Opportunities for Flanders
For the past few months a team of researchers from Technopolis and Blonk Consultants have been investigating the protein transition and have identified the opportunities it presents for Flanders. The study was carried out for the Flemish government. It had a broad focus and delivered insights into the state of knowledge about alternative proteins and the opportunities and constraints for agriculture in ecological and economic terms. In addition, the study investigated consumer acceptance of new protein sources and the current regulatory framework.
The study shows that the protein transition presents numerous opportunities for Flanders. Flemish scientific institutions carry out internationally leading-edge research into the protein transition in both the technical and social domains. For Flemish agriculture there are opportunities for the cultivation of new protein crops, such as soy, peas, lupins and fava beans. An important condition for switching to new protein crops is having a guaranteed market, which is why quinoa has so far proved to be a difficult crop. The Flemish food industry is highly developed, rich in expertise and technologically advanced. Alternative protein value chains are emerging, but as yet they are insufficiently developed. There is also a lack of investment capital for small and medium-sized farmers and businesses.
In the field of consumer acceptance, the demand for and supply of meat substitutes in Europe and North America are visibly rising, but meat substitutes are still on the expensive side in comparison with some meat products, such as chicken and pork. Acceptance varies according to the type of product (e.g. cultured meat, insects and vegetarian hamburgers) and the target group (e.g. elderly versus young people). Consumers are particularly averse to new and unknown products, such as hybrid products (part plant-based, part meat), cultured meat and insects.
The study also assessed the ecological potential of new protein ingredients. Most plant-based proteins have a lower environmental impact than animal proteins, although there are big differences between plant-based protein ingredients: the larger the number of process stages, the bigger the environmental impact. The legislation and regulations on food is a complex field and businesses experience constraints in this area too. The new EU Novel Food legislation applies to many new protein ingredients.