Opportunities for Plant-Based Proteins: pre-summit interview with Michelle Colgrave, Future Protein Mission Leader at CSIRO Agriculture & Food

We chatted with Michelle Colgrave about the alternative protein landscape in Australia, and how CSIRO is encouraging collaboration across the innovation ecosystem to support nutritious, sustainable products reaching the right markets across the world.

Michelle Colgrave, CSIRO
Michelle Colgrave, CSIRO Agriculture & Food

We are seeing a huge demand for alternative proteins in the Asia-Pacific region and around the world, but currently there isn’t enough capacity to meet this need. What needs to happen for supply to catch up?

Building on more than 100 years of agricultural innovation, and our reputation for producing high quality and safe food products, Australia is on a mission to grow protein supply and meet future demand in the region. We’re focused on cultivating new and improved plant-based protein crop varieties and establishing end-to-end manufacturing facilities onshore for plant-based protein products. This requires investment in infrastructure with the support of public-private partnerships.

Building infrastructure, bolstering supply chains, widening input sources, outsourcing processes, skills gaps… What are the vital areas of production that need innovation and investment in order to increase supply of alternative proteins to market and create affordable, economically viable products?

We’ve identified a few opportunities for plant-based proteins to reach scale and achieve mainstream consumer adoption in the near term. Australia grows many plant protein crops – from soybean and chickpea to lupin. As the largest producer of lupins, a high protein legume commonly used for animal feed, we’re seeking to use science and technology to transform crops to serve up high value and nutritious plant protein options for humans around the world.

Consumers make purchasing decisions on price, they make return purchases based on taste and texture and the products can be differentiated on their credentials – encompassing both nutrition and sustainability. We have options to improve the taste, texture, functional performance of plant crops and we can enhance the nutritional profile. So, not only can we grow nitrogen-fixing legumes for their benefits in crop rotation, but we can grow future crops with enhanced sensory and nutritional properties.

How can producers and innovators work with regulators to pave the way for novel food approvals and create a clear route to market?

The innovation ecosystem needs to work together, sharing information and supporting each other. Scientists imagine the future, the industry brings that imagination to life, and regulators provide a reality check. The goal is to bring new foods to market at a competitive speed, without compromising on safety or nutrition. We need open dialogue and to build an enabling environment that provides the evidence base for timely processes, regulatory approvals and for removing unnecessary roadblocks.

Why is the Asia-Pacific Agri-Food Innovation Summit an important date in your diary? Who are you hoping to meet?

We need to come together as scientists, investors, industry and government in the spirit of innovation to transform our food system. It is an opportunity to showcase science, build relationships and imagine the future of our agri-food systems. By forming new partnerships, we can accelerate innovation adoption, technology transfer, company creation and provide the impetus for science and technology co-creation.

CSIRO is a Platinum Partner of the Asia-Pacific Agri-Food Innovation Summit 2022, and Michelle will join the panel discussion ‘Advancing Sustainable Protein Scale-Up & Large-Scale Commercialisation’. See the full agenda here.