Alternative Protein: A New Era of Sustainable Nutrition

Tuesday, January 30th, 2024

Alternative Protein: A New Era of Sustainable Nutrition


When it comes to diet, traditional protein sources have always thrived as a key component. Yet, as people continue to enjoy these familiar protein sources, the rise of alternative protein sources has sparked significant attention, driven by various factors such as sustainability, health concerns, and changing dietary preferences. Contributed by Parth Patel, Vice President, Food, Asia-Pacific, ADM.


As the world grapples with the dual challenge of a rapidly growing population and heightened food insecurity, key stakeholders such as governments, businesses and consumers are also increasingly seeking more sustainable and innovative ways of producing and satisfying protein needs.


The Asia-Pacific (APAC) region comprises the world’s largest population share, projected to increase by 14% from 4.3 billion to 4.9 billion by 2030. We have also seen a surge in health and sustainability priorities among consumers, resulting in increased attention to protein sources that better align with their dietary preferences and goals. The search for sustainable ways to meet the challenges of food security and supply chain resilience is more imperative than ever, and growth in the alternative protein sector can play a significant role in addressing the challenge of feeding the growing global population.


In a world where food security, sustainability, and consumer well-being play pivotal roles in shaping the food landscape, a crucial avenue for accelerating the alternative protein market lies in fostering greater consumer acceptance and adoption.


Educate: The World of Alternative Proteins

Alternative protein, otherwise known as alt protein, are protein-rich ingredients derived from non-animal sources such as plants, fungi, and even cultured meat. Complementing existing protein sources such as meat, dairy, or eggs, these protein options co-exist to feed today’s ever-growing population.


Supported by advancements in biotechnology, cellular agriculture, and food science, manufacturers are now more equipped and capable to create alternative proteins that closely replicate the flavour, texture, and nutritional value of animal-derived proteins, making them more appealing to consumers.


Advancements in food science and technology have also broadened the possibilities of alternative proteins. Millennials and Gen Zs grew up surrounded by technology, as such acceptance of applying scientific advancements to food production will become more commonplace, enabling these digital natives to become more open to trying new and innovative foods while also aligning with their nutritional and environmental needs. 


Without placing great importance on the protein source, it makes them more receptive to diverse sources of protein. This younger group of consumers are also open to culinary experimentation, and this curiosity compliments their open-minded view towards new protein sources which can aid consumer understanding, acceptance, and the normalisation of applying scientific advancements to produce everyday food. It’s a way to make what’s new feel familiar and approachable, which is key to getting more people on board with the adoption of alternative protein. 


However, it is important to emphasise that sustainability and innovation alone cannot bring about the necessary transformation. Today’s consumers demand alternative protein options that not only align with their cultural preferences but also provide a deeper insight into the origins of their food, its producers, and what ingredients are included. To foster acceptance, manufacturers must cultivate a relationship built on trust and transparency, satisfying consumers’ desire for a meaningful connection with the food they consume, and the communities involved in its production.


Engage: Bridging the Intersection of Taste and Nutrition

While environmental factors like sustainability are top purchase drivers for plant-based alternatives3, taste and nutrition remain key factors that continue to encourage consumer retention. Globally, 73% of plant consumers – defined as flexitarians, vegetarians, or vegans – believe that taste and nutrition are equally important, reflecting an increase in the significance of these factors over the last three years3


Accompanying the emphasis on taste, an increasing number of consumers are turning their attention to alternative protein products that target specific nutritional needs, such as added protein, in addition to lower fat or the inclusion of fibre. By building multi-functional alternative protein options that incorporate ingredients like fibre, microbiome-supporting solutions, and botanicals, manufacturers can help meet consumer demands for expanded food and nutrition optionality, enhancing its appeal even more. 


In fact, Asia has a substantial history of plant-based products (think Tofu, Tempeh, Mung Beans, Jackfruit), yet the initial wave often revealed a gap in understanding between Eastern and Western preferences. While these options may appear novel to consumers outside of Asia, consumers within APAC markets naturally gravitate towards foods that tap into their cultural heritage, evoking a warm sense of familiarity that strikes a chord deep within. As food developers race to capitalise on this growing trend, a crucial component in the development phase is to provide authentic ingredients that cater to local palates. 


Take Imagine Meats as an example. Bollywood stars Genelia and Riteish Deshmukh from Imagine Meats incorporated protein products that blend food science with local traditions and culinary excellence. To achieve the right mouthfeel, aroma, fibrosity, bite and aftertaste, ADM worked closely with them to create delicious, authentic foods that provide high-value protein ingredients in the form of local meals like biryani, mince, and kebabs. 


During the development stage, ADM provided bespoke, flexitarian systems using soy and pea proteins, as well as other plant-based solutions, instead of supplying single ingredients for blending.  ADM boasts a diverse team of experts dedicated to tailoring solutions and an unrivalled portfolio that includes a vast selection of high-quality protein ingredients from over 30 wholesome sources. 


With our technological expertise and deep pantry of plant-based ingredients, we partner manufacturers to innovate and create diverse plant-based offerings that not only meet consumers’ nutritional needs but also appeal to the Asian palate. 


Evolve: Navigating the Versatility of Alternative Protein Options

In a world where the food landscape is evolving at an unprecedented pace, the broad range of available options now serves as an additional motivation, igniting curiosity among consumers to explore various protein alternative formats.


But here’s the thing: there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Palates are uniquely shaped by one’s culture, heritage, and upbringing. As such, the ever-evolving preferences between the East and West underscore the need for brands to first understand and then create products that satisfy the distinct demands of each region.


In Asia, specific formats of plant-based alternatives have garnered significant interest, primarily owing to their compatibility with Asian culinary traditions. Some popular formats include strips, chunks, dice, and mince. Recognising the importance of localisation, in 2021 ADM opened a Plant-based Innovation Lab in Singapore to create tailor-made solutions for the Asian consumer palate. 


Beyond plant-based protein that many are familiar with, such as soy and grain-based alternatives, expanded protein choices today include cultured meat, the use of hybrid proteins, insect-based protein and even protein created from elements of the air. To deliver the next horizon of innovative, sustainable food production, we partnered with Temasek’s Nurasa to launch ScaleUp Bio in Singapore, which provides precision fermentation expertise and capabilities from lab to pilot scale for existing and aspiring food-tech companies. This is a first-of-its-kind joint venture that demonstrates ADM’s unique leadership position in nutrition innovation to meet consumers’ ever-evolving preferences.


To truly champion consumer adoption, manufacturers need a holistic approach. This entails not only educating consumers about the value and narrative behind alternative protein but also fostering engagement by understanding and catering to the distinct preferences rooted from cultural backgrounds. Accompanying that, manufacturers must evolve by exploring the various protein format options that align with the fast-changing landscape.




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