When it comes to alternative foods, the primary focus has been limited to popular food products like Sunfed Food’s chicken-less chicken and ‘Impossible’ plant-based burgers – providing a meat-like meal with plant-based products. The reality is there is much more to the global market for food based on plant proteins.

Jocelyn Eason, general manager science, Food Innovation at Plant & Food Research, spoke at the recent ProteinTECH Conference in Auckland, and said that changing global consumer trends bring a substantial commercial opportunity for New Zealand.

"We envision these future food products to be 100 per cent plant-based, nutritious, sustainable and entirely made in New Zealand," she said. "Although there are a number of challenges including flavour and texture, allergens, anti-nutritional factors, plant-based foods can deliver good nutrition. Our challenge is in how we might develop new raw material streams from plants in such a way that we don't strip out all of the vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals, some of which are not available from other food sources."

However, she also warned that these changes wouldn’t come without a “mindset” change around how the country approached food production, as well as a significant investment in infrastructure and a new look at land use.

"There may be a time lag to the introduction and use of novel foods, ingredients and technologies as extra work is needed to prove they are safe," she said. “The commercialisation process of some future foods may be slow if they are perceived to be 'novel'. It will take a bit more planning, design and time to achieve commercialisation."

Consumers are becoming more educated around sustainability for animal-based foods and are considering the social and environmental impact of food production, making plant-based foods more economically viable.

"The opportunity is for New Zealand to take experiences from producing premium meats, dairy and fruits and harness them for a range of premium plant-based foods – foods that are healthy, taste, feel and smell good too,” Eason said. “There are many challenges to developing these premium plant-based foods, but New Zealand is small, agile and innovative enough to do it."