The global interest in alternative protein sources as substitutes for traditional meat products is on the rise. This trend is, in part, a response to acknowledged environmental challenges linked to meat production. A growing number of consumers are reconsidering their dietary choices, seeking sustainable alternatives to meat. This shift has led to a market currently valued at approximately $10 billion annually, with projections estimating it to reach $140 billion by the year 2030.

The alternative proteins market offers promising prospects for brands, but it also carries certain risks, particularly the threat of food fraud and economically motivated adulteration. These risks can pose significant challenges for brands in their upstream supply chains. Taking this into consideration, Adem Kulauzovic, Director of Automation at Domino Printing Sciences, discusses the challenges encountered by brands in the emerging proteins market and offers insights into how the industry can collaborate to effectively address these new risks.

Adem Kulauzovic

Growing appeal

Globally, there is a growing recognition of the environmental repercussions associated with cattle farming and traditional meat production. This awareness is fueling the adoption of flexitarian, vegan, and plant-based diets, with an increasing curiosity in alternative proteins like peas, soy, wheat, and even insects. A recent study by FMCG Gurus disclosed that 14% of consumers worldwide had decreased or completely removed meat from their diet in the preceding 12 months. The report also highlighted that 30% of global consumers find insects, particularly in processed forms like flour or meal, to be appealing.

Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of insect farming as a viable and sustainable response to rising food requirements. Studies conducted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) indicate that edible insects are rich in protein, vitamins, and essential amino acids, boasting an exceptionally high food conversion rate. Comparatively, crickets require only 1/6 of the feed necessary for cattle, a quarter of that needed for sheep, and half that required for pigs and chickens to produce the same amount of protein. Additionally, they generate lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Food fraud risk

As the alternative proteins market expands, brands within this domain face escalating challenges. One significant concern is the potential for food fraud, specifically the risk of economically motivated adulteration (EMA). EMA involves the addition of low-quality, inexpensive ingredients to increase the volume of higher-value products. Examples include incorporating corn or fructose syrup into premium honey and diluting wine or other alcoholic beverages with vinegar or lower-value liquids.

In my view, the alternative proteins market may be particularly susceptible to EMA. Unlike traditional meat-based proteins, plant and insect proteins are often processed into homogeneous dry powders to reduce bulk and transportation costs. These powders can appear nearly identical to the naked eye, making them easy to dilute or “bulk out” with cheaper, visually similar powders.

The threat of food adulteration becomes more pronounced during ingredient shortages, such as those arising from supply chain disruptions or crop failures, as observed in current circumstances. Ingredient shortages compel brands to seek alternatives outside their regular, secure supply chains, potentially creating opportunities for opportunistic counterfeiters to exploit the increased cost of raw ingredients driven by global demand.

Unsuitable ingredients, unidentified allergens, and harmful products

The risks linked to economically motivated adulteration (EMA) in the alternative proteins market go beyond consumers acquiring lower-quality products. Historically, adulterated products have been found to contain inappropriate ingredients for specific consumer demographics, undisclosed allergens, and substances harmful to human health (and in some cases, pet health).

Brands operating in the alternative proteins sector are likely to have customers with dietary restrictions for ethical or religious reasons. If insect powder, which is mostly non-Kosher, mistakenly ends up in a product labeled as vegan, vegetarian, or Kosher, it could cause significant distress among consumers within these demographics. This could result in a loss of trust and irreparable damage to the brand image, which, for publicly-listed companies, can also lead to substantial declines in share prices.

The damage to the brand image is only a fraction of the potential harm in the event of contamination with an unidentified allergen. When dealing with ‘dry powders,’ there are numerous potential allergens to consider. Many alternative protein sources, including wheat, soya, and peas, are recognized allergens subject to legislative allergen labeling requirements. Similarly, insect protein, while not currently acknowledged by most regional allergen labeling regulations, has been known to trigger reactions in individuals allergic to crustacea and house dust mites.

EMA can also involve contamination with products unsuitable for human consumption. The 2008 melamine scandal in China is a tragic example, where infant formula was tainted with melamine—a toxic, nitrogen-rich compound that falsely elevates protein levels in standard quality control tests—resulting in the deaths of six children. Although quality control tests have advanced since the melamine scandal, so has counterfeiting. The reality is that counterfeiters are often aware of likely tests and will attempt to circumvent them.

The risks associated with the alternative proteins market have been underscored by the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA). The FSA has identified alternative proteins, including insects, as one of several ‘Emerging Technologies That Will Impact On The UK Food System,’ emphasizing potential food safety risks related to alternative proteins, including a high risk of food fraud, contamination, and toxicity.

Mitigating the risk

Given the well-known potential repercussions of product mislabelling and subsequent recalls, brands in the alternative proteins market must consider how to shield themselves from the risk of food fraud. Based on my experience collaborating with processed food manufacturers, the most effective approach to address such challenges involves transparency, data sharing, and collaboration.

Food fraud is a global issue, and addressing it requires substantial collaborative efforts from all stakeholders in global supply chains. Nestlé, a global food manufacturer, has developed a Food Fraud Prevention document with precisely this objective. The document offers guidance to the industry on how to tackle this issue, emphasizing the need for food operators, suppliers, and partners along the food value chain to work together to enhance transparency. Specifically, the recommendations include:

Identifying and addressing vulnerabilities in the supply chain. Implementing verification measures accordingly. Developing collaborative tools to facilitate data sharing.

Legislation is also a consideration. Currently, there are limited legislative requirements for batch-level traceability of raw ingredients, including protein powders, but this could change in the future. Anticipated updates to the US Food Safety Modernization Act may introduce new traceability requirements for certain raw produce. The food industry might follow a path similar to the Falsified Medicines Directive (FMD) and other pharmaceutical regulations, mandating compulsory serialisation of products to enhance transparency in the market.

Until such regulations are in place, brands producing processed goods rely on their suppliers. However, the responsibility lies with the brand to promote trust and transparency, ensuring that their suppliers can guarantee the legitimacy of their products and raw materials. Implementing rigorous audits and inspections, including testing raw materials to verify no adulteration has occurred, is crucial.

Implementing such systems goes beyond protecting consumers and brand image. With consumers increasingly demanding more transparency, brands that take steps to implement traceability within their raw materials supply and provide ways to share that information are likely to earn trust and loyalty from current and potential customers.



There is no doubt in my mind that addressing food fraud and adulteration in emerging food markets requires collaborative action and data sharing. As the alternative proteins market expands, coupled with limited regulations in place, stakeholders such as raw materials providers, food processors, packagers, and all participants in the global food supply chain must unite to enhance supply chain transparency and traceability of raw ingredients used in food production.

To facilitate the sharing of this information and encourage collaborative efforts, brands should consider partnering with reliable coding and marking providers. This collaboration can establish a system of audited and verified information, offering manufacturers, retailers, and consumers the data that establishes the connection between finished products and their original raw materials.

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