Australia is a food powerhouse. We have abundant produce and a fantastic casual dining culture with chefs who are constantly exposing diners to new ideas to try at home. These factors have bred an adventurous and food-literate community, and thriving agricultural, hospitality and food processing industries that have been mainstays of Australia’s economy for decades.
What many people don’t know is that plant-based meats - which today we largely import from overseas - have deep roots in Australia as well.
Fifteen years ago, in 2005, Proform Foods owner Stephen Dunn was leading a major cereal company with a staff of 85 in Frenchs Forest on Sydney’s leafy upper north shore. He had been in the business for more than 20 years - a mechanical engineer by training - and had become one of Australia’s most knowledgeable people on how grains are transformed and processed.
That year he was approached by the CSIRO with an intriguing proposition.
The national industry and research body, famous for inventing WIFI, plastic banknotes and long-wear contact lenses, wanted a joint venture partner. They had conducted some low-scale trials into new ways of reforming protein using a process called High-Moisture Extrusion Cooking (HMEC), but they needed a partner with the capability for food processing to move forward.
What many people don't know is that plant-based meats - which today we largely import from overseas - have deep roots in Australia as well.
At the same time, Kellogg’s wanted to buy Stephen’s cereal company. Stephen took the plunge, selling the cereal outfit to Kellogg’s but retaining his research and development unit. He invested nearly $2 million in the project with the CSIRO.
The focus of their research wasn’t just plants initially - it was protein from all sources. They wanted to know how proteins could be structured and restructured to affect the taste, texture and flavour profile. Through years of painstaking research, Stephen and his team perfected the HMEC process so that any suitable protein could be given the taste, texture and mouthfeel of meat.
But they were still miles ahead of the market. Plant-based meats in the mid- to late-2000s had little more than a cult following, even among vegetarians and vegans. The research was applied in other areas of food processing, helping boost yields and improve processes across a range of areas. They licensed the technology to those who wanted to use it across the agribusiness industry and worked with partners to refine and develop their technology for a further eight years.
Stephen and his team at ProForm are confident that their decades of research can produce plant-based meat that will meet and exceed expectations of taste, texture and experience that Australian consumers expect.
Now the market for plant-based meats is growing significantly. This has been accompanied by a flood of entrants to the market looking to capture this growth with offerings of various quality. Some of these clearly won’t satisfy the high standards of Australian diners.
Now Stephen and his team at Proform are confident that their decades of research can produce a plant-based meat that will meet and exceed the expectations of taste, texture and experience that Australian consumers expect.
They hold patents for their process which separates it from other HMEC-produced plant-based meats, as well as from products using the older TVP technology.
As global powerhouses make a play for market share through leveraging fast-food partnerships, we will soon see an Aussie contender steeped in research excellence with serious food design pedigree emerge.
Watch this space.