Building a resilient Australian plant-based meat industry
Updated: Oct 21, 2020
With the plant-based meats industry set to expand over coming years, it’s time to ensure that Australia is well-placed to capitalise on the opportunity this expansion represents.
For more than 200 years, our country has played a key role in feeding the world. We have
always been a net exporter of agricultural products. But in the growth area of plant-based
meats, that’s not the case.
Most of the plant-based meats offerings on the supermarket shelves are grown, processed and manufactured overseas, and imported into Australia. Our own company started as a
collaboration with the CSIRO, and today we use more than 70 percent Australian-grown inputs in our products. We’d like to see that rise to 100 percent by 2025. ProForm is working with companies who are developing Australian plant protein concentrates, like EAT Group, to make this a reality. First, we need to build the infrastructure here to capture value for Australian farmers, processors and manufacturers.
The key to high-quality plant-based meat is the ability to extract, process and restructure plant proteins to develop the correct texture, flavour and mouthfeel. To do this you need protein concentrate. At the moment we do not have the processing facilities to produce concentrate at scale in Australia, and for this vital ingredient even local companies have no option but to rely on imported inputs.
The main sources for protein concentrate currently are the USA, Europe and China. Our
preferred option is US, non GMO-soy. We pay a premium to access non-GMO products from
the USA suitable for the Australian market, in addition to factoring in the cost of freight across the world.
We do not have the processing facilities to produce concentrate at scale in Australia, and for this vital ingredient even local companies have no option but to rely on imported inputs.
This situation is less than ideal. The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the importance of
resilience in our supply chains across all sectors, and relying on imported ingredients makes our plant-based meats industry more susceptible to disruptions in the supply chain.
Just as importantly, it means that Australian farmers and food processors are missing out on the value that is created by the growth in the plant-based meats industry. We are missing out on jobs, on economic activity, and on local investment and profits.
Australian farmers growing suitable sources of protein today primarily sell them for stockfeed
rather than the far more lucrative plant-based meats market. Meanwhile importers are spending nearly $50m a year on protein concentrate from offshore.
With the market for plant-based meats poised for rapid growth, now is the time to invest in
production infrastructure for vegetable protein extracts in Australia. This is both desirable and possible. The Pulse Protein Cooperative Research Centre and research institutions nationally are laying the foundations of a local protein concentrate industry, we are contributing resources to this initiative.
If we build on this work, we can provide plant-based meat companies like ours with a local
supply of a crucial ingredient. It will also lead to higher incomes for Australian farmers of soy
and other sources of plant protein. Selling premium products into a value-added supply chain for plant-based meats will mean that they can get higher farm gate prices, while plant-based meat producers who are currently paying the price of trans-hemispheric freight can switch to a local and competitive supplier.
It’s time to build our own secure, resilient and locally-produced plant-based meats value chain.
The benefits of this will flow through the Australian economy. It doesn’t end with better prices for farmers and more secure supply chains for plant-based meat producers. It will also result in local job creation as profits from plant-based meats recirculate in Australia rather than being repatriated to supplier markets.
With global food conglomerates already marketing imported products to Australians, it’s time to build our own secure, resilient and locally-produced plant-based meats value chain. We have the capability to grow the inputs and the research that underpins world-class products. Adding the missing pieces of the supply chain will ensure that we can link these into a value chain that creates jobs for many years to come, and continues our proud history of feeding the world.
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