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Beans - sustainable diets

Opportunities of the protein transition for Flanders

Presentation of study results at the Flanders’ FOOD Inspiration Day on ‘The ProteinShift’

On 11 December 2018 Janjoris van Diepen and Roline Broekema of Blonk Consultants presented the results of our study into the protein transition in Flanders. They were speakers at the Inspiration Day: The ProteinShift event organised by Flanders’ FOOD, the Flemish platform for boosting the innovation power of the agri-food industry. The Inspiration Day focused on alternative sources of protein and how food companies can exploit their potential. Janjoris described the opportunities of the protein transition for Flanders that were revealed by our study. Roline explained the importance of the balance between the nutritional value and the sustainability of meat substitutes. Other speakers came from science, government and industry.

Opportunities for Flanders

For the past few months a team of researchers from Technopolis and Blonk Consultants have been investigating the protein transition and have identified the opportunities it presents for Flanders. The study was carried out for the Flemish government. It had a broad focus and delivered insights into the state of knowledge about alternative proteins and the opportunities and constraints for agriculture in ecological and economic terms. In addition, the study investigated consumer acceptance of new protein sources and the current regulatory framework. The study shows that the protein transition presents numerous opportunities for Flanders. Flemish scientific institutions carry out internationally leading-edge research into the protein transition in both the technical and social domains. For Flemish agriculture there are opportunities for the cultivation of new protein crops, such as soy, peas, lupins and fava beans. An important condition for switching to new protein crops is having a guaranteed market, which is why quinoa has so far proved to be a difficult crop. The Flemish food industry is highly developed, rich in expertise and technologically advanced. Alternative protein value chains are emerging, but as yet they are insufficiently developed. There is also a lack of investment capital for small and medium-sized farmers and businesses.


In the field of consumer acceptance, the demand for and supply of meat substitutes in Europe and North America are visibly rising, but meat substitutes are still on the expensive side in comparison with some meat products, such as chicken and pork. Acceptance varies according to the type of product (e.g. cultured meat, insects and vegetarian hamburgers) and the target group (e.g. elderly versus young people). Consumers are particularly averse to new and unknown products, such as hybrid products (part plant-based, part meat), cultured meat and insects. The study also assessed the ecological potential of new protein ingredients. Most plant-based proteins have a lower environmental impact than animal proteins, although there are big differences between plant-based protein ingredients: the larger the number of process stages, the bigger the environmental impact. The legislation and regulations on food is a complex field and businesses experience constraints in this area too. The new EU Novel Food legislation applies to many new protein ingredients.

Nutritional value and sustainability balance

Future-proof meat substitute are both healthy and sustainable. Most meat substitutes have a lower environmental impact than their meat counterparts, based either on mass (per kg) or protein content (per kg protein). However, these comparisons only give a partial picture because meat substitutes have other nutritional advantages over meat products (such as fibre), but also disadvantages (such as salt content). To make a truly meaningful comparison the full nutritional spectrum should be identified and weighed against product sustainability properties. Such comparisons can be very useful in the development of future-proof products for a healthy and sustainable diet. One method of making this comparison is the Sustainability Nutrition Balance (SNB), which shows the balance between nutritional value of the product and its environmental impact.

A product that contains nutrients which improve a current diet (such as fibre and vitamin D) and that has a low environmental impact will have a better SNB score than a product that contains less healthy nutrients (such as salt and saturated fats) and has a high environmental impact. Roline has calculated the SNB score for two types of meat substitute: a soy-based product with a meat-like structure and a meat substitute made from beans and vegetables. These two meat substitutes were assessed as part of a Dutch weekly diet and the SNB score was calculated. In the study the results were compared with the SNB scores for chicken, pork and beef. The study shows that the SNB score for the meat substitutes is better than for most of the meat products. This means that they have a better balance between sustainability and nutritional value. However, the SNB score for the meat substitutes depends on a number of factors, such as the recipe and the addition of vitamin B12. These results are key factors in the development of future-proof meat substitutes that are both healthy and sustainable.


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If you have any questions about the Sustainability Nutrition Balance (for meat substitutes), send an email to Janjoris van Diepen
or Roline Broekema or call us on +31 (0)182 579970.