Chef Woo High-Protein Ramen Noodle Life Cycle Assessment: A Detailed Comparison with Animal-Based Protein Sources
The Center for Sustainable Systems at University of Michigan conducted for Borealis Foods a “cradle to grave” life cycle assessment of Chef Woo (CW) instant ramen noodle, a unique product that supplies 20g of plant-based complete protein per serving. The purpose of this study is to compare environmental impacts – chosen here as greenhouse gas emissions, fossil energy use, land use and water use – with those from supplying an equivalent amount of protein from meat, including beef, pork and chicken. In addition, we compare the high-protein ramen with a meal of regular ramen supplemented with pork or chicken to provide 20g protein total as well as a Beyond Burger patty (plant-based beef analog). A secondary purpose of the study is to highlight opportunities for improvement in the environmental performance of the Chef Woo product chain and provide Borealis Foods with a benchmark against which improvement efforts can be measured. The primary audiences are both internal stakeholders at Borealis Foods as well as external customers, consumers and interested stakeholders.
The chosen functional unit is “provision of 20g of protein to end consumer,” which is supplied in one ready-to-rehydrate cup of Chef Woo and 116g, 111g, and 89g of beef, pork, or chicken, respectively. System boundaries included upstream ingredient and raw material supply (including farm production of agricultural crops), processing and packaging operations, distribution to point of sale, storage and preparation for consumption, and disposal of packaging materials. Impacts at retail were excluded, as were contributions due to retail- or consumer-level food losses. Borealis Foods provided detailed information on ingredient quantities and sources, packaging materials, and processing facility energy demands. This was complemented with primary data from the pea protein isolate supplier (primary protein source in Chef Woo) and additional information from other ingredient suppliers. The environmental impact of meat production came from three studies designed to be representative of U.S. production methods (Putman et al. 2017; Putman et al. 2018; Rotz et al. 2019). These farm-gate studies were used as inputs into a cradle-to-grave life cycle model that also included representative harvesting/processing, packaging, distribution (equivalent distance to Chef Woo), at-home storage and cooking for consumption. Production and packaging of Beyond Burger came from (Heller and Keoleian 2018), with other downstream stages modeled the same as meats. Ramen Express, a regular (wheat-based) ramen noodle manufactured in the same facility as Chef Woo, was modeled similarly to Chef Woo, with necessary changes to ingredients.