The three largest US agribusiness companies – ADM, Bunge and Cargill – have made a series of investments in the plant-based protein sector in a bid to meet increasing demand from the food and feed industries, World Grain wrote.

The three giants have announced mergers, joint ventures, greenfield construction projects, and acquisitions and expansions of existing processing facilities to meet increased demand, the 15 February report said.

All three companies agree that increased demand for plant-based protein would not be a short-lived fad, but a long-lasting evolution in how people consume protein, according to the report.

“The global transition to plant-forward eating is more than a trend; it’s a lifestyle,” Allyson Fish, ADM’s president of global plant and alternative proteins, told World Grain.

According to Bunge’s senior director of global marketing and product management, Mark Stavro, plant-based protein is not only viewed by many as a healthier alternative to meat-based protein, but is also seen as better for environmental sustainability, an issue of particular importance among younger generations.

Kaleb Belzer, Bunge’s vice president and general manager, protein ingredients, told World Grain that a number of developed economies in Europe were seeing double-digit growth for plant-based protein products, including Germany, the Netherlands and the UK, as well as the USA.

“Brazil is another place that’s seeing significant growth,” Belzer said, noting that JBS, the world’s largest meat company, was investing in a plant protein product called Incrivel (Incredible) soya-based burgers.

“Surprisingly, the proportion of vegetarians or vegans in Brazil compared to the USA is double or more than double.

“Asia is another growth area… Food-grade soyabeans for tofu or soya protein concentrate (SPC) isolates are in high demand.”

Alongside growing demand from the plant-based food sector, the meat industry is one of the biggest consumers of plant-based protein, according to the report.

The beef industry uses plant protein as an extender in its products, while demand is high from the growing poultry, pork and aquaculture industries.

“Overall, when we look at future growth, for us it’s not making a huge bet on plant-based meat,” Belzer said. “What we’re saying is what are feed compounder meat producing customers requiring? They require functional plant-based concentrates for their feed applications. And what are the big (consumer packaged goods) companies requiring? They require sophisticated plant-based proteins for food applications and pet food applications.”

He noted that while demand for poultry, pork and fish was rising, beef consumption had levelled off in recent years in the USA.

Bunge had increased soyabean processing capacity at several of its facilities in recent years to meet the growing demand for plant-based proteins and other soya products and had also invested US$10M in its creative solutions center to address product quality and taste issues for customers, the report said.

In addition, Bunge had announced an investment of US$550M in a soya protein concentrate and textured soyabean concentrate facility next to its soyabean processing plant in Morristown, Indiana, USA.

While some other companies were using non-soyabean raw materials to produce plant-based protein, Belzer said Bunge remained committed to soyabeans as its primary feedstock for plant-based protein production.

“What we’ve seen is the winning formulations and applications are soyabean-based because it can deliver in the areas of price, taste, quality and functionality,” he said.

Meanwhile, ADM acquired Sojaprotein, a leading European provider of non-GMO human nutrition protein solutions, in 2021. Last year, the company also invested US$300M to expand protein production in Decatur, Illinois, as well as opening a new protein innovation center in Decatur, World Grain wrote.

“We are particularly focused on expanding our capabilities in Europe to meet the escalating demand for plant-based and alternative offerings,” ADM’s Fish told World Grain. “The EU market is currently the largest for meat alternative products, with an anticipated CAGR of 11.8% between 2021 and 2027.”

ADM’s recent partnership with US-based food technology company Benson Hill would “scale availability of ultra-high protein, non-GMO soyabean ingredients,” Fish said.

Like ADM, Cargill also has decades of experience in the plant-based protein sector and uses a wide variety of raw materials, including oilseeds and legumes, in the production process, according to the report.

Puris Proteins, a joint venture between Cargill and Puris, opened a facility in Dawson, Minnesota, USA, in 2021 that more than doubled production of pea-based protein, World Grain wrote.

Former Cargill chairman and CEO David MacLennan, who retired on 31 December, forecast that the plant-based protein sector would increase in the coming years at the expense of the beef industry.

“Our analysis is that in three to four years, plant-based will be perhaps 10% of the market,” MacLennan said during a speech at the 2021 National Grain and Feed Association Convention.