Wallonia to invest in plant-based proteins as meat substitutes

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The Walloon region is taking major steps towards becoming an important player in the business of plant-based proteins. In the next few months, two of the region’s public investment funds, Sogepa and SRIW, plan to establish a start-up company in this booming field. In the long term, the goal is to create an entire ecosystem around the use of plant proteins as meat replacements, benefiting the economy, health and sustainability of the whole area.

Wallonia’s plant protein scheme is part of the region’s efforts to bounce back from the economic havoc wreaked by the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s being done with support from the EU’s Recovery and Resilience Facility (RRF), which has granted Belgium €5.95 billion to restore its economic power, of which Wallonia receives €1.48 billion.

To collect ideas on how its economy can best be boosted, the Walloon region organized a broad brainstorming session with industry experts and reputed consultancy companies such as Roland Berger. Thirty promising industrial sectors were identified, out of which the experts concentrated on concrete recommendations for the stimulation of one key sector in particular: the production of plant-based proteins for meat substitutes. After just seven weeks, they came up with a clear business plan and estimates on employment opportunities and the potential market share.

Read this BioVox article to learn about other protein alternatives being backed by VCs.

The Walloon initiative fits perfectly in the global ‘protein transition’: the shift away from the consumption of animal proteins towards plant-based products. This trend is considered to have positive effects on the environment, our health and animal welfare. It is, amongst others, an important factor in the battle for global food security and against climate change.

Acting fast to found a new company

Two of Wallonia’s most important public investment funds, Sogepa and SRIW, have acted as driving forces behind the innovative ‘investment pitch’. “There is a whole debate going on about which opportunities the COVID-19 crisis could actually offer,” said Renaud Witmeur, chairman of Sogepa’s executive committee, to Belgian newspaper L’Echo. “We have taken the initiative to examine which industrial projects existed and whether a private actor could take over.”

If we don’t act, we will continue to eat more plant-based foods, but those products will not be produced by us. It’s now or never; we cannot afford to miss the boat. – François Heroufosse, Wagralim

The Walloon funds plan to act fast, so-as not to be left behind in this rapidly growing industry. Before the summer, they hope to launch a start-up – currently named NewCo – which will specialize in the extraction of plant proteins, turning them into replacements for meat products. According to a market study, NewCo could expect to claim 5% of the EU market in meat substitutes, leading to a turnover of €200 million and around 300 new full-time jobs by 2030.

In a first phase, between 2022-2024, the project will require an estimated investment of between €6 – 15 million for infrastructure, product and brand development, as well as market research. In total, an investment of around €60 million would be necessary, but would generate much more than that in long-term returns.

Building a connected supply chain

The goal is to establish a ‘dream team’ of Walloon actors around the initiative, made up of representatives from both the agricultural and meat sectors. It offers agricultural enterprises interesting diversification opportunities, for example concerning the cultivation of peas and other legumes, and meat producers the chance to explore promising possibilities away from the locally shrinking meat market.

The vegetable protein sector is on the rise. If Wallonia does not occupy a place in it, others will do so, without it creating jobs for our region. – Minister Willy Borsus

By joining forces, a complete supply chain can be created in Wallonia, from raw materials to plant-based foods. Furthermore, the plant-based foods would not only be for human consumption but could serve as fodder for animals as well.

“There are already hundreds of actors that can play a role in this supply chain, but we need to connect them,” stated François Heroufosse, general manager of Wagralim, Wallonia’s agri-food innovation cluster. “If we don’t act, we will continue to eat more plant-based foods, but those products will not be produced by us. It’s now or never; we cannot afford to miss the boat.”

Wallonia’s Minister for agriculture Willy Borsus put his support behind the initiative as well. “The vegetable protein sector is on the rise,” he said. “If Wallonia does not occupy a place in it, others will do so, without it creating jobs for our region. This project should enable us to become a major player in the meat substitute sector.”

Flanders’ investments in protein transition

Flanders, the region in the north of Belgium, is also investing strongly in capitalizing on the transition towards more plant-based and less animal protein in our diets. ILVO, Flanders’ research institute for agriculture, fisheries and food, is putting great emphasis on research into the cultivation of sources of plant-based proteins such as soybeans. Flemish research institute VIB will also soon open a brand-new agbiotech incubator where, amongst others, extensive experiments in this domain will be conducted.

Read these BioVox articles to learn about a citizen science project growing soybeans in Flanders and the new VIB agbiotech incubator.