August, 2022

Alternative proteins: the superhero against climate change

According to the Boston Consulting Group, titled “Food for Thought: the untapped climate change opportunity in alternative proteins”, growing consumption of alternative proteins will be a key issue in the fight against climate change.  In fact, estimates suggest that alternative proteins will represent 11 percent of all protein consumption by 2035, helping to lessen the impact of animal farming, which currently contributes only about 37 percent of the world’s protein needs.

In fact, the current food system is unsustainable, in projecting the world population to increase to 10 billion in 2060 (UN, 2019), as it is responsible for 26 percent of current global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, animal agriculture is responsible for 15 percent of global emissions.

According to Boston Consulting Group’s estimate, getting to 11 percent of protein consumption covered by protein alternatives could be expected to reduce 0.85 giga tones of CO2 equivalent globally by 2030, equivalent to decarbonizing 95 percent of the aviation industry.

This would represent a positive forecast in several areas; from CO2 reduction, to shifting to healthier diets, to expanding the market for plant-based proteins. In fact, the alternative protein sector is a growing topic of interest, especially in the investment arena, where, venture capital invested has increased at an annual rate of 124 percent, from $1 billion in 2019 to $5 billion in 2021. Also from a technological and innovation perspective, alternative protein products have improved in terms of taste and texture, as well as approaching price equality with conventional products.

Consumers ‘behaviour: taste improvement and price parity

According to the survey mentioned in the report, more than 30 % of consumers believe that helping to generate a positive impact on climate change is a major reason for them to consume alternative proteins. However, the main reason for consuming plant-based protein is the desire to adopt a healthier diet, as confirmed by 75 % of respondents. The price of alternative protein products remains the main purchase barrier, as consumers say they are unwilling to pay for a product as “premium” if it only offers taste parity with animal products.

According to the survey, there are three main factors that may lead to increased demand for alternative protein products, namely improved taste, nutritional value, and the health aspect of these products.

Nonetheless, any significant change in consumers’ diets in favor of reducing animal protein consumption for greater consumption of alternative proteins, such as switching to semi-vegetarian (flexitarian), vegetarian, or vegan diets, could contribute to the cooling of the planet.

In fact, greenhouse gas emissions from livestock farming include up to 50 percent methane, which has a much higher global warming potential than CO2 and a much shorter atmospheric lifetime, meaning that continued methane production can lead to rapid and sustained global warming. Reducing methane levels in the atmosphere would therefore not only prevent more warming, but also lead to a fast cooling effect, according to the report.

Key actor: voice to the farmers

In the fight against climate change, there are multiple players, such as businesses and governments, farmers, as well as citizens, who can contribute to the transition to a low-carbon world. In particular, Farmers can be among the key players in the transition to a more sustainable food system, being able to seize the opportunity generated by the transition to protein production at a time when climate change is becoming a major threat to their livelihoods. According to the paper Amplifying farmers’ voices: Farming perspectives on alternative proteins and a just transition” drawn up by the association Proveg International, farmers’ transition to plant-based protein production could help in reducing total global emissions by at least 13 %, helping to protect their land and their business in the long run through climate change mitigation. However, farmers would be faced with several risks in this transition, such as new dynamics for cultivation, yield uncertainties, and reliance on new machinery.

Therefore, action is needed from all actors that climate change brings into play in order to support farmers in the transition, ensure a level policy and regulatory playing field between conventional and alternative proteins, direct capital toward transformative initiatives, as well as continue to improve products to gain consumer acceptance. In this, entities such as Venture Capital play an essential role, as players capable of pushing innovation in different areas, emphasizing research toward a more sustainable and inclusive future for the food ingredient industry. One example is Grey Silo Venture, Cereal Docks Group’s Corporate Venture Capital, created to invest in the non-animal-based ingredients supply chain, but also to support the development of technologies in AgTech, looking at innovation from the field to the finished product.