Future Food

7 minute read

pieces of cheese, fruit and vegetables cut into squares and arranged in a checkerboard pattern

Environmental concerns and consumer demands are driving the need for alternative food production. To be successful, new food solutions require input from the sciences, business and beyond.

About

The Future Food Hallmark Research Initiative is focused on the production of alternative proteins and the development of sustainable, healthy and affordable protein products. By building knowledge through partnership and collaboration, the initiative is:

  • enabling evidence-based production of healthy and sustainable food products for consumers
  • adding value to the food industry
  • contributing to global food security.

To achieve this, the initiative created an R&D (research and development) strategy for the future of foods, leveraging the expertise of its researchers. This strategy will evolve as the Hallmark continues.

The initiative brings together scientists with diverse expertise, including food policy and regulation, consumer insight, human health and nutrition, agricultural production, food processing, chemistry and engineering. Researchers within the initiative will also consult and collaborate extensively with external research partners, governments and industry.

The initiative provides annual seed funding for innovative interdisciplinary research projects with industry collaboration. It welcomes contact and project ideas from within and outside the University.

The initiative also provides an engagement platform for researchers, communities, policymakers, government and industry through:

  • technical workshops and seminars, featuring leading scholars from within and outside the University
  • industry workshops to provide the latest research and innovation, and promote collaboration between industry and academia
  • resources such as research highlights, project reports, scientific publications and relevant industry-related articles
  • public lectures for community organisations and consumers.

Research

The Future Food Hallmark Research Initiative is focused on alternative protein production systems and products.

Engagement and collaboration with external research partners, industry, communities and governments are embedded across its five research themes.

Research themes

Drivers of demand for alternative proteins

This theme is analysing the main drivers of demand for alternative protein sources, including:

  • environmental
  • animal welfare
  • food security
  • dietary health
  • cultural and corporate.

Understanding these factors is necessary to identify foods, products and technologies that are likely to achieve broad social, political and ethical acceptance and support. We are also examining the policy and regulatory frameworks that may enable or constrain these food innovations.

Theme leader: Associate Professor Gyorgy Scrinis


Read the Australian Alternative Protein Industry report

Pre-packaged meat alternatives in a supermarket refrigerated display case

A man looking at cold drink choices at a supermarket

Attitudes and mindsets of consumers

Consumer and market insight research is being conducted on the major forms of alternative protein to identify the new R&D opportunities.

Co-theme leaders: Ms Hollis Ashman and Associate Professor Jill Lei

Fresh vegetables, a spade and seedlings

Health and wellbeing

Adequate protein intake is crucial for health at all life stages. Dietary protein provides the amino acids for growth and essential cellular reactions. Protein-rich foods often carry other nutrients, such as minerals, antioxidants and essential fatty acids, and antinutrients with consequences for consumer health.

Developing foods with an optimal nutritional profile to enhance digestion and nutrient absorption is important to maintain overall wellbeing at different stages of life.

Co-theme leaders: Professor Gordon Lynch, Associate Professor Rene Koopman and Dr Anita Lawrence

Alternative sources of protein production

To meet future demand for sustainable protein production, Australian agricultural sectors must identify ways to optimise production while reducing the environmental impact. While recognising the importance of traditional sources of protein, research in this theme focuses on opportunities and challenges in novel alternative protein production systems:

  • Plants
  • Cell-based meat
  • Insects and algae
  • By-products derived from food processing (for example animal offal, seed meals and plant processing).

Co-theme leaders: Professor Robyn Warner and Associate Professor Greg Martin

Image: Tony Rees/CSIRO (CC BY 3.0)

A close up of green micro algae in a petri dish

A plant-based burger in a cast iron pan with cheese and red onion

Proof-of-concept products

Foods are complex and varied in structure, function and nutritional profile. So, nutritious and tasty food products can’t be developed from alternative protein sources by simple substitution. Instead, the relationships between protein structure and function need to be considered.

This theme is exploring the structure, function and nutritional benefits of proteins from different sources when formulated and combined in a food product. The aim is to create products with acceptable texture, flavour and shelf life, as well as enhanced nutritional properties.

Through engagement with food processors, the initiative is exploring the use of alternative proteins with environmental, economic and nutritional advantages.

Co-theme leaders: Associate Professor Greg Martin and Professor Robyn Warner

People

Initiative Chair

Professor Robyn Warner, School of Agriculture and Food

  • Theme leader: Alternative sources of protein production

Academic Convenor

Dr Minh Ha, School of Agriculture and Food

Steering Committee

Ms Hollis Ashman, School of Agriculture and Food

  • Co-Theme leader: Attitudes and mindsets of consumers

Professor Adrian Hearn, School of Languages and Linguistics

Dr Rene Koopman, School of Physiology

  • Co-theme leader: Health and wellbeing

Dr Anita Lawrence, School of Agriculture and Food

  • Co-theme leader: Health and wellbeing

Associate Professor Jill Lei, Department of Management and Marketing

  • Co-theme leader: Attitudes and mindsets of consumers

Professor Gordon Lynch, School of Physiology

  • Co-theme leader: Health and wellbeing

Associate Professor Greg Martin, Department of Chemical Engineering

  • Theme leader: Proof-of-concept products

Dr Martin Palmer, Department of Chemical Engineering

Dr Brad Ridoutt, CSIRO

Dr Nicholas Robinson, School of BioSciences

Dr Gyorgy Scrinis, School of Agriculture and Food

  • Theme leader: Community, social, ecological and food security drivers

News and events

Funding

In 2019, the initiative funded several research projects that are currently underway. Further project funding will be announced in mid-2020 for the 2020–2021 round.

The objective of the seed funding scheme is to promote and nurture interdisciplinary research collaboration in the area of sustainable and healthy food protein production.

The scheme also aims to support career development of early and mid-career researchers by providing opportunities to participate and take leading roles in interdisciplinary research projects.

Applicants should discuss proposed projects with a relevant research theme leader prior to submission.

If you’re outside the University and would like to get involved with the initiative, contact Academic Convenor Dr Minh Ha on +61 3 8344 4770 or email minh.ha@unimelb.edu.au

Get involved

Whether you’re a researcher, external organisation or member of the public, you can engage with us by:

  • participating in research projects
  • attending workshops, public events and lectures featuring leading scholars from outside the University.

For more information about the initiative, contact Academic Convenor Dr Minh Ha on +61 3 8344 4770 or email minh.ha@unimelb.edu.au

If you have questions or comments in relation to the Hallmark Research Initiatives program, email hallmark-initiatives@unimelb.edu.au

Images: Unsplash, UGA CAUS (CC BY NC 2.0), University of Melbourne