While milled chickpea powders and flours have been on the market for some time, only a handful of companies have developed techniques to produce functional protein concentrates and isolates – including InnovoPro and fellow Israeli firm ChickP and Virginia, US-based Nutriati - which have developed techniques to remove key anti-nutritionals and preserve the qualities of the protein that make it attractive to formulators.
They all use different extraction methods - and InnovoPro CEO Taly Nechushtan is careful not to comment on the relative merits of the products or processes, although she notes that InnovoPro's process – developed by founder Dr Ascher Shmulewitz - doesn’t use organic solvents such as ethanol.
CPG products featuring InnovoPro's 70% protein concentrate are already on the market in 10 countries (products available in the US include Simply Free plant-based beverages and plant-based eggs from Zero Egg), said Nechushtan, with dairy alternatives from yogurts to ice creams, barista-style plant-based milks proving particulaly popular.
However, products span multiple categories, she said: “We’ve got customers doing Nutella-style dairy-free spreads and plant-based protein powders.”
For plant-based meat applications, meanwhile, the chickpea protein powder can serve as a binding agent, whereas a texturized version could be used in larger amounts, she said.
“Chickpea has a combination of properties that you cannot find today in other plant proteins. Functionality, taste, nutrition, digestibility, and a clean-label, so we think the market opportunity is huge.
“The pace of growth in plant-based products is something we haven’t seen in the food business for many years; I started my career in food and when we were growing at 3% a year we were really happy.”
Functionality and performance
From a functional perspective, InnovoPro’s 70% chickpea protein concentrate is a “strong emulsifier that combines water and oil together, which is what all R&D managers are looking for; but they are also looking for a very soluble protein, especially for beverages,” said Nechushtan, who took the helm at InnovoPro in 2016.
She noted for example that it performs well in low pH beverages, in which plant-based proteins such as pea can sometimes precipitate out of solution, or are not able to solubilize. “Plant protein in general are very sensitive to pH and you can get flakes of the product floating around in coffee for example, but we can prevent this.”
Protein digestibility and nutrition
While chickpeas are not a source of complete protein like soy, egg, or casein, InnovoPro’s protein is a high-quality concentrated protein source with a PDCAAS of 0.8 – at the top end of the scale for plant-proteins, said Nechushtan.
As for the other 30% of the protein concentrate that isn’t protein, she said, “Food companies are also looking for healthy fibers, so it’s highly nutritious, and low in carbs and sodium.”
Neutral taste, creamy texture, clean label
From a sensory perspective, InnovoPro’s chickpea protein concentrate is neutral-tasting with a smooth creamy mouthfeel (no ‘beany’ or ‘earthy’ taste or grittiness), which makes it very attractive for manufacturers of products such as plant-based milks, said Nechushtan.
You can also incorporate a meaningful amount of it in applications such as plant-based milks before taste becomes an issue, she said. “You can get to at least 3% of protein in a product which is similar to [dairy] milk [which contains around 3.3% protein] without a beany taste.”
“So now we get onto the clean label aspect,” she said. “Because it doesn’t have these off notes, it doesn’t need masking agents, plus in some applications you can also cut out the use of gums and modified starches [which many formulators don’t want to use if they can help it, she claimed].
Examples include vegan ice cream without lecithin, guar gum, carrageenan or starch; non-dairy desserts without modified starch, carrageenan, pectin and maltodextrin; and egg-free mayo minus the modified starch.
Consumer-friendly: 'Everybody knows chickpeas'
More generally, she said, chickpea protein – which is non-GMO and non-allergenic - has broad consumer appeal. Put another way, you don’t need to educate consumers about chickpeas, which are widely used in traditional foods from hummus to tahini, but are also appearing in a new generation of products from pasta (Banza) to extruded snacks (Hippeas): “Consumers trust chickpeas, they’re widely consumed throughout the world. Everybody knows chickpeas.”
So where does InnovoPro’s protein fit within the larger plant-based protein market? “It’s not something you’d used as a filler or a ‘protein source,’” said Nechushtan. “It’s a functional protein that you might use at 3-6% [inclusion rates] in a recipe.”
Based in Raanana, Israel, InnovoPro was founded in 2013 by Dr Ascher Shmulewitz, an inventor with scores of patents to his name.
To date, it has raised $23m, most recently completing a Series B round led by Jerusalem Venture Partners (JVP), and supported by Rabo Food & Agri Innovation Fund, part of Rabobank’s investment arm Rabo Corporate Investments, leading Israeli VC fund ICOS Capital, and early-stage investment platform iAngels. Swiss retailer Migros is a customer but also a shareholder.
InnovoPro's first product is a 70% protein concentrate, but it is also exploring additional products including chickpea starch, an organic protein concentrate, and further down the road, chickpea protein isolates.