The food supply of the future is today facing challenges we have never seen before. We have a growing world population that is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050. At the same time, we have an ongoing pandemic, Covid-19, ongoing climate change, and increasing global political instability. All of these factors greatly affect the possibilities for a sustainable and circular food supply.
In this context, protein-rich foods have come to play a central role. Traditionally, in Skåne, Sweden, as well as internationally, the primary protein source for food has been animal-based, although peas, lentils and beans have also played a large role. Consumer demand for plant-based protein foods has increased strongly in recent years and that becomes clear if you go into a grocery store and compare the product range today with what was available 10 or 30 years ago. This demand reflects the conscious consumer's choice of healthy and climate-smart food options with an increasing vegan, vegetarian, flexitarian trend or just a desire to contribute by eating climate- and socio-economically friendly options.
The range of plant-based protein-rich foods in our grocery stores has thus increased enormously in recent years and this seems to be a trend that continues. The vegetable products that are available in stores today as well as the protein source for them are usually produced outside Sweden, which entails long transports. In addition, the majority of plant-based protein-rich foods are based on soy protein. Extraction of plant protein from green biomass (grass, plant residues from agriculture) in a protein factory can also contribute to making available a protein resource that is otherwise not used.
A similar complex of problems exists when it comes to animal feed, even there the protein source is usually soy produced elsewhere and imported. Animal feed with a locally produced and sustainable protein source would contribute to a reduced climate impact also from animal products.
In dialog with the food industry and animal producers, three main reasons for the above problem areas are often highlighted; 1. Price picture - the soy protein is cheap to produce and produce, 2. Taste and functionality - Many protein alternatives have off-flavors that are not desired by the consumer, protein isolates/concentrates can contain anti-nutritional factors and the animals may not grow and develop as well as on soy, 3. There is a lack of fractionation and extraction facilities to produce vegetable protein isolates/concentrates both on a pilot scale and on a full scale.
This project, Växtprotein Skåne, aims explicitly to establish a network between industry and researchers, where needs in the area of locally produced vegetable food alternatives are identified and constellations are established to seek solutions suitable in a Scanian context. The focus will be on cultivation, plant breeding, processing and the consumer perspective in order to increase local production and use as well as the sustainability of the production system. As problem areas are defined and solutions are sought in collaborations between academia, business and society, as well as funds needed to solve the problems are sought, it is in the nature of the project that the results will live on after the end of the project.