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Future foods and alternative proteins the focus of a $3m programme

Meat alternatives are often criticised for their lack of challenging textures and flavours, according to Professor Joanne Hort who is leading the study.

Consumers often say that they make food choices based on health, animal welfare and environmental sustainability factors, yet their purchasing decisions often suggest otherwise, according to the researchers who are leading Te Rangahau Taha Wheako mō ngā Kai o Āpōpō: The Consumer Dimension of Future Foods.

Massey University Professor Joanne Hort, the Fonterra-Riddet Chair of Consumer and Sensory Science, is leading the programme that has just been awarded $3 million from the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) Catalyst: Strategic – New Zealand-Singapore Future Foods Research Programme. It is one of just four projects supported by the fund. Professor Hort, an internationally renowned consumer sensory scientist, is partnering with Singapore-based A*STAR Clinical Nutrition Research Centre’s Associate Professor Ciaran Forde, Edible Research nutrition scientist Dr Meika Foster and a team of 18 other researchers.

The project aims to understand the main issues that impact consumers relationships with non-animal protein. Researchers will work with consumers from different ethnic groups and belief systems to understand what they do and don’t like about alternative proteins that are already on the market and what they believe are “must-have sensory attributes” which are things like taste, texture and smell. The research findings will inform the targeted development of next-generation alternative proteins that engage and delight consumers.

“Overall, meat consumption is not declining and many meat-alternatives suffer from inferior sensory appeal,” Professor Hort says.

“Meat alternatives are often criticised for their lack of challenging textures and flavour. Other consumers, who don’t like the taste or texture of meat, are after a different sensory experience all together and we aim to identify which sensory experiences will appeal to different segments of consumers.’

Researchers will focus on targeted growth markets for New Zealand and Singapore in microbial, algal and novel plant (including indigenous) proteins, as well as current and emerging proteins on the market.

“We need to understand the factors that will drive people to embrace these alternative proteins in their diet so that we’re able to identify the most promising alternative protein materials and technologies to invest in, both from a science and industry perspective.”

Professor Hort says finding solutions to curb global issues such as climate-change and diet-related diseases presents major challenges for scientists and as New Zealand’s primary industries respond to global environmental trends, this research will generate insights that can inform viable alternative land use decisions. In partnership with Māori food and beverage entrepreneurs, the research also will explore the unique value proposition of our Māori food producers underpinned by their strengths of relationship building, storytelling, and holistic approaches to managing the land.

“We are so excited to combine Massey’s food experience and sensory testing group and its new cutting edge consumer and sensory science facilities with Asia’s leading nutrition research hub at the Clinical Nutrition Research Centres. This programme will provide opportunities for both sensory and consumer studies, controlled human feeding trials together with a unique training opportunity for Māori researcher capacity building,” Professor Hort says.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment manages the Catalyst Strategic Fund, which commits almost $23 million over three years to eight different programmes of research in areas of future food and data science.