How can businesses be part of the sustainable food revolution?
The food sector has an important role to play in tackling climate change, and holds opportunities for green solutions.
What is the carbon footprint of food?
The food sector is estimated to produce ~17.3 bil metric tons of CO2 per year. Food production and consumption account for over a third (35%) of global man-made greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and half of the world’s habitable land is used for agriculture.
The impact of GHG emissions on the environment are exacerbated by food loss and waste. The economic, environmental and social costs associated with food waste are ~$2.6 trillion, based on the estimates from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations. Therefore, it is crucial to transform the food sector sustainably through measures such as emissions reduction and land restoration.
Which region/country is the most emission-intensive?
Regionally, South and Southeast Asia produce the most GHG emissions (23% of global total) related to food production, as rice is a staple in Asian diets and is the largest emissions contributor among plant-based food. It is the only region where emissions from plant-based food are more than that from animal-based food. On a national level, China is the highest GHG emitter for both plant-based and animal-based food production.
Transitioning to plant-based diets for food sustainability
The transition towards a predominantly plant-based diet and reduction in the consumption of animal-based food can contribute to the reduction of food-related GHG emissions. There is increasing consumer awareness and interest in alternative protein, attributed to growing health and environmental concerns, as well as interest in animal welfare and ethical consumerism. Alternative protein refers to ingredients high in protein content that are typically sourced from plants (e.g. pea protein), insects (e.g. crickets), fungi (e.g. mycoprotein) or through tissue culture to replace conventional animal-based protein.
Market outlook for alternative protein
The market for alternative protein is still nascent with 13 million metric tons consumed globally in 2020 (2% of the animal protein market), currently valued at US$29.4 billion from primary markets in North America, Europe and Asia. It is estimated that alternative protein consumption will expand by approximately seven times to 97 million metric tons by 2035, accounting for 11% of the overall protein market. The alternative protein revenues are anticipated to reach US$290 billion in 2035, distributed throughout the value chain.
Asia Pacific is the largest market for alternative protein (~61% in 2020) and will continue to grow at the fastest rate. This is driven by a large, growing and increasingly wealthy population that is consuming greater volumes of protein. The region is anticipated to account for ~66% of global alternative protein consumption in 2035.
Opportunities for alternative protein
To contribute to a sustainable food system and meet the increasing demand of alternative protein, industry players can participate in the sustainable evolution of food through capturing opportunities across the alternative protein value chain. Opportunities may lie in the following areas:
Pea protein production: While pea protein is expected to lead the alternative protein market in the short to medium term, it faces some challenges that require further research to overcome. The industry saw a limited supply of pea protein in recent years caused by insufficient processing capacity and doubling of pea protein prices. Another challenge faced by pea protein producers is producing a quality product with a minimal taste and colour profile. More efforts in improved processing facilities and technologies may encourage consistency in pea protein supply and capture market share.
Protein innovation: More extensive efforts in protein innovation is necessary to overcome criticisms of plant-based meat not meeting protein demand as much as animal-based meat e.g. developing pea varieties with higher pea content (pea starch comprises 60% of current pea volumes). Technologies include AI and computational breeding that produce seeds of premium characteristics such as higher protein content and nutritional value.
Protein texturization capacity: Texture is an important factor for alternative protein to reach parity with conventional animal-based protein. Proper texturization of some plant-based meat continues to be a bottleneck in industry growth, as consumers are unlikely to transition to plant-based substitutes if their appearance and consistency are not the same as the animal-based products. Improving the texture of plant-based meat through experimentation of texturizing techniques can accelerate the growth in the alternative protein sector because of higher consumer acceptance.
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