BUT when you go to buy it’s hard to get positive reinforcement from retailers for wool. As one bluntly said it’s all about price and most people have a tight budget, it fades and can be eaten by moths!! I wondered if they were getting a rebate from the synthetic producers - probably are!
We need to remember our customer and take on board all the good things about meat and that we look after the environment, animal welfare etc. Not an easy job but I believe doable but we will have to change how we operate and act from the past while also seeing the new opportunities.

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Sad to say but I think justifying meat is as much a lost cause as justifying wool, and by the way we had the same experience with a carpet replacement as yourself.
We need some exciting new products like Gold Kiwifruit or siizzling new meat substitutes.

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Oxford University has developed a process for manufacturing Pork Sausages from Vegetable proteins.
https://www.foodnavigator.com/Article/2021/05/19/UK-start-up-predicts-l…
New foods worked for the Health food companies, we have eaten them for 100 years, we will do the same for alternative protein foods.

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Stayed in the central Auckland Sudima hotel after it opened. Its restaurant is fully vegetarian (unknown at time of booking it). Spoke to the man off the land who tried the plant based breakfast sausages. Said they tasted 'like real meat' sausages. But will stick to homegrown, meat sausages.

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Meat has improved, we can buy fine beef and lamb reliably, but I will try veg based products when they are available.

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Can't see how 'alternative protein' can shake off the well deserved stigma of processed food. Because they are processed food.

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Of course they are but supermarkets sell processed food successfully and veg based meats will join the cornflakes and rice bubbles.
I’m not saying I eat them though

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History repeating? Except we are now starting from a position of using fertiliser

From the annals of history. The eighties and nineties referred to are 1880s & 1890s.
la Soils Suitable for Cereals/Grass Seed/Grassland
This sub-class comprises mainly soils with dry climate. Many of these soils were cropped with cereals in the eighties and nineties, both wheat and oats giving satisfactory yields, until the small natural reserve of fertility was depleted. Pasture quality and crop yields fell until the introduction of liming in the later nineties,
but it was not until after the First World War that phosphatic fertilisers were used widely. It is possible that fertiliser requirements will become more complex, with continued high production, as the available supplies in the soils become depleted. Potash, and in the more distant future magnesium, may become necessary, as
well as a wider range of trace elements. Where these soils have been intensively farmed the fertility levels are now higher than in the corresponding virgin soils. They should be capable of producing
high yields of cereals and grass seeds, while at the same time carrying high levels of fat stock production. On the Winton Experimental Farm cereal crops are grown regularly and at the same
time fat stock production is as high if not higher than on other farms on the same soils.

https://www.grassland.org.nz/publications/nzgrassland_publication_1815…

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That is encouraging, do you think rotational grazing will return under the new buzz word “regenerative”?

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We have been practising rotational grazing for the last 40years as dairy farmers. My father did it when I was a kid as well. It is nothing new, for dairy industry, but does appear to be some 'new thinking' for some sectors and some farmers. ;-)

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dp

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A frustrating often bias opinion piece, brimming with outdated thinking. Hates to even admit of the increasing proportion of vegans, vegetarians and flexitarians.

"benefits of animal proteins" like cholesterol and featuring on the WHOs list of known carcinogens?

Also people are moving in this direction not just due to some health trend; progressive and compassionate minded consumers are worried about the serious ethical questions around exploiting animals, the environment, their emissions, water and land use, the list goes on.

Clean meat (kill free) tech is just around the corner... the sooner the better imo. Be a part of it or get left behind?

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Yes, I've been vego for decades and look forward to the daily mass slaughter being a thing of the past. But what a great earner meat and dairy has been for NZ, and still is. I'm happy with basic plant material - rice, legumes, vegies, fruit, nuts, so have no great interest in fake meats, but if this is what it takes for the bulk of consumers to make the switch then all good.

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So many good foods have come and gone.
One example is soy sausage. It was eaten raw not cooked. It made a lovely sandwich filling with bean sprouts. I am a moderate meat eater but used to love eating that. It just tasted so damn good. Thats all.
Lime flavoured milk biscuits, seameal custard, the list is not short...

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