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How 2017 transformed the protein system

Sensemaking / How 2017 transformed the protein system

Plus the changes we need to see in 2018 towards the goals of zero hunger and sustainable nutrition.

By Jane Boswell / 16 Nov 2017

In 2017, more of us came to recognise the urgent need to transform our agriculture and food systems, if we're to achieve global food security, improve nutrition and cut hunger to zero. Climate change heightens the challenge, said the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization in November.

Tackling protein consumption and production is a big piece of the picture. Throughout the year, we’ve been tracking the emergence of some innovative solutions that could help deliver the transformation needed in the protein system. Here are four of the key shifts that we observed:

Chefs push plants onto menus

Consumer interest in plant-based diets increased sharply – a trend recognised by a number of high street restaurants that are beginning to adapt. The surge in interest is due in large part to high-profile chefs – key influencers of food trends – recognising the importance of plant-protein and developing new plant-based recipes. 

Future Plates, a UK-based chef-to-chef communications campaign jointly launched by Forum for the Future and the Sustainable Restaurant Association in 2017, is aiming to capitalise on the influence of these chefs. In the US, the EAT Foundation and the Culinary Institute of America have launched Plant-Forward Global 50 to promote the contributions of 50 chefs who are leading change towards healthier, more sustainable, more plant-based eating habits.

Josh Eggleton: meat as the side dish - Future Plates - Medium

Josh attended our April dinner, and we are so happy to see him embrace the Future Plates concept so wholeheartedly! But don't take it from us - listen to Josh about why he's excited about this new way of cooking: "I absolutely love vegetables, and while it never happens, if I was at home for a whole week I'd eat meat maybe once and fish one night too.

Signal spotted by Jacqueline Culleton.


Investors back sustainable feed innovators

Meeting future demands for animal protein consumption within the planet’s resource constraints is no small task, but one that necessitates a fundamental transformation in the way we produce animal feed.

2017 gave grounds for optimism, with the three leading innovators of sustainable animal feed – Calysta, Protix and Ynsect – collectively receiving more than $100m in investment to expand their businesses.  While this is the tip of the iceberg of a huge industry, not only does it signal increasing awareness on the part of investors of the importance of this issue, but also gives the companies a welcome financial boost to help them begin to scale their products.

Meet three world-leading feed innovators

Something is happening in the feed industry. In the last six months, three feed innovator companies, Ynsect, Calysta and Protix, have raised collectively over $100 million to expand their businesses. On 20 June, Forum for the Future brought together repre

Signal spotted by Mieke Van der Laan.


Big business steps up to the challenge

To accelerate change in the sustainable protein agenda, it’s crucial for corporates to be on board – and 2017 has been an encouraging year. From Maple Leaf Foods announcing its aim to be the world’s most sustainable protein company, to Tyson Foods’ CEO pushing the company further towards plant-based protein, this year’s signals point to the beginnings of a step-change in the ambitions of big business and a recognition of the need to expand protein choices for consumers.

Alongside this, 2017 has seen new products coming to market, most notably Impossible Foods’ plant-based burger in the US – a vegan burger that offers the taste and texture of meat.

Whole Foods will offer vegan 'sushi' with the first-ever raw tuna substitute

Update on 27 Oct 2017 from Carol Brighton: Whole Foods will offer vegan 'sushi' with the first-ever raw tuna substitute. We tried it On a 2004 trip to Japan, chef James Corwell visited Tsukiji fish market, the largest fish market in the world.

Signal spotted by Carol Brighton.


Transformation through collaboration

We saw a proliferation of new partnerships aimed at transforming the way we produce and consume protein. Examples include the Good Food Institute – which has released the first open-sourced guide to plant-based meat innovation, and FReSH – a programme under the leadership of EAT and WBCSD that aims to bring business, science, civil society and academia together to catalyse change in global food systems.

Other collaborations are aimed at promoting dietary change – such as The Food Foundation’s Peas Please initiative, which held three UK summits at which influencers from across the supply chain made pledges to promote plant-based diets.  The World Resources Institute’s Better Buying Lab, meanwhile, aims to help consumers to buy more sustainable foods and has identified popularising plant-rich dishes as one of its key areas for innovation.

An open source guide to plant-based meat innovation

The Good Food Institute is releasing an open source guide to plant-based meat innovation in an effort to accelerate the dynamic sector's progress. It includes a map of current innovations, and points out areas that need further R&D. GFI is


What’s next?

Forum for the Future’s second Protein Challenge Summit – held in November – convened a large group of influential businesses and organisations to tackle the questions of what we’ve learned about the protein system during 2017, and how we build on our successes and meet the ongoing challenges. 

Key conclusions included the growing need for key players to make specific commitments to work towards creating a sustainable protein system, the ambition to measure and incentivise the changes we believe we need to see, and the realisation that alignment between different initiatives will be vital to achieve scale.  The system includes a wide range of stakeholders from consumers to big businesses in diverse industries – all with different perspectives – some of which are quicker to grasp the issues and take action than others.  It’s also clear that, while it’s a global challenge, with different markets responsive to different drivers, local solutions will be needed.

There is widespread consensus that change is needed, with attention now focused on identifying the solutions that will accelerate change.  2018 promises to be a busy and exciting year!  If you’re not working on this issue yet, then 2018 is the year you need to get on board!

Get in touch with Simon Billing for opportunities to collaborate.

What might the implications of this be? What related articles have you seen?

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