Australian Plant Proteins has closed down its Horsham based operation

Following a promising run for eight years it was a surprise for some that Australian Plant Proteins has closed its operation and has gone into voluntary administration

In the biggest blow to plant-based food production to date Australian Plant Proteins (APP) the largest of three commercial-scale plant-protein fractionation facilities operating in Australia has closed its operation and been placed into voluntary administration

In a regional area where employment and value-added industries are essential, Horsham VIC based Australian Plant Proteins (APP) has closed its operation and has been placed into voluntary administration.

it’s disappointing that a significant manufacturing plant has announced its potential closure if a white knight does not appear on the horizon, after eight years of operations.

APP was the largest of three commercial-scale plant-protein fractionation facilities operating in Australia, and the only manufacturer of high-quality locally grown faba bean and pulse protein isolates.

Its customer base was both local and international food manufacturers where it provided versatile plant food ingredients for a range of products such as breakfast cereals, breads, bakery goods, snack foods, and sports nutrition products.

Brendan McKeegan and Phil McFarlane co-founders and directors of APP have placed the company in voluntary liquidation

APP money raising

APP’s future looked safe when it raised $45.7 million in April 2021 from major global agri-food company Bunge to expand its processing capacity to include locally grown legumes.

This move ensured APP as the only commercial plant protein fractionation facility in Australia.

APP first began production in its newly built Horsham VIC facility in November 2020, using a proprietary fractionation process to produce protein isolates from locally grown crops including faba beans, yellow peas, mung beans, chickpeas, red lentils and yellow lentils.

The investment from Bunge allowed APP to start increasing its output of locally grown plant protein isolates, a critical factor in enabling the local plant-based meat alternative sector to grow. 

At the time, APP co-founder and director Brendan McKeegan said securing the investment and distribution with a major multinational such as Bunge is a testament to the value and growing demand for quality, plant-based protein options. “The investment and interest also create a strong precedent for further development of similar value-add industries in the Australian agricultural sector,” Brendan McKeegan added.

“As soon as APP commenced commercial production in November 2020, we experienced soaring demand for our faba bean protein isolate both locally and internationally, with customers impressed with the product’s high functionality and clean taste.”

APP was the largest of three commercial-scale plant-protein fractionation facilities operating in Australia, and the only manufacturer of high-quality locally grown faba bean and pulse protein isolates

Brendan McKeegan explained more about APP’s protein isolates, “They are designed to help brands of all sizes grow with the plant-based trend. We’re enabling food and beverage manufacturers to tap into the demand for new protein types, make protein claims, deliver exceptional texture and mouthfeel, and align with consumers seeking non-GMO and clean label offerings.”

Following the $45.7 million investment in April 2021 from Bunge a further top-up of the coffers came AAP’s way when it was announced in March 2022 that the largest investment in our local plant protein sector to date, of $378M project would be a joint venture between APP, Australian Milling Group, Australian meat company and one of the country’s largest family-owned food businesses, Thomas Foods International.

A statement at the time said the money would be used to construct three plant protein processing facilities in South Australia to become a major supplier of plant proteins and generate up to 8500 jobs in the state.  

The joint venture represented a combined $200 million in company investments, with the
federal government awarding the project an additional $113 million grant through the Modern Manufacturing Initiative (MMI) and the South Australia government committing a further $65 million.

From this expansion, locally grown plant proteins would become the domain of APP as it was the only commercial-scale pulse protein extraction facility producing ingredients.

This venture had the potential to significantly expand domestic plant protein supply and export opportunities, quadrupling existing production in South Australia and supplying 25,000 tonnes of pulse protein a year.

South Australian production at the time already accounted for over a quarter of all locally grown pulses, with this project allowing growers to value-add their crops by up to eight times.

However, due to disagreements on how the funding would be allocated, the funding never went ahead. It resulted in a damaging setback for APP, one that has now led Australian Plant Proteins (APP) to close its operation and be placed into voluntary administration.

Dr Simon Eassom joined the Food Frontier team as our Executive Director in 2022 with a PhD in applied ethics and a background in health and nutrition prior to a distinguished career as a university professor in the UK

Behind the plant protein push

Protein concentrates (40%-79% protein) and isolates (>80% protein) derived from pulses and grains have been cited as essential for future food security and to meet the needs of a growing global population.

See our previous feature here as to how everything was expected to progress with plant based protein alternatives where the CSIRO estimated that the plant-based products category in Australia will reach $6 billion by 2030.

CEO of alternative protein think tank Food Frontier Dr Simon Eassom had this to say, “This development should not be seen as a failure of an individual company. This is a warning that building a long-term sustainable industry takes time, ongoing investment, and commitment from government.

“This is especially important in regional areas where employment and valued added industries are needed.

“If we contrast Australia with a world leader in this sector, the government sponsored Protein Industries Canada has co-invested $190m in the time since APP was founded in 2016 and is strategically assembling and supercharging Canada’s domestic plant protein industry to reach $27.5 billion by 2035.

“Sadly, the potential closure of Australian Plant Proteins pushes us further behind countries such as Canada and China and resigns our local manufacturers to relying on the importation of soybean concentrates and protein ingredients, often of variable quality and suitability.

“Plant-based protein production is a sustainable industry that benefits consumers, farmers, and the environment.

“And it is essential to meet the increased demand for high-quality protein concentrates and isolates required to provide nutritional fortification to a wide range of food products.

Dr Simon Eassom added, “Australia is a major producer of pulses crops, the world’s largest grower of lupins, for example. These crops are currently sold on the international commodity markets, often as feedstock for the animal farming industry in Asia.

“If processing facilities aren’t supported, Australia will miss an enormous opportunity to enhance its domestic supply of high-quality protein ingredients for the food manufacturing sector.

“It will prevent significant and necessary R&D into utilising these products to feed large sectors of the community, such as those in aged care facilities, who need food manufactured from high quality, digestible protein at affordable prices.

Continuing a 14-year decline, ABS data shows Australia’s national spending in R&D dropped again in 2023, jeopardising our opportunity to be a global early mover in food development and alternative proteins.

“This, combined with a lack of manufacturing capabilities such as that provided by APP puts Australia at risk of entrenching our reliance on imports rather than leading as a major exporter of innovative food products. We hope that APP finds a buyer before it’s too late but, the support needs to come from government,” Dr Simon Eassom concluded.

Food Frontier role in plant food development

Food Frontier is the independent think tank on alternative proteins in Australia and New Zealand. Funded by grants and donations, their work is to grow our region’s protein supply with sustainable and nutritious options that create value for businesses, farmers and consumers.