What plant proteins can and can’t do to reduce the cost of plant-based meat

In plant-based’s quest to reduce costs, there are two main issues: ingredient costs and processing costs.

Animal feed, despite sharing many of the same proteins as plant-based meat, does not provide the same nutritional benefits. Buying animal-grade protein thus cannot be a solution.

However, using plant proteins to replace other parts of plant-based meat can indeed reduce costs. Some plant proteins can replace the functionality of expensive additives.

The problem with feed-grade proteins for humans

Many plant-based proteins are used in both animal feed and plant-based meat. Soya bean, pea protein and fava beans all crossover between the two categories. However, feed-grade proteins are not suitable for human consumption.

In a recent whitepaper, the food scientist Anthony Warner presented a range of potential solutions to the price parity problem in plant-based meat. While price parity has been achieved in some places, such as the Netherlands​, already, issues still remained elsewhere for a range of reasons, such as subsidies given to the meat industry​. Warner focuses on two issues: processing costs and ingredient costs.

Theoretically, one way to mitigate costs would be thorough cheaper ingredients, namely the use of feed-grade plant proteins. They are, indeed, much cheaper than food-grade. They are also produced in abundance, the ratio between human and animal consumption of these proteins being enormous. For example, for every 1000 tonnes of fava beans consumed by humans, livestock consume 600,000 tonnes.

“Lots of the ingredients used in plant-based ingredients are also consumed as animal feed. This is particularly the case for soya, fava bean, wheat and lupin. The feed volumes of many of these crops is often a lot higher than the amount for direct human consumption,” Warner told FoodNavigator.