Proform Foods opens plant-based meat factory, as Australia plays catch-up to a $19 billion opportunity

Proform Foods

Proform Foods' MEETballs. Source: supplied.

Aussie plant-based protein business Proform Foods has officially opened an $11 million manufacturing facility, as the meat-free meat trend continues to skyrocket, both in Australia and globally.

The business, co-founded back in 2005 by Olympian swimmer Matthew Dunn and his dad Steven Dunn, will now have the capacity to churn out some 5,000 tonnes of meat-free meat each year, setting it up to meet growing demand for alternative-protein products.

And it’s right on time for a boom in the market.

Speaking to SmartCompany, Intrinity Global founder Allen Zelden says Proform has been operating somewhat under the radar for some time.

It has the technology to manufacture plant-based meat products, and has primarily been providing the ingredients used in commercial products.

The new factory, however, will allow Proform to ramp up production and growth.

“Now they’re ready to make some noise,” Zelden says.

An $18.7 billion opportunity

A report from Grand View Research, published in September this year, valued the global plant-based meat market at US$3.3 billion ($4.48 billion) in 2019. It predicted this would increase to US$4 billion ($5.4 billion) in 2020.

That’s expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 19.4% over the next seven years, reaching a value of US$13.8 billion ($18.7 billion).

This movement is being driven by increasing consumer demand, and rising awareness of animal rights issues.

There’s also increasing demand for vegetarian and vegan foods with better nutritional value, the report suggests. Vegetarians are seeking foods high in fibre, vitamin C and iron, and low in calories and saturated fats.

Plus, a continuing focus on achieving ‘meat-like’ textures and flavours will also likely make products appealing to a ‘flexitarian’ crowd.

This report also noted that 57% of revenue share is currently attributed to the hospitality sector — hotels, restaurants and cafes.

“Many restaurants, fast food chains, and casual dining venues are dedicating a section of their menu solely to ‘meat-free’ options due to the rising popularity of vegan and flexitarian diets, which, in turn, is projected to drive the segment growth,” the report says.

Elsewhere, another report from The Good Food Institute found the plant-based market in the US — including plant-based meats, milk and other dairy products — grew 29% between 2017 and 2019.

The most developed of these markets is dairy-free milk, accounting for 40%. Plant-based milks also now account for 14% of all dollar-sales of retail milk, the report says.

Plant-based meat sales accounted for about 2% of all retail packaged meat, and about 1% of all retail meat.

But, the report suggests the growth this space is seeing now is “reminiscent of the plant-based milk category when it was in its early stages of rapid growth”.

If it continues on this trajectory, and ultimately hits 14% market share, that’s a US$12 billion opportunity in the US alone.

Importantly, both these reports base their insights on data from 2019. Therefore, they don’t include the spike in plant-based meat consumption during 2020, seemingly caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

We haven’t seen any concrete research into this just yet, but, anecdotally, we’re seeing consumers being more health-conscious generally, while lockdown has encouraged people to be a little more adventurous in the kitchen.

Speaking to SmartCompany back in July, founder of Aussie plant-based meat v2food Nick Hazell noted the pandemic has caused a huge lifestyle shift. It’s during times like this that people change their habits and behaviours, he suggested.

Zelden predicts we will “without question” surpass the predictions laid out in these reports.

The pandemic has only made people more mindful of the food choices they’re making, whether that’s around health, animal cruelty or environmental impact. There are also questions about the role of factory farming in spreading animal-borne diseases.

“There’s a rising tide right now of awareness,” he explains.

“I really believe that as the quality of the products continue to improve, we’re going to start seeing more and more people embrace plant-based choices.”

The Australian outlook

There’s an opportunity for Australia here. As a significant exporter of conventional meats, the country has “a great window of opportunity to be highly competitive”, Zelden notes.

Pre-pandemic, he himself was looking into export opportunities here. Of course, that’s been put on hold, for now.

Australia could be a world-leader here, Zelden suggests. But, the sector could be doing more. Compared to the US, for example, we’re lagging.

“We’re currently starting to play catch-up,” he says.

“Long-term, there’s a huge opportunity for us.”

Research from Green Queen, a Hong kong-based sustainability and impact publication, recently found businesses in the alternative protein sector in the APAC region have raised more than US$230 million over the past 12 months. That’s a 350% increase on the previous three years, combined.

“Yes, we’ve seen some ridiculous investment in the US,” Zelden says.

“But in regards to the growth trajectory we’re seeing in the APAC market, we’re really firing up now.”

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