ST. PAUL, MINN. — The University of Minnesota’s College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences (CFANS) released findings from its CFANS Insights survey. The survey pooled 1,010 American adults in May to learn current perceptions regarding food, agriculture and natural resources.

The survey revealed that, while consumers are gaining interest in plant-based proteins, 80% say they prefer pork, beef, poultry and fish as their main sources of protein. Over the next five years, 31% plan to incorporate more plant protein into their diet.

“Consumers continue to demand traditional protein options, but they are clearly signaling an expectation of the animal protein industry to do more to address environmental concerns,” said Mike Schutz, professor and head of the department of animal science. “It’s our responsibility as a research institution to discover new ways to feed a growing population while preserving and protecting our planet.”

CFANS said Gen X indicated the highest preference for plant proteins at 26%, while other generations ran lower at 20%. However, Gen Z showed the most willingness to pay more for plant proteins at 44%.

“Plant-based proteins are more in demand than ever before,” said Pam Ismail, founder and director of the Plant Protein Innovation Center (PPIC) at CFANS and professor in the food science and nutrition department. “As a society we are becoming increasingly focused on the interconnected health of people, animals and the planet. With that, the demand for plant-based protein has grown steadily.”

Ismail said increases in environmental awareness among consumers, as well as increases in health-conscious consumers and in the vegan/vegetarian/flexitarian population are key drivers for plant protein popularity.

At PPIC, scientists work to develop new protein ingredients and applications, scale protein from sustainable agriculture and train the next generation of plant protein scientists.

“We’re listening to what the consumer is asking for and we’re listening to industry needs, and it’s all underpinned by what’s good for our environment,” said Ismail. “The PPIC is where we come together to grow our research and accelerate progress.”

In addition, Gerald Shurson, animal science professor, leads the Integrated Animal Systems Biology (IASB) team at CFANS, which functions to improve the growth and health of food-producing animals in ways that support environmental sustainability. Shurson is exploring ways to formulate swine diets to reduce environmental impacts. 

He recently spoke on the topic at the International Swine Industry Symposium in China, noting the impact of greenhouse gas emissions in global animal production stemming from feed production, processing and transport. 

“We obtained great results showing that the feeding value of several food waste sources is equal to, or exceeds, traditional ingredients like corn and soybean meal for pigs, which could repurpose food waste from being an enormous environmental burden into a valued resource in pig diets,” he said.

CFANS noted other research projects underway, such as exploring ways to reduce ammonia and methane output from animals and working with enzymes to improve digestibility and optimize efficiency. 

“With the array of protein options, we’re working on today and those on the horizon, consumers have an increasing number of choices to meet their lifestyle needs,” Schutz said. “We’re using CFANS science across disciplines to build a nutritious, delicious and sustainable future.”