THREE proposed SA-based manufacturing hubs will provide greater opportunities within the plant-based protein industry for local growers, according to Australian Plant Proteins co-founder Brendan McKeegan.
APP is the lead partner in a consortium, which also includes Thomas Foods International and the Australian Milling Group (or AGT Foods), that plans to construct major plant protein extraction facilities and meat alternative manufacturing operations in SA.
The locations of the plant protein hubs have yet to be announced, but two factories are planned for regional SA and one "north of Adelaide".
A guest speaker at a Pre-2035 Oceania Summit workshop in the Adelaide Hills last week, Mr McKeegan said about 45 per cent of the Australian pulse market was grown in SA and South West Vic.
"So it made sense to build a large scale facility in this region," he said.
Mr McKeegan said APP, which was established in 2016, had spent the first few years developing a pilot plant protein research facility in Melbourne.
In 2020, APP built its first full scale facility at Horsham, Vic, that extracted plant protein isolates from pulses - the only company doing this in the southern hemisphere.
Mr McKeegan said they were then approached by the SA Department of Trade and Investment, who had a "vision of creating a plant protein processing hub in SA, given the state's access to raw materials".
"They put together the consortium and now APP is bringing its technology to SA to complement technology from our consortium partners - it's an exciting opportunity," he said.
Each of the partners are also committing capital to the project, along with the federal and SA government, totaling $378 million.
These hubs will give pulse producers the opportunity to value-add, instead of being at the whim of commodity cycles.- BRENDAN McKEEGAN
Mr McKeegan said each partner would address a specific demand in the market, while also providing dedicated R&D facilities, plus tapping into experience and knowledge already present in SA, from facilities such as SARDI, the Waite, and Adelaide University.
"APP have developed a technology that's quite efficient and is a lot less capital intensive than what other people are doing throughout the world," he said.
"The AGT team are focused on dry fractionation, while TFI is focused on looking at alternate meat product opportunities.
"These hubs will give pulse producers the opportunity to value-add, instead of being at the whim of commodity cycles. It will react to the demand from the consumer, with the consortium creating contracts with customers at a fixed price, giving farmers more certainty about their crops."
Mr McKeegan said of the 2.5 million tonnes of pulses grown in Australia annually, the majority, apart from some flour production and local consumption, was exported.
"We want to provide a new, value-added route to market for farmers," he said.
"We want to source and develop the pulse market in Australia using local raw materials and capture a global market opportunity.
"There is a rise in consumption of plant proteins and Australia is well positioned to establish itself as a global player in this market.
"If we don't take this opportunity and build to scale, the Canadians will continue to be ahead of us, while the United States, Europe and South America are also building,
"It is about capturing this moment in time and that's why this consortium has been put together to do."
Once APP's factory is complete - tipped to be within the next 2.5 years - it is expected to have a 25,000-tonne production capacity of high value plant protein extract.
"There is a significant amount of market segments, both here locally and globally, where our protein goes into as a food ingredient," Mr McKeegan said.
"That's the exciting thing for us - we can create a pathway to market into a whole range of products, particularly as our research continues to give us more understanding about the capabilities of the proteins we are producing.
"We've had soy, we've had the emergence of peas, now were starting to move into much more sophisticated understanding of what the inherent protein qualities and characteristics are that fit into some of these food products."
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Potential manufacturing opportunities highlighted were pulse-based (textured vegetable proteins), dairy protein replacements, egg white substitution, additive replacement, fermentation and clean label baking. Potential product opportunities included plant-based meats, baked goods, plant-based dairy, vegan condiments and sauces, protein powders and bars and meal replacements.
Mr McKeegan said for APP, there was a 'clean label' opportunity, from its "less chemically-treated extraction process".
"We don't use enzymes or solvents, we use a very simplified process," he said.
"We keep the structure of the protein in tact all the way through our process.
"The protein isloate we're putting into the food ingredient recipe has the inherent qualities and characteristics of the protein in the raw material, which is really important."
Mr McKeegan said while soyabeans would continue to dominate the plant protein landscape globally, particularly in Asia, it was a "changing environment".
"We are seeing a real increase in other proteins hitting the market, particularly as the characteristics of these proteins in manufacturing become more understood," he said.
"That is why we are choosing to invest in this space."
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