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Australia possesses “significant capabilities” to lead the Asia Pacific in developing, manufacturing and supplying plant-based meat alternatives, says the latest report from think tank, Food Frontier (FF).

The Meat Re-Imagined: The global emergence of alternative proteins – what does it mean for Australia report says its strong reputation for safe, high quality food could position the country as a regional leader in the fast-emerging industry.

“Alternative proteins are now a reality. They have arrived, and suppliers are struggling to keep up with unrelenting demand. Australia now faces the choice of sitting on the sidelines or being a sectoral leader,” FF CEO, Thomas King, says.

FF’s report says: “There is simply not enough productive land left to meet the increasing global population’s protein needs without a significant shift in production efficiency.”

In 2018, Market.Biz estimated the value of the global plant-based meat alternatives market at US$4.33 billion. And while plant-based meats make up less than one per cent of the global meat market now, Neilson research for the Plants Based Foods Association reported a 24 per cent increase in sales alone in 2017-2018.

Analysis firm CB Insights says, assuming plant-based meats continue to advance in terms of taste, flavour and health benefits, “we could see direct competitors to meat incumbent brands across virtually all frozen and prepared food categories”.

It reflects the reality that plant-based meats are only for vegetarians and vegans no longer holds true. FF’s report says while those cohorts are early adopters, they are not the primary market for many plant-based meat companies. In the US, 86 per cent of people who consume plant based meat alternatives do not consider themselves vegetarian or vegan.

Plant-based meat start-ups like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are “directly targeting the most valuable market for plant-based meats: omnivorous millennials. This approach appears to be working, with Beyond Meat’s sales increasing 70 per cent in 2018. More than half of US non-millennials eat meat alternatives, rising to nearly eight-in-10 millennials. Almost one-third of millennials report that they are trying to a eat a more plant-based diet.”

Australia well positioned
FF’s report says that in Australia, in 2015-16, more than $200 million was invested in agribusiness R&D and more than $700 million in food manufacturing. It has at least 17 research institutions that produce work directly relevant to the research and development of cell-based meats, including in the fields of bioprocess engineering, food science and product development.

It’s also home to at least 32 research centres that produce work directly relevant to R&D for plant-based meat alternatives, including in plant genetics and molecular biology, crop science and production, and food science and product development.

To keep pace with their international counterparts, Australian food and biotech companies should invest in alternative protein development and the infrastructure that facilitates their availability and supply, the report says.

It calls for businesses to leverage Australia’s strong development, manufacturing and export base, including partnering with existing conventional meat exporters on new cooperative ventures. That would enable international alternative protein businesses to establish Australian manufacturing facilities to access Asian markets, as well as giving local start-ups access to existing supply chains, it says.

“Australia has an advanced and sophisticated consumer market with high food standards, a high degree of ethnic diversity and a demonstrated consumer willingness to embrace novel products. It makes it an ideal location for international alternative protein companies seeking to test new products in overseas markets,” the report says.