A project enabling New Zealand to tap into the growing market for plant-based products, will let vegetables feature as a "centre of the plate" item, the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) says.
A diverse range of new processed vegetable products was now available on the market,
thanks to $147,000 investment from MPI's Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures (SFF Futures) fund - with more innovation underway.
The two-year project led by Food Nation, which kicked off in mid-2019, aimed to develop a range of plant-based "meat alternative" foods using mushroom seconds and an array of other more novel plants.
"Many of the plant-based meals currently on the market revolve around 'fake meat'," Miranda Burdon, co-founder of Food Nation said.
"They try to reflect the taste and texture of meat, rather than showcasing the various plants they are made of. The products we're developing are predominantly and unashamedly made of mushrooms, grains and vegetables."
The products were free from soy, dairy, and gluten so people with all types of diets could enjoy them, Burdon said.
The Auckland-based company used fresh New Zealand ingredients as much as possible, working in partnership with New Zealand producers such as Meadow Mushrooms, Kiwi Quinoa, Hemp Farm, and the Pure NZ Buckwheat Co.
"We're aiming our products at the 'reduce-a-tarians' market – including vegans and vegetarians as much as anyone who wants to eat less meat, but still want something substantial that tastes amazing," Burdon said.
Food Nation wouldn't be where it was today without MPI's Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures funding, Burdon said.
"It's helped us with the development end immeasurably, enabling us to develop our knowhow and capability as we innovate to deliver new taste sensations."
New products must be easy to adopt to create change in consumer's eating habits, so Food Nation focused on developing products that could be substituted in traditional recipes.
"Our market research found that consumers wanted a mince-like product first and foremost as it's so versatile in cooking, so that was our first area of focus," Burdon said.
"Whatever we produce, our aim is to make it 'craveably' good. There are around 50,000 edible plants in the world, so there's no shortage of options."
The products had a four-week shelf life without using preservatives, achieved by changing the cooking process and packaging.
Food Nation reduced waste by using fully recyclable packaging and mushrooms that didn't make the grade for supermarket shelves.
The company was already turning heads internationally – taking out the "Best meat alternative" category at the World Plant-Based Awards in October 2020.
They were also recently one of the top 10 finalists of FoodStarter, New World, and Ministry of Awesome's competition to find New Zealand's most innovative food and beverage products for their "Happy Patties".
Boosting the capability of the plant-based sector provided diversification opportunities for farmers from regions across New Zealand, MPI's Director Investment Programmes Steve Penno said.
"It's a sustainable and high-value revenue stream with a low environmental impact – and what's more the end result is tasty and healthy."