Special edition: Protein-rich foods: The next generation

US pea protein market ‘ready to explode’


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US pea protein market ‘ready to explode’

Related tags Pea protein Amino acid Protein Nutrition

For a long time in the shadow of soy as a plant protein source, pea protein is establishing itself in food and beverage applications, with the US market set to explode, say industry experts.

“With an average annual growth of 5% in volume terms over the last three years, the plant-based protein market has to satisfy ever-increasing consumer demand,” ​said Bruno Gehin, corporate product manager – proteins for Roquette.

“The ability to meet this demand depends on new plant-derived sources delivering reliable, sustainable and affordable alternatives to animal proteins or soybeans. Consumers want products that are healthy and sustainable and that at the same time offer an attractive taste and texture.”

To meet this increasing demand, pea protein isolates are increasingly finding use in a range of food and beverage products, from nutritional bars to ready-to-drink beverages and powders, and from pastas to batters and breadings.

While pea protein is not new – suppliers like Roquette and Manitoba-based pea ingredients specialist Nutri-Pea have been selling the ingredient for some years – the US market for pea protein isolate is relatively small, said Brent Lambert, VP-proteins & gums for Farbest Brands, “but it’s ready to explode”​.

“Consumers are just starting to be introduced to this ingredient,” ​he added. “We are seeing gluten-free products containing pea protein. This is a fringe ingredient starting to get into the mainstream.”

Allergen-free & amino acids

Pea protein isolates are gaining in popularity among food manufacturers because of the clean label, and non-allergy properties of the ingredient, said Anne Brown from the Scoular Company, which distributes the Nutri-Pea ingredients.

It’s also a cost effective protein when compared to other proteins, she said.

The issue with pea protein, sourced from Canada and the EU, has been flavor, she added. However, most of the suppliers now claim to have clean flavor profiles for their ingredients.

“Although often recommended based on their emulsifying properties, pea protein isolates do offer other functional properties,”​ explained Dr Kevin Segall, food scientist, Burcon NutraScience. 

“They also may be incorporated in food products to provide nutritional benefits.  Pea proteins have an amino acid profile rich in lysine, arginine and branched chain amino acids.”

Gehin said that pea protein is the richest source of arginine (about 8.7% on a protein weight basis), easily eclipsing most conventional protein sources.

Sports Nutrition 1
Sports nutrition is an important sector for pea protein isolates

“The importance of arginine cannot be exaggerated,” ​he said. “Arginine is considered a conditionally essential amino acid since it is rate-limiting for protein synthesis. It is involved in nitrogen metabolism, in growth and in cell division. Arginine not only helps build a lean and muscular body, it is also a precursor of creatine, an important energy source that improves athletic performance. An arginine intake of 6-12g per day is therefore recommended for sports nutrition.”

Unsurprisingly, pea protein is increasingly popular in sports nutrition products. “Comparing to dairy proteins amino acid profile, our pea protein Nutralys is closer to caseinate than lactoserum but is also very complementary to whey proteins, in particular for sports nutrition products,”​ added Gehin.


In the US, pea protein is now being combined with other “high-value vegetable ingredients such as plant-based anti-oxidants and micro-algae to create Green Mixes that have found their niche in the healthcare market”​, he said. 

“The market is continuing to diversify and consumer demand for novel high-protein formulations continues to grow. Ready-to-drink beverages, tablets and capsules, gels, snacks and nutrition bars - all with pea protein - are under development.

“All these products can be broadly placed in one or the other of two classes: using pea protein as an alternative and/or as a complement to other protein and non-protein ingredients.”

Burcon’s Dr Segall added: “Consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of protein consumption in general, such as how consuming protein promotes muscle synthesis and recovery after exercise, helps reduce muscle loss in older adults and provides greater satiety than carbohydrates and fats.”​ 

Next generation?

Canada’s Burcon is working on commercializing its Peazazz-branded ingredient. The company, which previously has had success with Clarisoy (now in ADM’s stable), expects to have a Peazazz semi-works production facility online and producing commercial quantities to drive primary market demand in 2013.

Dr Kevin Segall, food scientist, Burcon NutraScience, told us that the ingredient is differentiated from other pea protein isolates by its clean flavor and functional properties. 

“Conventional pea protein isolates are only partially soluble at low pH, with the particles that do not dissolve precluding the preparation of transparent acidic beverages and tending to settle out.  Peazazz is completely soluble in low pH systems and produces solutions that are transparent and heat stable. These properties, together with its clean flavor, make Peazazz highly suitable for fortifying acidic beverages such as soft drinks, sports drinks, juices, fortified waters, etc,” ​he said.

The company’s pea protein isolate can be used in the same products as conventional pea protein isolates, he said, “but is also highly suited for use in low pH systems such as acidic beverages”​.

Roquette is also working on refining its pea protein offering, said Gehin. At last year’s HiE, the French company launched a new grade of its pea protein called Nutralys pea XF exp..

“This prototype is designed for special diets like sports and senior people as well as for weight management. This new grade is probably the world's finest protein, being able to deliver lower viscosity, good cold water powder dispersibility, a clean taste plus finished products with a smooth texture,” ​he said.

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