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If you were to go by Western media, consumers would believe that they will all become vegetarian in the next few years. However, in reality, animal protein will play an important role on our menus for decades to come. That said, the protein palette will broaden in the coming years, with the fast growth of plant-based meat substitutes. That was the main conclusion during the 100-year anniversary congress of processing equipment manufacturer Baader.

As of this summer, there were more than 7,7 billion people in the world. By 2050, the global population is expected to grow to around 9,7 billion, according to the UN World Population Prospects 2019. Each year, the number of people on the planet increases by 82 million. That is equivalent to the population of Germany. At the same time, sea levels are rising dramatically. This makes one wonder how we will guarantee food security for our growing population.

Guaranteeing food for a growing population

The Baader Innovation Day was dedicated to answering the question of how we will provide food for a growing nation. At first glance, the growing demand for protein makes for great business for the poultry industry, but in reality, there is more to it. With an ever-decreasing amount of natural resources, meat alone will not be able to keep up with demand. The use of alternative proteins will surge, not replacing animal protein, but adding to it as an extra source.

Great opportunities for the poultry industry

The innovation day got underway with a brilliant keynote speech by Prof David Hughes, widely known as Dr Food.

He listed three problems for the global meat industry:

  • The environment.
  • Health.
  • Animal welfare.

This is one of the main reasons why even the latest UN climate report is demanding a change to human diets by calling on people to eat less meat. That said, the most-consumed source of protein worldwide is not even meat, but fish and seafood (35%). “Which makes perfect sense”, according to Hughes as the feed conversion ratio of fish is even lower than that of poultry.

He continued: “If you look at the future of the beef or pork industries, these sectors won’t be able to compete with fish. Poultry has a better chance, but has to focus on higher-value products.”

The professor sees great opportunities for the industry in value and especially in meat quality. “In China, chicken wings are four times more expensive than chicken breast. In Europe, it is the other way around. Using these discrepancies in price can improve profitability greatly.”

Eating meat is in our DNA

“But apart from allocation, the increase in protein demand will be met by more than animal production alone,” according to Matthias Moser. Matthias Moser is the managing director of Hydrosol from Ahrensburg, a company that improves the market success of food with innovative stabilising and texturising systems. He critically reflected on how accustomed humans have become to eating so much meat.

He subsequently talked about attractive alternatives to eating meat and fish as a bridge towards a plant-based future, also saying that it would remain important to work on the look, texture and taste of the food, because humans are creatures of habit who are both slow and reluctant to break with established behaviour patterns. “Eating meat is in our DNA, it is a habit that made humanity smarter than other species and it will not go away. But the alternatives are ­getting better and better and will replace meat in part.”

Beyond meat

The biggest trend in current diets certainly lies in plant-based alternatives, with ‘beyond meat’ burgers currently receiving the most attention.

Even the large fast-food chains are now serving meatless meals or meat substitutes, according to Dr Food. Insects are one of the most extraordinary alternative sources of protein and there are already major trials underway with mealworms and Hermetia illucens, the black soldier fly. Other trends presented included fake fish, Quorn, slaughter-free foods, Phuture Foods and laboratory-grown meat.

One trend unites all consumers

Since there are a growing number of young people in Europe who are well-off, technically minded, highly interested in future trends and active on social media, fast change is required.

Everything has to be available quickly and immediately. Accordingly, production and distribution must evolve rapidly in order to keep pace with this demand.

Use of fermentation

Wim de Laaf from the Dutch company BioscienZ, which specialises in the development of new business models based on scientific insights, explained that fermentation processes have been used for a very long time in the production of food. We are all familiar with them from beer, wine, cheese and bread.

De Laaf talked about how researchers at the BioscienZ fermentation laboratory who are working on a state-funded programme have developed a new fermentation process that permits the production of a high-quality meat substitute using local raw materials such as potatoes and sugar beet.

The result is a product with outstanding nutritional properties, extremely high protein content and very high production capacity per hectare, allowing the project to be scaled up to produce tons of the product starting from next year. Other innovative ideas for obtaining alternative protein sources – such as a plant-based chicken protein substitute – are needed at a time when the global population is exploding.

Yet for all the criteria used for producing cheaper, better, healthier and more sustainable food, the number one nutritional criterion remains good taste. Prof Hughes added: “Both the meat sector and plant-based products will evolve over the coming decade. New products will come to market and co-exist in the marketplace.” – Fabian Brockotter, Poultry World