Alternative Proteins and Novel Foods

Alternative Proteins and Novel Foods

Future of food - alternative protein, also called alt protein, or novel food protein, is a general phrase that refers to foods, ingredients, or beverages that have protein derived from non-conventional sources. Fera has a long-standing history working with global food retailers, manufactures, and suppliers, providing expertise and knowledge to ensure the safety of food products and the supply chain.

Plant-Based Solutions

Meat has been the main source of protein in developed markets for decades. However, as consumer concerns for environmental and animal welfare rises globally, interest in non-meat proteins, along with the perceived benefits, is becoming increasingly popular. 

Alternative proteins, such as plant-based meat substitutes or insect protein, are considered good substitutes for traditional livestock foods because they provide a substantial amount of protein and can be generated using less natural resources, such as water. Recent concerns for sustainability, food security and the environmental impacts of industrial animal agriculture have spurred a sense of urgency to develop plant-based solutions that appeal to mainstream consumers. This has led to a proliferation of plant-based labels in local supermarkets. 

How it works:
Animal meat is primarily made up of muscle, and contains protein, fat, vitamins, minerals, and water. Although plants don't have muscles, they also contain protein, fat, vitamins and water. It is this biochemical similarity that makes plant-based solutions a nutritious alternative to meat. Novel technologies enable to replicate the look, texture, taste and smell of real meat, providing alternative products for consumers It is this similarity that has allowed consumers to steer towards plant-based products. This shift in interest presents a major opportunity for the food and drink industry to develop their plant-based offerings. 

Fera can help you test the safety and quality of your plant-based products.

Insect Protein Solutions

Insects are another alternative source of protein, traditionally consumed in certain countries but unused more widely. Insects are generally high in protein and can be raised with far less greenhouse gas emissions than raising animals or growing acres of plants. The benefits of insects as human foods/animal feeds are similar to those of plant-based protein. 

To date, more than 2000 insect species have been identified as edible, however the most popular insects for protein alternatives are crickets, grasshoppers, and mealworms. Companies in this space have insect farms that sell the powdered form of the insect as protein which is then added to foods like protein bars, crackers, and even baking mixes to boost the protein content. One of the major challenges for using insects as a food ingredient is obtaining regulatory approval. This is because insects are formally classed as Novel Foods in the UK and Europe and therefore require a thorough safety evaluation prior to placing on the market.

Plant-Based Solutions

Fermentation is a food preservation technique that has been adopted for millennia. The process is used today to produce foods and beverages such as cheese, wine, yoghurt, and milk. 

Over the past century, the role of fermentation has expanded far beyond its historical usage to a much broader range of applications. Fermentation now spans across industrial chemistry, biomaterials, therapeutics and medicine, fuels, and advanced food ingredients. The suite of tools developed through fermentation’s evolution is now poised to revolutionise the food sector by accelerating the rise of alternative proteins and novel foods. 

Types of Fermentation:

  • Traditional fermentation uses live microorganisms to modulate and process plant/or animal-derived ingredients.
  • Biomass fermentation leverages the fast growth and high protein content of many microorganisms to efficiently produce large quantities of protein. 
  • Precision fermentation uses microbial hosts as “cell factories” for producing specific functional ingredients. 

Cultivated Meat/Seafood Solutions

Cultivated meat, also known as cultured meat, cell-based meat, or clean meat is produced by cultivating and growing animal cells into edible meat alternatives. This production method eliminates the need to raise and farm animals for food, but the product is still animal meat as it was grown directly from animal cells. 

Utilising decades of knowledge in cell culture, stem cell biology, tissue engineering, fermentation, and chemical and bioprocess engineering has allowed companies to produce cultivated meats from mammals, fish, and specific animal organs. 

How is cultivated meat made?
Cultured meat is made using tissue-culture technology (the process by which animal cells are regenerated using a single cell as the source). Therefore, although not possessing the same nutrient profile as real meat, this process creates muscle tissue that mimics animal muscles and has the same protein profile. 

