Plant Based Proteins: The Meat Alternative That Is Good For Your Health And The Planet

By Duncan Pollard, Head of Stakeholder Engagement in Sustainability at Nestlé
Feb 20, 2018 12:05 PM ET

It's rare that an idea or solution comes along that solves a variety of problems facing the world. Plant-based proteins is one of those. Whether it is human health, animal welfare, deforestation or climate change (or all of those) that concerns you, consuming more plant-based proteins can offer a simple (and tasty) way to make a positive contribution to solving them.

The food system is changing. It always has, but now it needs to change to reduce waste and optimise the use of plant proteins. Challenges like these have led the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, of which Nestlé is a member, to work on a new programme called FReSH - Food Reform for Sustainability and Health. FReSH will focus on the solutions that businesses can bring, and proteins will be at the centre.

There are however a few nuances to consider in the protein debate. To my mind this is not about stopping the consumption of animal protein. Animals play an important role in building soil health, and organic or close to nature farming systems need animals as part of the crop rotational. Grass fed beef is therefore good, it's just the feedlot variety that I believe we need to phase out. We need to achieve a balance – animal, plant and novel proteins. That balance may be different in different countries.

Neither is this about promoting plant proteins exclusively based upon sustainability arguments. As many market research reports have shown, this is a growing segment of the market. Today, it's much easier to find vegetarian options in supermarkets and restaurants compared to 10 or even five years ago. Some restaurants have even stopped listing the plant-based dishes under a separate “vegetarian” heading, which shows how the meat vs vegetarian dichotomy is rapidly becoming a false one, and has turned into a business opportunity. At Nestlé, we are adding more plant-based products to our portfolio in response to increased demand. It’s part of our efforts to offer tastier and healthier choices for consumers. We are also part of the Protein Challenge 2040, which brings together a group of companies and civil society organisations to promote a more balanced approach to how we derive our proteins.

All of this makes a recent report launched by FAIRR very timely. “Plant Based Profits” not only looks at what companies can and are doing to promote plant-based proteins, it positions them firmly in the investor universe. I am pleased to have been asked to provide the foreword.

For those of us in the food industry, the challenge is simple. We need to make meals based upon plant protein as ubiquitous and as easy to prepare as meat dishes. A consequence of that will be healthier populations, better animal welfare and lower impact upon the planet.