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 themes

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.

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: A report on the Australian Alternative Protein Industry

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

Projects

Drivers of demand for alternative proteins (on going)

The project aims are to:

  • identify key stakeholders, such as industry, government, NGO, civil society, involved in the production, promotion and regulation of alternative proteins
  • analyse the claims about health benefits and concerns relating to alternative protein products
  • generate a dataset to inform future research and development
  • create an analytical framework to analyse stakeholder claims – which can be applied to analyse other drivers in the alternative food sector.

A collaborative project between Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences and Melbourne School of Population and Global Health.

Chief Investigator: Dr Jenn Lacy-Nichols at jennifer.lacy@unimelb.edu.au

Co-Investigators: Associate Professor Gyorgy Scrinis, Professor Rob Moodie

Designing effective positioning strategies for alternative proteins among different segments of consumers (on going)

The project aims to understand consumer perception of new protein sources. It also examines how to position a new product to help consumer acceptability. These goals aim to increase the acceptance of alternative protein. To do this we will:

  • create insights on consumer perceptions, attitudes, and preferences about alternative sources of proteins
  • develop matching strategies to increase acceptance.

This research can be used to inform consumer-centric product design in the development of alternative proteins.

A collaborative project between Faculty of Business and Economics, Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences, and Faculty of Economics and Business Administration, Ghent University, Belgium.

Chief Investigator: Associate Professor Jill Lei at leij@unimelb.edu.au

Co-Investigators: Dr Jolien Vandenbroele (Ghent University, Belgium); Dr Peter Manasantivongs; Ms Hollis Ashman; Dr Jeremy Cottrell

Texture, flavour and consumer responses to food products formulated with blended proteins from meat and plant sources (on going)

This project develops and compares food products formulated with proteins from meat and alternative protein sources.

We will test the texture, flavour and nutritional values of these products using mechanical, biochemical and sensory analyses. The products with favourable texture and flavour will be further tested for nutritional values including protein, fat, vitamins and mineral composition.

A collaborative project between Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences, Melbourne School of Engineering and Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences.

Chief Investigator: Dr Minh Ha at minh.ha@unimelb.edu.au

Co-Investigators: Ms Xinyu Miao (PhD researcher), Professor Robyn Warner, Associate Professor Greg Martin, Dr Robyn Larsen, Dr Hafiz Suleria, Professor Sally Gras, Associate Professor Rene Koopman

Optimising consumer acceptability of novel plant-based yoghurts (on going)

The project will develop a rapid, cost-effective framework for the development and optimisation of yoghurts from novel plant-based protein sources. The project will use a combination of:

  • qualitative analysis of consumer perception
  • sensory testing of existing products
  • formulation of new products with novel proteins
  • testing the health benefits (digestibility and nutrient bioavailability) of these new products.

Data from this project are valuable in understanding key formulation ingredients and product properties to maximise consumer acceptability.

An expansion of existing collaboration between Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences and Melbourne School of Engineering.

Chief Investigator: Dr Jeremy Cottrell at jcottrell@unimelb.edu.au

Co-Investigators: Ms Mitali Koopta (PhD researcher), Professor Frank Dunshea, Professor Sally Gras, Dr Damir Torrico, Ms Hollis Ashman

Phytochemical and nutritional characterization of plant proteins with potential for blending (on going)

The main aims of our research will be to:

  • develop methods and characterise bioactive peptides from different plant-based sources especially from pulses
  • determine the bioavailability and bio-accessibility of different product formulations to demonstrate their potential utilisation as healthy and sustainable protein sources.

A collaboration between Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences and Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences.

The Hallmark Committee recommended this project joins projects 3 and 4.

Chief Investigator: Dr Hafiz Suleria at hafiz.suleria@unimelb.edu.au

Co-Investigators: Professor Frank Dunshea, Professor Robyn Warner, Dr Minh Ha

Current legal and regulatory system for novel proteins (on going)

This project examines the current Australian legal and regulatory system for the alternative protein sector. Through analysis of submissions to Food Standards Australia New Zealand, it will:

  • identify the issues that stakeholders think should fall under law and regulation
  • look at how the law does or doesn't deal with these various issues
  • analyse how laws are applied differently across a range of regulators and regulatory regimes.

This will allow us to understand which laws and regulators (e.g. food standards law, consumer protection law) at which levels (state, federal, international trade law) should deal with various issues such as:

  • nutritional and health claims
  • safety and allergy issues in food production and processes
  • biosecurity
  • environmental issues
  • misleading claims.

Chief Investigator: Professor Christine Parker at christine.parker@unimelb.edu.au

Co-Investigators: Dr Hope Johnson (Queensland University of Technology)

Review on the impact of processing on nutritional value and health benefits of food proteins (on going)

This desktop review will cover nutritional and health aspects of dietary proteins both as raw ingredients and in final food products.

It will explore how sourcing, processing, formulation and the final food matrix affect functional and nutritional values of proteins. The focus proteins will be those significant to the Australian agricultural and food industries.

A collaborative project between Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences and Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences.

We are currently refining the scope of this project.

Chief Investigator: Dr Minh Ha at minh.ha@unimelb.edu.au

Co-Investigators: Professor Robyn Warner, Dr Rene Koopman, Dr Robyn Larsen, Dr Anita Lawrence

Consumer and chefs’ attitudes toward cell-based meat (on going)

The project explores consumers’ insights on cell-based meat and the underlying reasoning in their purchasing decision.

A collaboration between Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences and the Faculty of Business and Economics.

Chief Investigator: Ms Hollis Ashman. Contact: Dr Minh Ha minh.ha@unimelb.edu.au

Co-Investigators: Ms Natalie Ryan (MSc student), Dr Minh Ha, Professor Robyn Warner

Consumer insights on blended meat and plant protein products (completed)

This project was conducted by researchers from the Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences.

We will submit the results as a peer-reviewed journal article. Outcomes are being used to inform the alternative protein industry in Australia and overseas.

Chief Investigator: Ms Hollis Ashman. Contact: Dr Minh Ha minh.ha@unimelb.edu.au

Co-Investigators: Ms Xinyu Miao (PhD researcher), Professor Robyn Warner

Life-cycle-analysis of cell-based meat (on going)

The project will assess and quantify sustainability aspects of various cell-based meat production systems. Outcomes from this project will inform the cell-based meat industry best practice to drive sustainability.

A collaboration between Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences and the CSIRO.

Chief Investigator: Dr Natalie Doran-Browne at n.doran-browne@unimelb.edu.au

Co-Investigators: Ms Yimin Wang (MSc student), Professor Richard Eckard, Dr Brad Ridoutt (CSIRO)

Micro algal protein (on going)

This project investigates cultivation and harvesting of various microalgal strains for food protein production purpose. The project will also assess protein content, composition and nutritional aspects of promising microalgal proteins.

This is a PhD project currently conducted by Ms Bhagya Yatipanthalawa under the supervision of Associate Professor Greg Martin in the School of Chemical Engineering.

Chief Investigator: Associate Professor Greg Martin (School of Chemical Engineering) gjmartin@unimelb.edu.au

Co-Investigators: Ms Bhagya Yatipanthalawa (PhD researcher)

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

green Diatoms, a type of micro-algae, shown under a microscope

Seminar: Professor Imogen Foubert

In February 2020 we heard from Professor Foubert, who presented a seminar on photoautotrophic microalgae: from green water to health conscious consumer

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