Europe has almost 50% of global protein fermentation capacity: here’s how to unleash its potential

A new report has shed light on Europe’s potential to become a world leader in producing sustainable food through fermentation – revealing that the continent is home to almost half of the global sector’s manufacturing capacity.

Protein fermentation can be used to creaate nutritious and tasty ingredients, like that used in this ENOUGH chicken breast.
Credit: Enough

The Manufacturing capacity landscape and scaling strategies for fermentation-derived protein report, released by the Good Food Institute (GFI) and Integration Consulting, maps this rapidly growing sector and provides businesses and governments with crucial insights into how to scale up production to reduce climate emissions and satisfy global demand for meat – which is projected to double by 2050.

Sustainable protein companies use fermentation to produce meat and seafood products with the distinctive flavours and textures of animal products, but made without farming animals. Companies such as Quorn use a method similar to beer or yoghurt production to grow large quantities of mycoproteins, which come from fungi. These proteins have a meaty texture, and can be combined with other ingredients to produce animal-free meat. 

The report also covers precision fermentation, which uses organisms such as yeast to produce real egg or dairy proteins and other ingredients that deliver the familiar flavour and texture of foods like meat, eggs and cheese without using animals.   

Why is fermentation-made protein important?

A study in Nature last year found replacing just 20% of the world’s beef with fermentation-made meat could halve global deforestation, and analysis of Quorn’s fermentation-made meat found a carbon footprint 70% lower than chicken

Fermentation can also help reduce food waste by transforming agricultural surplus and byproducts into nutritious and delicious food, offering farmers a new source of revenue.

GFI’s report has found 89 companies worldwide currently provide around 16 million litres of capacity to produce this food – and 47% of this exists in Europe, followed by the United States at 34%.

But it warns that an increase in consumer demand will stretch this capacity and adds that there is a mismatch of current manufacturing capacity in terms of scale, location and technical capabilities compared to the local needs of the players in this growing industry.

What are the barriers to scaling up protein fermentation?

The report urges governments to fund research and development and infrastructure, helping to commercialise the production of these sustainable foods to meet their climate goals.

It also finds a lack of technical capabilities and production capacity is preventing startups from scaling and says more help is needed to enable early-stage producers to overcome the ‘valley of death’ – the dangerous early period between initial venture capital investment and the transition towards commercialisation. 

Facilities such as Ghent’s Bio Base Europe, a pilot plant successfully working with fermentation companies including ENOUGH, were highlighted as critical in accelerating the industry.

The report advises businesses to invest in more fermentation capacity, enabling them to capture a share of the emerging market, and adds that developing existing industrial sites and equipment can reduce upfront costs by as much as 70% and cut lead times as short as six months.

Breweries are highlighted as one of the most suitable options, as the sustainable protein fermentation industry uses fermentors, filtration systems and other equipment similar to those used to brew beer.

Carlotte Lucas, Senior Corporate Engagement Manager at the Good Food Institute Europe, said: “European companies have been pioneers in developing innovative fermentation-made products that can feed our growing population, and this report demonstrates how government and industry investment can unleash that potential. 

“Fermentation can deliver the meat people want sustainably, while giving farmers the potential to create new revenue streams and freeing up space for nature. As severe heatwaves and droughts put increasing pressure on yields from conventional agriculture, industry leaders, scientists, and policymakers must work together to scale up this sector as quickly as possible.”