Wide Open Agriculture enters multi-billion-dollar plant-based protein market

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By Lorna Nicholas - 
Wide Open Agriculture Curtin University ASX WOA plant based protein market lupin

Plant-based meat sales are exploding and have been accepted by mainstream consumers, restaurants and global food chains.


Australia’s leading regenerative food and agriculture company, Wide Open Agriculture (ASX: WOA), has secured an exclusive global licence from Curtin University to develop a novel plant-based protein alternative.

To take advantage of the rapidly growing multi-billion-dollar plant-based protein market, Wide Open Agriculture has signed an agreement with Curtin University to commercialise a proprietary technology which unlocks the potential for Australian Sweet Lupins to be used as a protein source for human consumption.

Speaking with Small Caps, Wide Open Agriculture managing director Dr Ben Cole said the company had identified lupins as a super high protein source that offered immense opportunity to be used as an alternative ingredient for today’s US$18.5 billion plant-based protein market.

“Lupin is an extraordinarily good source of plant-based protein and yet only 4% of lupin are currently consumed by humans. Curtin’s technology represents an opportunity to produce a plant-based protein that could elevate lupin into a rapidly growing sector of the food market.”

Unlocking hidden commercial potential

Researchers at Curtin University developed the novel modification technique that enables protein derived from the seed of lupin to form a gel, making it suitable for new applications in a wide range of food sectors.

Dr Cole said that after learning of this project, Curtin University became the partner of choice due to the immense commercial opportunity and the university’s proven experience in commercialising its innovations.

“Previous market uptake concerns relating to lupin have centred around its texture and its capacity for gelling and thickening. This innovation addresses these issues, opening up the potential for lupin protein to be used in the formulation of plant-based meat, eggs, dairy and gluten-free products.”

Wide Open Agriculture Australian Sweet Lupin seeds flowers ASX WOA

(Left) Australian sweet lupin seeds ready for processing, (right) lupin flowers grown in vast quantities in Western Australia.

Both groups will now work together on refining the technology and taking it from the laboratory to pilot scale. From there, Dr Cole said Wide Open Agriculture would conduct prototype testing and eventually establish a viable commercial product which can compete with today’s leading plant-based proteins, soy and pea.

Lupin, Australia’s new entrant in the plant-based protein race

Dr Cole pointed out that lupin had very high protein content ranging between 32% and 40% – making it similar to soy-based products. However, lupin has the advantage of being free of genetic modification and phytoestrogens, which can be concerning for some soy-based consumers.

Lupin also has a low glycaemic index (low GI) – meaning it results in a lower and slower rise in blood insulin levels. The plant is also easily digestible, high in fibre and has a low anti-nutritional factor.

Additionally, Wide Open Agriculture has Australia’s largest lupin industry on its doorstep, with the vast majority of Australian sweet lupin (>60%) produced in Western Australia. Dr Cole said that while 96% of production is used for stockfeed, this technology could breathe new life into the sector.

“We have a true first mover advantage in front of us which could benefit multiple parties. Our vision is to launch lupin-based protein products into a high growth food sectors and also provide another commercial avenue for West Australian lupin farmers to benefit from” he said.

Rapidly growing plant-based protein market

According to Dr Cole, the global plant-based protein market is currently worth about US$18 billion per annum and is growing rapidly at 14% each year. It is predicted this market will be worth US$40 billion by 2025.

Meanwhile, the soy protein market, alone, is worth A$3.9 billion per annum.

Dr Cole said securing a foothold in this fast-growing sector was an “exciting” opportunity for Wide Open Agriculture. He added that investors had also demonstrated their strong interest in the industry with US$13 billion invested across the sector in the past two years.

“There is growing investment from a number of food industry giants seeking exposure to this high growth sector. With climate change, animal-welfare concerns, and greater interest in wellness all driving this growth” he said.

One example has been the rapid success of American producer of plant-based meat substitutes, Beyond Meat. The NASDQ listed company whose products are widely available in most U.S. grocery stores and +60 restaurant chains, is estimated to be worth USD$9 Billion and has recently expanded into France, Germany, UK and Asia.

Lupin project to eventually add to Wide Open’s increasing revenue base

With the plant-based protein sector commercialisation pathway speeding up, Dr Cole said Wide Open has a proven reputation for moving fast and believes their plant-based protein would be ready for market testing in early 2021.

“Our strategy is focussed on a trilogy of regenerative food products, being livestock, oats and now lupins. We have a strong vision to become Australia’s go to food company for ethically sourced products”

Wide Open’s products are currently sold under the Company’s ‘Dirty Clean Food’ brand and are available online and through numerous independent supermarkets. And while revenue in the recent March quarter was the company’s highest to date, Dr Cole said this project won’t distract the company’s focus on continued revenue growth throughout 2020.

“While increasing revenue from our regenerative meat and oat products remains the Company’s highest commercial focus, this agreement with Curtin University provides a low capital-intensive development opportunity which could lead to promising commercial outcomes in the future.”