We spoke to ProVeg’s Mathilde Alexandre and Paloma Nosten about their roles in the Smart Protein project. Mathilde is Senior Project Manager while Paloma is Senior Communication Manager. Between them, they are responsible for making sure that the Smart Protein work is widely shared and that the results are easily available to anyone who is interested.
What is the role of ProVeg within the Smart Protein project?
Paloma Nosten: Communication and dissemination! From the creation and maintenance of the website to social-media activities, newsletters, the organisation of webinars, public relations activities, and the creation of the Smart Protein Stakeholder Advisory Board, ProVeg is behind all those activities. Working closely with all partners, ProVeg acts as the voice of the project, making sure that Smart Protein news, updates, and results are widely shared.
Mathilde Alexandre: ProVeg also brings its expertise in market research on alternative proteins to the project. As part of this effort, ProVeg has released two impactful reports: Plant-based Food in Europe: how big is the market, which explores the European plant-based sector, and What consumers want: a survey on European consumer attitudes towards plant-based foods, with a focus on flexitarians.
Why did ProVeg decide to join the Smart Protein project?
Paloma Nosten: The Project Lead, Prof. Emanuele Zannini from University College Cork, often repeats the mantra ‘Smart Protein for a changing world’. It’s a phrase which perfectly explains why we are working on this project.
What we eat has a significant impact on our health and the environment. In Europe, our food tends to be too rich in fat, sugar, and salt, and our diets are unbalanced and skewed towards animal protein. In addition, our food is not diverse enough – 75% of our food comes from just 12 plants and five animal species. Also of great relevance is the fact that a third of the food we produce is wasted. Last but not least, our natural resources are under increasing pressure – sources of freshwater are running dry, existing water resources are becoming increasingly polluted, and a third of the planet’s soil is degraded, all of which is threatening the earth’s biodiversity. Climate change and a lack of climate-resilient crops only intensify these problems.
Mathilde Alexandre: The aim of the Smart Protein project is to develop alternative-protein ingredients and products for human consumption that have a positive impact on the bioeconomy, the environment, biodiversity, nutrition, food security, and consumer trust and acceptance. The project’s objectives are in complete alignment with ProVeg’s vision of a world where everyone chooses delicious food that is good for all humans, animals, and our planet. As such, it makes complete sense for us to amplify the reach and awareness of this highly innovative EU-funded project.
What benefits will this project bring to your organisation and to Europe and European citizens in general?
Paloma Nosten: We are seeing investment funds placing greater emphasis on plant-based innovation, which should enable even stronger growth in the coming years. We are at the very beginning of the growth of the plant-based sector, which is already one of the fastest-expanding sectors in Europe. More and more people are now acting on the health and environmental benefits of a plant-based diet, and public awareness of these benefits is growing faster each year.
The Smart Protein project takes the climate impact of our food as a central consideration and is working toward a fundamental shift in agriculture that will move the planet in the direction of more plant-based production and consumption.
Mathilde Alexandre: The Smart Protein project truly benefits all partners as well as all European citizens. ProVeg’s involvement helps to increase the scale of research by analysing consumer and market trends in more than 10 European countries, thus providing data on previously unexplored areas. The project also prioritises European citizens’ interests by producing affordable, nutritious, and sustainable plant-based products within Europe. Ultimately, the Smart Protein project aims to provide high-quality food options for European citizens.
What are the main challenges you’ve faced with the project?
Paloma Nosten: It is never easy to change and transform – and we know that a fundamental transformation of the ways we produce and consume food in Europe is urgently needed – the EU’s food system is far from sustainable! Unfortunately, current EU legislation does not adequately support consumers’ shift towards more plant-trich diets or the development and promotion of plant-based alternatives that could help to facilitate such a transition.
Mathilde Alexandre: Which is why ProVeg is also contributing to policy outreach as part of its involvement in the project. We recently published a policy brief that provides concrete policy tools for promoting alternative proteins in the EU.
What results from the project are you and your team most excited about?
Mathilde Alexandre: It’s encouraging to see that research done by the Smart Protein project highlights the fundamental shift in consumer behaviour towards more sustainable diets. Our consumer research reveals that an encouraging 30% of Europeans consider themselves flexitarian, thus indicating a clear intention to reduce their consumption of animal-based products. We are excited about conducting a second round of pan-EU consumer research this year in order to track changes over a two-year period.