Posts Economy, Food

New proteins equal new products and new jobs. Luke’s six-year ScenoProt research project aims to increase Finland’s protein self-sufficiency and food security.

Finland is on its way towards becoming a future leader in alternative protein production. Our soil and weather conditions are optimal for edible mushrooms, beans and quinoa, and some of our innovators have recently come up with the groundbreaking “pulled oats” and several fava bean products that are both tasty and popular.

Pulses are a good, sustainable source of protein. Photo: Kaisa Kuoppala.

Alternative and less used proteins contain several important nutritional elements such as fibers, vitamins and folates, which a lot of people lack in their diets.

The cultivation and production of these proteins is environmentally sustainable and could even play a prominent part in hindering climate change. On top of these benefits, there’s a growing market and a lot of global demand for sustainable proteins.

When it comes to making money out of plant-based and alternative protein products globally, we’re not talking about thousands or even millions of euros. Plant-based proteins could create a market worth of roughly ten billion euros in 2018.

The market for edible mushrooms, one of the most potential proteins that Finland carries in abundance in its forests, is even larger: it’s been estimated to be up to 22 billion euros. Products made out of plant-based proteins could create jobs and new export products for Finland in the footsteps of pulled oats.

Towards secure self-sufficiency

Luke taps into these opportunities with ScenoProt, a six-year research project running from 2015 to 2021. It aims to help replace traditional animal proteins with sustainable protein sources, such as insects, edible mushrooms, quinoa, buckwheat or hemp, to mention a few.

The project is coordinated by Luke and its main goals are to increase food security and Finland’s self-sufficiency in protein production.

Currently, our degree of self-sufficiency is around 26 percent and could be hitched up. Finland, like many other countries, relies on Brazil and its soy cultivation.

“There should be more options in Finnish cultivation in order to maintain and increase diversity of our fields. This would also help us be less dependent on soy and fertilizers” says Anne Pihlanto, Principal Scientist in the ScenoProt research project.

“Less used Finnish proteins such as hemp and quinoa could be later utilised in further processing. And consumers are interested in them as well.”

Increasing variety in consumer products

As a part of ScenoProt, consumer and market research agency Makery looks into how consumers react to new protein sources and foodstuffs and their market potential both in Finland and abroad. Right now, Finland has a lot of potential protein sources, the most promising ones being edible mushrooms.

Black trumpets are the “caviar” of Finnish forests.

Insects could be used as proteins as well but Pihlanto sees that there are a lot of challenges still to accept them as nutrition from both consumers and legislators. Also, we need more consumer products to get on top of the competition.

“It’s not just about how much protein sources Finland produces locally, but also about consumer products. There are already many new products out there, but we still need to offer a wider selection. Variety could help us fill the gap”, Pihlanto says.

This gap refers to Finland’s position a few steps behind European protein pioneers, such as the Netherlands and Germany. German researchers are rooting for lupines whereas the Dutch create products out of whey proteins.

In order to rise to their level, Finland doesn’t have to invent something completely new. Pihlanto recalls an article she saw recently that dates back to the early 1900’s. It claimed that quinoa grows well in Finland but has a bad taste. The article illustrates the fact that these alternative protein sources are not brand new, just not much used.

A hundred years later, quinoa is widely popular and we’ve learned to fix the taste, which probably wasn’t too bad to begin with, by removing saponins. Saponins are soapy compounds found in beans, and toxic if digested in large portions.

Improving business and health

Finland has the conditions to produce sustainable, high-quality proteins and the ability to create popular consumer products out of them. Now all we need is a little push.

“Our own protein production shouldn’t be the default value, but how our proteins can be further processed. Or how we can further process proteins produced by others”, Pihlanto says.

Finland could produce different sorts of fish feed that could be used for example in Norway, a leading country of aquaculture. Endeavours like that require funding, networks and new business models such as platform economy.

How it will all work out, Pihlanto can’t predict yet. However, she believes the ScenoProt research will play an important role in the end result.

Business potential aside plant-based proteins could improve the society in other ways as well. ScenoProt highlights especially the health benefits of these proteins.

“Increasing vegetarian food and regimens has clear effects on the climate. It reduces the environmental strain of food production and its emissions as well as the carbon footprint. It also has a lot of important health benefits in preventing type two diabetes and cancer”, Pihlanto concludes.

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