On 31 July 2019, Leftfield's land-use specialist, Nick Pyke, presented his views on "Plant Protein - What is New Zealand's Point of Difference?", at the 2019 ProteinTech conference.
This topic has generated a lot of interest and media coverage around the event and subsequently, so Nick agreed to share this summary of his presentation:
New Zealand needs to define if, and where it should be a plant protein producer and of what plants.
New Zealand needs to ensure that plant protein production in New Zealand is consumer driven. As well as being produced for discerning consumers who care we need to ensure plant protein is high quality, of high value to all participants in the value web and can be produced sustainably. Thus what we grow should be driven by what the consumer / customer wants.
Internationally plant proteins as ingredients are generally from key broad-acre commodity crops, such as peas, wheat or corn, and are extracted through large expensive processing plants in countries that are producing commodity crops at significant scale. The value of these commodity crops, the ability to grow these crops at scale, and the ability to create high value protein products from these crops means that growing commodity plant protein is unlikely to be a viable sustainable land use in New Zealand.
There are a range of pulse and grain crops that could be used for protein production. Of these some of the pulses can produce good crop yields in New Zealand and therefore reasonable yields of protein. However, it is also important to consider the amino acid composition and the presence of any anti-nutritional compounds to determine how complete the protein is and therefore the nutritional value provided by the crop. Faba beans could be the most productive protein producer per hectare but there are some challenges with this crop as generally it has been developed as a source of animal protein and consumer demand is currently not great. Other pulse crops, such as lupins, peas, chickpeas and soybeans may have a place to produce specialist protein for specific markets. Some of the ancient grains may also have the potential to be valuable sources of particular proteins.
New Zealand has highly skilled farmers who can grow a wide range of crops suited to our temperate climate, high quality soils and available water. So what is our point of difference?We should not be producing plant protein to make low value meat alternatives that are used in the fast food business to supply products to non-discerning customers who have limited regard for nutrition or quality. We should look at how we can provide high quality plant, animal or plant animal blended protein products to trusted customers who value our sustainable production systems and traceable food ingredients. These products do not need to look or taste like anything we know or eat now but need to be unique and fit into a high value position in the value chain. These innovative products can be developed through high quality science and deliver benefits to New Zealand through disrupted value chains.
The challenge of protein for food is ours to develop – we can be a world leader if we utilise our points of difference to create value for New Zealand.
Nick Pyke - Leftfield Innovation Ltd.