As it stands, very few cultivated meats are in the market as companies are still in testing phases. As cultivated meats are classed as Novel Foods in the UK and EU, they must obtain regulatory approval as they require a thorough safety evaluation prior to placing on the market.

Bespoke Non-Targeted Analysis (NTA)

Discover what you might be missing

One of the largest issues facing the alternative protein food industry today is the identification of new and emerging contaminants. Although analytical techniques have improved in selectivity and sensitivity in recent years, the task of identifying components and a sample matrix is still daunting. Traditionally the analytical methods surrounding food safety have been specifically developed for a certain sample type or for a class of compounds. A targeted approach does come with significant drawbacks for the field of novel proteins and foods because the potential contaminants and toxic compounds derived from novel sources and novel techniques and processing methods cannot be predicted. Therefore, an approach that enables detection and identification of unknown or unexpected compounds (non-targeted approach) is essential during new product development (to ensure that the novel materials and processing/extraction techniques are safe) as well as to demonstrate the safety of the final product and compliance with regulatory requirements and Novel Foods authorisation if required.

Non Targeted Analysis Solutions for New and Emerging Alternative Proteins & Novel Foods

Increasingly complex global food supply chains challenge the food industry to continuously monitor the risks of new and emerging contaminants. Non-targeted testing approaches are especially useful for analysis of unspecified or unknown compounds. The profile of compounds of a given product can be compared to reference "fingerprints" to assess food authenticity, safety, and quality issues by exploring and identifying any features that are significantly different to the reference. With the collective experience of Fera’s scientists and using state-of-the-art technology we can deploy advanced data treatment strategies to detect and identify unknown or unexpected compounds within a food sample without the need to pre-select the chemicals of interest. We also apply this type of approach to understand the degradation/transformation of compounds during food processing or over time (stability studies), or to identify differences in the contaminant fingerprints among groups of samples.

Our Services

Research & Development

Novel foods require pre-market authorisation according to the Novel Food regulations. Get in touch with us today to find out more about novel foods applications and batch testing.

New Product Development (NPD)

With our extensive expertise in food safety assurance, Fera can assist you in your new product development (NPD) across a range of categories including compositional and safety analysis and providing advice.

Dossier Support

As a leading advisor to UK Government across food safety policy and regulatory landscapes in the alternative proteins and novel food arena, we are your ideal partner to support you bring your product to market under the Novel Food Regulations. 

Meet our Team of Experts

Dr Adrian Charlton

Principal Scientist - Chemical Safety

Dr Rosario Romero

Science Lead - Novel Foods

Defra, publishes Report on Emerging Protein Sources for Food Authenticity and Labelling

As a leading scientific research organisation, and the authors, we are is pleased to welcome the release of this report commissioned by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) titled "Implications of emerging novel protein sources for food authenticity and labelling". This comprehensive report delves into the critical issues surrounding the emergence of alternative protein sources and their implications for food authenticity and labelling.

With the world's population projected to reach a staggering 9.7 billion by 2050, ensuring access to safe, nutritious food while protecting natural resources poses a formidable challenge. One potential solution to this challenge lies in the exploration of alternative protein sources. Interest in these novel protein sources has been steadily rising, fuelled by perceived benefits related to animal welfare, health, and sustainability. 

To discuss the findings of the report, or to have a chat about your specific requirements, contact Joe Humphreys here.


View our webinar: Keeping Ahead of the Game - Alternative Proteins: Food Safety & the Regulatory Landscape

To accomplish the objectives for climate, global health, food security, and biodiversity, it is imperative to the world it looks to produce meat differently. Looking to alternative proteins for meat production will be just as important as the global move towards renewable energy.

This session brought together some of the alternative protein sector’s experts to discuss how they are shaping the future of food.

We discussed topics surrounding:

  • Current global and UK regulatory landscape
  • The potential food safety risks of alternative proteins
  • The challenges faced by UK companies with new foundational technology
  • How cultivated meat starts with cells.

Book a Consultation with our Team

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