UK Research & Innovation’s (UKRI) Transforming Food Production challenge and Growing Kent & Medway publish roadmap for the future of the alternative protein sector in the UK.

From lab-cultured meats, to plant-based proteins like pulses, and even insects, there is an emerging opportunity in the meat and dairy alternative sector for the UK food industry. By 2027, the sector is estimated to be worth $27bn globally.

To capitalise on this rising demand, the report highlights it is critical that we encourage industry collaboration and promote investment in the development and scale-up of alternative protein production.

In partnership with the UKRI Transforming Food Production Team, Growing Kent & Medway have published a new report that highlights both the rising demand for alternative protein sources, as well as identifying the challenges facing the sector. The report includes a detailed roadmap for the future of alternative proteins in the UK.

Report highlights

Plant-based

The plant-based food sector in the UK is largely dominated by imported food ingredients, such as soya. To ensure a more sustainable domestic supply of plant-based protein a number of challenges need to be overcome, including addressing the lack of diverse protein sources through research and regulation and investing in the equipment and infrastructure, from production to processing, required for these ‘new’ crops.

From a consumer perspective there is a need for the plant-based protein industry, together with wider stakeholders, to address misinformation around ultra-processing and also promote the sustainability and health aspects of these products whilst ensuring affordability for those who are most in need of healthier diets through innovation and improved efficiency.

Fermentation

The UK is a world leader in mycoprotein fermentation, however the report calls attention to how the demand for products currently exceeds supply capacity.

Cultured lab-grown meats also face varied consumer perceptions – highlighting the need to educate individuals on the nutritional benefits and the naturalistic qualities of the products.

With the UK leaving the EU, the alternative protein sector now has an opportunity to diverge from the existing framework, simplifying regulatory processes for novel foods, which include fermentation products. This could enable a more agile system that will benefit those within food production, alongside educating the wider public on their health benefits.

Novel systems

For novel forms of protein, such as insects and new aquaculture (i.e., seaweed), the need to overcome public perception and regulatory constraints is particularly key.

Report recommendations

The report highlighted seven recommendations relevant for the three alternative protein sub-sectors; plant-based, novel and fermentation.

Produce an action plan to coordinate the integration of research into production, processing, and product development:

  • Provide sustainable sources of funding for research and innovation
  • Strengthen capability in the UK to deliver technological solutions
  • Aid collaboration between industry and academia
  • Develop ways to speed up innovation including access to finance
  • Provide coordination activity to deliver a central resource accessible to all UK stakeholders
  • Distribute pump-priming funds for research and development.

Dr Nicola Harrison, Programme Director for Growing Kent & Medway, said: “With world-leading research facilities and technical specialists, the UK has the capability to drive innovation, both at pace and at scale, to capitalise on the rapid growth trajectory of the alternative protein sector.

“Optimising the UK’s potential will require a coordinated, interdisciplinary approach which fosters collaboration between industry and academia. Access to a diverse range of funding and finance options will also play a critical role in exploring disruptive ideas and supporting collaborative research and development.”

Creating an Alternative Protein Network

At Growing Kent & Medway, we have created a network of research specialists to help ensure the UK continues to be at the forefront of innovation in this market.

Our network is bringing new investment and skills to the region, making Kent and Medway the UK focus for innovation in plant- and fungal-based alternative proteins.

There are three expert research institutes within the network, with capabilities in crop science, fermentation and food innovation. We have also invested in new facilities, increasing our research capabilities in Kent for the UK sector.

If you’re a food and drink business, we invite you to join our Alternative Protein Network and work with leading research experts to help you bring new products to market.

Discover our alternative protein network

The roadmap was published following a workshop held in February 2022, which was designed to identify the opportunities and challenges in establishing a competitive UK industry over the short, medium and long term. Participants included representatives from industry, academia, regulatory bodies and funders.

Read the report here