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Just a matter of time before canola protein enters the major league, says BioExx

By Elaine Watson, 30-Jan-2012

Related topics: Proteins, non-dairy, The GM debate, Sustainable sourcing, Food labeling and marketing, Markets

"At least 12 major players in the food industry" are testing canola protein from BioExx, while a tie up with Century Foods to develop canola-protein-based sports products is also progressing well, claims the veggie protein specialist.

BioExx vp, product and business development, Samah Garringer, was speaking to NutraIngredients-USA after receiving a no objections letter from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to a GRAS notification for its canola proteins Isolexx and Vitalexx.

A proven, solvent-free extraction process that is scalable…

While much of the recent media coverage on BioExx had focused on management changes [the sudden departure of former boss Chris Carl last summer], operational challenges at its Saskatoon factory, and its recent decision to seek a strategic partner, bosses had no doubt canola protein would hit the big time, claimed Garringer.

“Food manufacturers are very excited about canola protein, but with multinational companies, choosing and testing a new food ingredient takes time.

“Canola is the second largest oilseed crop in the world with an amino acid profile and functionality that make it the best vegetable protein on the market.”

She added: “I think it is misleading to characterize our search for a partner as a complete strategy change. It was always our plan to consider a joint venture to develop facilities outside of Canada [BioExx has a plant in Saskatoon but is also considering additional plants in North Dakota and Europe].

BioExx, which has just commissioned GEA Process Engineering to conduct a study assessing the scalability of its technology, says the study will provide "expert recommendations for the scale-up of the Saskatoon plant, together with associated capital costs and key operating economics, and is also being extended to include a similar analysis of a new greenfield facility on a larger scale".

BioExx vs Burcon

The fact that Canadian rival Burcon had spent years seeking a partner to manufacture its canola proteins was not proof that BioExx would struggle to find a partner or that the market was not ready for canola proteins, she insisted.

“Burcon is a technology company, whereas we already make a commercially available product. We have a proven, solvent-free extraction process that is scalable.”

The process, which involves enzyme-assisted mechanical separation and filtration, was clean, sustainable, robust and scalable, claimed Garringer. “There is no hexane.”

Customers want a complete protein

So what are potential customers looking for from a new protein?

“The first thing they look at is the nutritional and functional profile of your protein,” said Garringer. “In sports nutrition, for example, they look at the amino acid profile and want a PDCAAS (protein digestibility–corrected amino acid score) of at least 1.

“In bakery, they look more at functional aspects such as foaming and emulsifying capacity. And only after that they will look at price.”

Meanwhile, other factors such as allergenicity (canola is not a ‘big-eight’ allergen, unlike dairy and soy); genetic modification (canola is non-GM); sustainability (veggie protein has a lower carbon footprint than dairy); and hormones (canola doesn’t have soy’s baggage over estrogen); were also playing an increasingly important role in decision making, she said.

Flavor, odor and functionality

BioExx’s low-temperature extraction process means it can avoid the denaturing process that usually kicks in when proteins are exposed to high temperatures, which makes it harder to separate them from the meal and can reduce their solubility and functionality, claims the firm.

BioExx also says it has been able to improve the flavor and odor of canola proteins and decrease the ‘anti-nutrients’ that had historically hindered its use as a food grade material.

Sports nutrition deal with Century Foods International

Under the deal with Century, which covers the US and Canada, the partners are looking at meal replacements, dietary supplements, weight-loss aids, powdered protein supplements, nutritional beverages and custom formulations.

The deal also specifies terms of a new agreement to be entered into by the parties within one year (subject to Century meeting minimum purchase requirements from BioExx) giving Century exclusive rights to market sports nutrition products using BioExx proteins to a pre-defined list of clients.