High protein and high fibre content, and the ability to use the whole grain—just some of the feedback from plant-based meat ingredient providers and manufacturers to Agriculture Victoria about the health and nutritional features the alternative protein industry would like to see incorporated into future pulse breeding programs.
The feedback was from part one of a roundtable on October 5 facilitated by Food Frontier which brought together 31 industry representatives from government departments and 22 companies.
The industry also provided feedback about other workshop topics such as how Agriculture Victoria’s new alternative proteins glasshouse and incubation hub could be best used, how to increase connectivity between Australian growers and plant-based manufacturers, and what needs should be addressed to help promote investment in the sector. Dr Garry Rosewarne, Research Director for Plant Production Sciences at Agriculture Victoria, spoke about the crop research and innovation work at the Grains Innovation Park, which is supporting the growth of Victoria’s plant-based sector.
Historically many grains and legumes have been bought and sold based on appearances, particularly pulses. This means breeding for functionality and health traits have been largely overlooked; however, as more food manufacturers choose to use plants for added protein (plant-based meats rely on base ingredients such as grains and legumes) crop breeders recognise the need to develop varieties that meet demand.
The wheat industry recognised early on the possibilities of crop optimisation, with 20 years of effort by one collective soon to result in new high fibre wheat products hitting Australian supermarket shelves early next year. Though the plant-based meat sector is facing many immediate challenges, it too must also look to the long-term opportunities that breeding programs can deliver. It can take a long time for new varieties to be commercially available. From the moment they are developed, trialled on farms, and made available in large quantities, the commercial readiness of these varieties can take years, making discussions like this that bring together plant breeders and end-users critically important.
Increasing supply-chain connectivity and partnerships will build avenues for domestic value-addition for Australian growers, as well as for new product development using optimised crop ingredients that meet consumers’ nutritional, taste and texture demands.
As manufacturers in the room pointed out however, key to all this is addressing Australia’s critical shortage of onshore processing capacity as a priority so Australian crops can be processed and sourced locally as an ingredient. If not, Australia will remain reliant on imports.