An initiative under the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 innovation programme will be launched next year to foster development in plant-based foods. 

The Smart Protein project is being led by the School of Food and Nutritional Sciences at University College Cork, Ireland. The Commission is providing EUR8.2m (US$8.9m) of the total EUR9.6m in funding to support innovation in “new-protein foods made from plants, fungi, by-products, and residues”, according to a statement. 

Smart Protein will run for four years from 1 January with the first products – plant-based meats, fish, seafood, cheese, infant formula, other dairy products and baked goods – expected to be launched onto the market in 2025. 

“A primary aim of the project is to help build a future-proof protein supply by creating sustainable and nutritious alternative proteins,” the statement read. “This is in direct response to some of the most urgent challenges faced by the planet, including climate change and global food security.” 

A total of 33 partners from industry, research, and academia spread across 21 different countries are collaborating in the project, including in the food sector Glanbia, the Ireland-based dairy and sports nutrition business, Italian food company Barilla and Thai Union Group, the owner of the John West canned tuna brand. 

New products will also be developed from plants, including fava beans, lentils, chickpeas, and quinoa. “Investigations into cost-effective protein extraction, protein chemistry, polymeric structure, physico-chemical behaviour, and protein-interaction will be carried out in order to maximise the functionality of these proteins and customise their usage in food and drinks,” according to the statement.

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A spokesperson for Glanbia confirmed the company’s participation in the Smart Protein project, and said it is an opportunity to “gain access to world class research infrastructure”.

Thai Union confirmed its participation in the project and told just-food: “Constant innovation is central to our business and we’re always looking for new ways to improve our products and their health benefits, as well as sustainability. In this case the potential positive impact of Smart Protein cannot be underestimated, particularly in combating such key issues as climate change and in helping feed our rapidly growing global population.”

just-food also approached Barilla for a comment but did not receive a reply. 

Meanwhile, Emanuele Zannini, a senior research officer with the University of Cork and the lead coordinator of Smart Protein, said: “With the Smart Protein project, we are reconsidering the entire protein value chain from production to consumption in terms of both productive and environmental performance. We are also targeting soil-health restoration through organic regenerative agriculture practices that are able to shift from carbon-source to carbon-sink agriculture, which is more resilient to the effects of climate change and helps farmers’ long-term financial futures.”