Future of Food

Madaline Dunn


At a glance


Plant-based eating is no longer just a niche trend. Globally, the number of those deciding to ditch animal products, even part-time, is growing. Signups for Veganuary hit record highs in 2022, and by 2025 the vegan food market is expected to reach $22 billion. Likewise, research suggests that by 2030, plant-based protein will make up 7.7% of the global protein market. Even Australia, known for its love of meat, has seen a significant transformation in recent years, with meat consumption at its lowest in 25 years. Demand for plant-based protein is soaring, and between 2019-2020 alone, Australia’s plant-based meat sector doubled its jobs, manufacturing revenue, and the number of plant-based products on supermarket shelves. Now, around 10% of Australians have adopted a plant-based diet.

One company leading the pulse protein revolution in Australia is Australian Plant Proteins (APP). APP operates Australia's only commercial-scale plant protein extraction facility, where it processes, packages, and distributes plant-based protein isolate powder. Having identified plant protein as an opportunity back in 2016, the company has been growing ever since and recently secured a big investment from global agri-food company Bunge to help it double its plant protein isolate production. Now, the Australian company is to take the reins of a new project that will establish one of the world's largest pulse protein manufacturing facilities, transforming the regions' plant-protein manufacturing capabilities.

The Australian government has awarded a $113 million funding package to the initiative as part of the Manufacturing Modernisation Initiative Collaboration Stream. This has been bolstered by an additional $65m from the South Australian government, which will help to more than quadruple the current manufacturing capacity in the state. With APP at the helm, the project is joined by partners AGT Foods Australia, a pulse and ingredient supplier and Thomas Foods International (TFI), one of Australia's largest meat producers.

Meeting plant-based protein demand

The project will develop a $378 million multi-purpose plant-based hub that will include three new plant protein manufacturing facilities. When operational, the hub will be capable of producing 25,000 tonnes of plant protein extract a year. APP is set to build and operate one of the facilities, which will use its proprietary technology to extract high-protein content isolates from pulses, including fava beans and lentils. This facility will be based on APP's plant protein extraction facility in Horsham, Victoria. Moreover, besides utilizing the power of pulses, an inherently resource-efficient protein source, the extraction process used in APP's facility is also highly sustainable, low waste, and makes use of its by-products in stock feed and compost. 

Commenting on how the project builds on the success of APP's Horsham facility, co-founder and director Brendan McKeegan, said: "Since commencing production in Victoria, we've seen phenomenal growth in demand from domestic and international manufacturers who recognise the high quality and diverse application options of our Australian product." 

He added: "It is great to see the Federal and South Australian Governments recognising the outstanding potential for Australia to establish a major plant protein industry and take a leading role on the world stage with demand for protein alternatives predicted to continue soaring."

Meat giants go veggie

AGT and TFI will be responsible for building and operating the additional plant-based extraction and meat alternative manufacturing facilities and, although an unlikely partner at first glance, TFI is not the first meat manufacturer to enter the plant-based sector. Increasingly, meat giants are riding the vegan wave and creating their own plant-based protein portfolios. According to the National Provisioner’s ‘Top 100 list’, 80% of the world's top meat producers are now making plant-based food. In 2020, for example, JBS, the world's largest meat company, announced the launch of its plant-based range, as did Cargill and Tyson. 

Speaking to the GPC about TFl's decision to step into the plant-based food arena, Simon Tamke, TFI’s general manager, commercial, said: "Thomas Foods International (TFI) has been evaluating opportunities in plant based protein products for a number of years and we feel the time is right and the consortium presents the right approach for us."

Tamke added that the company sees plant-based protein as a "natural complement" to its traditional red meat product offering: "It allows us to reach new markets and provide greater choice to customers across the globe. We are excited to be working with our consortium partners, Australian Plant Proteins and AGT Foods. We've received overwhelmingly positive feedback from farmers and customers since the announcement was made, which is a real vote of confidence for the future of the project," he said.

Pulses to feed a growing population

For years, in the fight against climate change, experts have sounded the call for a change in global diets and in its most recent report the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) highlighted that plant-based diets and sustainable farming are key to reducing emissions and mitigating the effects of climate change. Likewise, studies show that a global shift towards more plant-based diets, in conjunction with improved farming practices, and a decrease in food waste, is what's required to feed 10 billion people by 2050. 

Currently, half of all the world's habitable land is used for agriculture, and 77% of global farming land is dedicated to livestock. A global increase in the number of people consuming plant-based diets will help turn the tide and projects like this are a step in the right direction. 

Murad Al-Katib, president and CEO of AGT and project partner, said that he believes global demand for plant-based foods and ingredients will only "continue to grow." In a statement to the GPC, Al-Katib commented: "The growth of incomes in Asia will fuel this demand and the sustainability of plant based foods is desirable for the environmentally-conscious consumer. Scarcity of land and water make plant-based a key part of meeting the needs of a population growing to 10 billion people by 2050." 

He continued: "South Australia will become the key Southern Hemisphere production point for key proteins especially faba, chickpeas, lupins and mung beans. We are excited to take our long history in the state and drive this exciting new initiative."

Fuelling the local economy 

While South Australia already produces over a quarter of all the pulses in the continent, the project will help to facilitate Australia’s transition from its position as predominately a commodity supplier of pulses to a leading exporter of value-added products.

Aside from driving environmental change and enhancing the value of Australian pulse crops, the project will also bring other economic benefits to the area, and is expected to create 8,500 jobs in the state, and boost the region's economy by $500m a year. 

Speaking about how this project will center South Australia at the heart of the country’s plant-based revolution, Simon Birmingham, Minister for Finance and Senator for South Australia, said: “This investment by Government along with the private sector will put South Australia ahead of the pack in the manufacturing of products for the high-growth domestic and booming global plant-based foods market.”