As new opportunities and consumer preferences continue to drive growth in the food arena, AURI understands the importance of continually taking the pulse of the industry for new insights. It accomplishes this with the help of a Food Industry Thought Leaders (FITL) team, comprised of industry experts who are dedicated to exploring market opportunities and challenges the food industry faces.

Created in 2015, the group and its members have the opportunity to influence what public domain research is prioritized by AURI, identify solutions and opportunities for their business or industry and give access to a diverse cross-section of industry experts and networks. Nan Larson, AURI’s director of innovative networks, says, “Information gleaned from interaction is also utilized to assist AURI clients and help Minnesota’s Research & Promotion Councils in identifying opportunities to grow and to utilize more of Minnesota’s commodities. It is an invaluable tool in bringing in subject expertise to AURI programming.”

Food Industry Thought Leaders members include AURI staff, global food manufacturers, researchers, grocery providers, small food companies and entrepreneurs, as well as meat and dairy providers. Also, the group invites special guests that represent whichever industry is the focus of a particular meeting. This enhances the discussion, widens the knowledge base and increases networking opportunities. Throughout the year, the thought leaders are also engaged in various ways, including helping shape and review public domain initiatives.

The FITL team met most recently in February with an agenda focused on examining trends, opportunities and innovations in both alternative and traditional proteins. The meeting was a collaboration with the Canadian Consulate’s Protein Highway Initiative, which created international networking opportunities for everyone in attendance.

One of the meeting’s guest speakers, Joice Pranata of Lux Research, started the day with her organization’s recent research entitled Shift to Alternative Proteins: Novel Formulations Address Hurdles to Adoption. The increased demand for protein is opening doors for multiple sources, including alternative proteins, which Lux defines as plants, algae, agricultural and food waste, insects, synthetic biology, and
in-vitro meat.

Development of these alternative proteins are due to the convergence of several drivers, including consumer preference, environmental concerns, and, ultimately, protein supply concerns. Experts predict that future protein demands will shift, as consumers welcome more alternative sources of protein.

Lux identifies oat, soybean, pea and lupin beans as some of the most promising plant protein sources. Currently, the growth of meat and seafood consumption pales in comparison to global soy consumption within the same time period. However, a single alternative protein source is not necessarily the solution. Lux’s Research Resource Information for System Knowledge (RISK) Platform analyzes the supply chain to identify resource utilization hotspots.

While the RISK Platform indicates alternative proteins utilize fewer resources, other adoption hurdles exist, including nutritional, commercialization and formulation issues. Examples of formulation challenges include off-flavors, poor functionality, limited stability and anti-nutrients but technological innovations in the alternative protein space have the potential to address these challenges. Processing approaches can modify and enhance the flavor and functionalities of protein and various technologies are developing across the board. Production of protein involves growing, farming or synthesizing the protein sources. Many opportunities exist for players in different industries to address unmet needs in the alternative protein space.

Dr. Austin Lowder, representing DuPont Nutrition and Health, spoke regarding DuPont’s protein solutions. His department takes renewable raw materials to create food ingredients that food manufacturers use to create safe, nutritious and healthy products. DuPont focuses on soy proteins, including spray dried powders and textured proteins. They label these ingredients as structured vegetable protein, with one having a key ingredient of soy protein isolate and the other soy flour. DuPont provided samples of their trademarked ingredients incorporated into Vegetable “Beef” Stew and “Beef” Bulgogi. Along with soy, DuPont is also doing some research in the pea protein area. Some of the advantages of pea protein include favorable public perception and no allergen statement required. Opportunities for differentiation and optimization exist in scalability, oil content, understanding of allergenicity and functionality. The Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS) is typically less than 0.80 (compared to soy protein at approximately 1.0), however more research is needed around processing and application.

Christina Connelly with the Canadian Consulate’s Protein Highway Initiative, presented on Enabling Innovative Agricultural Technology Solutions from Plant Proteins in the U.S. and Canada. The Protein Highway is a network for plant-based protein innovation. The vision is that by 2025, the Protein Highway region of the U.S.-Great Plains and Canadian Prairies will lead the world in the production and processing of highly-nutritious plant proteins for humans and animals, thereby promoting regional economic success and a healthier North American and global population. The pre-competitive initiative will unite the industries, universities, and governments in Canada and the United States to create the world’s foremost value chain for healthy food protein production from plants. Bilateral cooperation will drive economic success through increased regional innovation and investment in plant protein developments and products. Regional plant protein production and processing will demonstrate the highest level of sustainability and lowest level of greenhouse gas emissions per pound of consumable plant protein produced globally.

Lee Anne Murphy of the Manitoba Agri-Health Research Network (MAHRN) said their mission is to support research, development and commercialization of Manitoba-grown-and-processed plant and animal bioactives as functional foods, food ingredients and natural health products. The MAHRN does this through project coordination, partnership development, integrated communications, global outreach and commercial test market services. They have a field-fork-function process that is followed by building on their rich and diverse base of agricultural raw materials, leveraging their existing processing capacity to appropriately transform these raw materials into human food and animal feed, and characterizing dietary components along the value-chain from the field, as processed, as
fed and as metabolized to link bioactives with clinical endpoints.

Jessie Hunter of the USA Dry Pea and Lentil Council of the American Pulse Association presented on Dry Peas, Beans, Lentils and Chickpeas: The Future of Food. She started with describing what a pulse is (one of the most versatile foods on the planet and are comprised of dry peas, lentils, chickpeas and beans). Pulses are good sources of protein, an excellent source of fiber, are high in anti-oxidants, iron rich, a good source of potassium and an excellent source of folate. Also, they are gluten, sodium, and cholesterol-free. These crops are also very sustainable, serving as natural fertilizers, which are drought-resistant, frost-hardy and have a low carbon footprint. Pulses are a water-efficient source of protein, and thought to be the sweet-spot in consumer trends.

In addition, representatives from traditional proteins including beef, turkey, eggs, dairy and pork, served on a panel to discuss innovations in their areas. The panel presentations tied in well with each other and with the other topics presented and discussed during the day. All agreed that there is room for proteins from a wide variety of sources, both alternative and traditional. Demand will continue to increase due to both consumer preferences and population growth.

“The overall demand for protein is growing rapidly, as shoppers recognize protein’s value to the human body,” said Karin Schaefer, executive director of the Minnesota Beef Council. “There are great opportunities for traditional proteins to continue to gain market share, while also exploring new alternative proteins.”

As evidenced by the quality of the presenters, the wealth of information provided and the key discussion and interaction of AURI’s expert Industry Thought Leaders, a day like this provides countless opportunities to help advance value-added agriculture in Minnesota through the work that AURI does as well as its partners.

Industry thought leader groups are a key piece of AURI’s Innovation Network Program. The purpose of the Innovation Network Program is to actively engage thought leaders, business and industry, commodity groups, stakeholders and academia to accomplish AURI’s value-added mission. The outcome sought is improved competitiveness of businesses and entrepreneurs through ongoing, purposeful connection of resources and partners along the value chain and increased knowledge of opportunities, technologies and trends. For more information, please contact Nan Larson at 507-537-6020.