However, everyone agrees plant-based protein capacity needs to expand significantly to meet demand, says Ingredion, which has just opened a state-of-the-art facility in South Sioux City Nebraska producing pea protein isolates and starch; while PURIS - a key supplier of pea protein to Beyond Meat, with backing from Cargill – is gearing up to open a new facility in Dawson, MN this year, after significantly expanding production at its Turtle Lake, WI plant.
Once a niche ingredient, pea is now a key player in the burgeoning plant-based protein market (although in terms of acreage, it’s still light years behind soy), and capacity has been expanding rapidly, with Roquette recently opening a large facility in Canada; ADM building a plant in North Dakota; Cosucra building a new plant in Denmark and expanding production in Belgium; and several Chinese manufacturers expanding capacity.
Major CPG companies including Nestlé, Unilever and Danone have also made high-profile commitments to make plant-based options more accessible, affordable and appetizing, while a growing number of meat and dairy companies are making significant investments in animal-free alternatives, both through in-house brands and acquisitions/investments.
Reaching the mainstream with plant-based meat, dairy
Speaking at a panel debate hosted by Plant Powered Consulting founder Elysabeth Alfano during Ingredion’s March 3 virtual launch event for its new Sioux City plant, Kees Kruythoff, chairman and CEO, LIVEKINDLY co, said sexy mission-driven startups are making plant-based eating more aspirational.
However, engaging the world’s biggest CPG and foodservice companies will be key to accelerating the kind of change many activists want to see in the food system, he said: “Impact will come with scale.”
Caroline Bushnell, director of corporate engagement at the Good Food Institute (GFI), noted that to really move the needle on plant-based meat (which currently accounts for around 1% of the US meat market), prices have to come down, while taste is king: “I see with some of the companies we work with is that they can focus on some of the other attributes at the expense of taste and affordability.”
Biomimicry ‘key to mainstream acceptance’ says GFI
Some consumers “might want a more veg-forward product,” and there is room for a variety of approaches in the marketplace, she acknowledged.
“But the bulk of consumers are looking for something that is familiar, that they know how to cook, that is part of traditional meals that they eat, so the focus on biomimicry… [creating a product] that delivers on all the sensory attributes that consumers really love about meat will be key to mainstream acceptance.”
From a merchandising perspective, meanwhile, the products also need to be positioned in places where most consumers will find them, she said: “When you’re thinking about mass consumer appeal, it has to be in part of the store where those consumers are shopping… and most consumers looking for a center of plate protein option are looking in the meat aisle.”
Getting to price parity: ‘It’s not just an economy of scale issue’
As for pricing, said Christie Lagally, founder at plant-based chicken maker Rebellyous Foods, “There is an extraordinary opportunity to innovate around manufacturing, supply chain and that’s what’s exciting about this new Ingredion plant; it really takes it up another level for other proteins beyond wheat and soy to be able to play at the industrial scale.”
But “it’s not just an economy of scale issue,” she noted. “The innovation we’re trying to develop at Rebellyous… we need innovation and out of the box ideas for solving some of the fundamental technical issues that are stopping plant-based meat from scaling.”
That said, Lagally reckons it might be possible to reach pricing parity with conventional meat in some product areas in three to five years (Beyond Meat has set a similar timetable for select products).
As for white space in the market, there’s still a lot of room for innovation in plant-based chicken, seafood, yogurts, and products for kids, said the panelists.
PURIS president: ‘We have to use the whole crop’
Speaking to FoodNavigator-USA last month PURIS president Tyler Lorenzen, said the new plant in Dawson, Minnesota, will be “one of the largest plant-based protein plants in North America” when it opens this year.
Welcoming moves by competitors to increase capacity, he said: “This will enable all the customers in the pea protein space and others that are not using it today but would like to if they could,” to get their hands on high-quality products.
“Nothing reduces price more than scaling of overhead over more throughput. But we also have to use the whole crop, to valorize all parts of the crop [beyond protein] and we’re not just talking about starch.”
Fiber is a particularly exciting opportunity, he added. “We’re working on a variety of higher-value ingredients, but fiber is hot.”
‘We’re looking to launch a new pea protein that re-sets the taste and functionality standards in the industry’
PURIS is also seeking to push the envelope in terms of flavor and functionality, solubility, color, texture, and sodium levels, he said, noting that not all pea protein is the same, with meaningful differences between different suppliers.
In terms of taste and performance, he said, “We’re only at the beginning of the movement… and it starts with the seed. We’re looking to launch a new pea protein that re-sets the taste and functionality standards in the industry.”
The Game Changers: Peak athletic performance… from a vegan diet
Asked about consumer perceptions of plant-based meat vs conventional meat, high-profile documentaries such as The Game Changers had helped to tackle some cultural barriers by showing that you can achieve peak athletic performance on a plant-based diet, said Lorenzen, a former NFL player.
“When I was playing sport in the early 2000s, the concept of eating plant-based proteins instead of whey protein was considered a crime, but that’s been turned on its head,” said Lorenzen, who said athletes from Tom Brady to James Wilks were helping to raise awareness that eating combinations of plants with all the essential amino acids gave them the nutritional tools to compete at an elite level.
In a generation, he predicted, it will no longer be a given that meat, milk, and eggs come from animals.
“Ingredion has laid out very clear objectives over the last few years to have the most inclusive and diverse plant-based protein portfolio in the industry. We have invested in pea, faba, lentil, chick pea, and many other pulses to come, and we have also invested in technology, such as fermentation with Clara Foods and new proteins, such as quinoa with NorQuin. We will continue to push the boundaries for plant-based proteins and are committed to providing proteins that meet our customers’ values and adapting lifestyles.”
Michael Natale, global growth platform leader, plant-based protein, Ingredion
Ingredion – which has just opened a large pea processing facility in Sioux City, Nebraska - also produces pulse-based concentrates and flours from peas, lentils and faba beans in Vanscoy, Saskatchewan at Verdient Foods.
The Nebraska opening makes Ingredion the “first and only ingredient supplier in North America to offer a complete range of sustainable plant-based pulse protein flours, concentrates and isolates,” claimed president and CEO Jim Zallie.
“We’re celebrating a pivotal moment in our company’s history that aligns our business and our values with the global consumer megatrends…We’re committed to shaping the future of plant-based foods.
“Increased demand for plant-based protein has had a significant impact on the food and beverage industry as more consumers are switching to plant-based diets and seeking products made with real ingredients that are familiar, trusted, sustainably sourced and authentic.”
When it comes to consumer purchase drivers for plant-based meat and dairy products, variety and novelty are just as important as health and sustainability, added Ingredion’s VP global marketing Charlotte Commarond.
Ingredion’s VITESSENCE Pulse 1853 pea protein isolate (85% protein by dry weight) and PURITY P 1002 native pea starch are sourced from North American farms and processed at Ingredion’s new state of the art pea protein plant in Sioux City, Nebraska, which was recommended for GFSI (FSSC 22000 standard) food grade certification status earlier this year.
Kristen Germana, Sr. marketing manager, plant-based protein North America at Ingredion, told FoodNavigator-USA that key applications for pea starch included anti-caking agents, cheese and cheese products, bakery, confectionery, breadings/batters and emulsified, processed meats.
“PURITY P 1002 pea starch works as an anti-caking agent for shredded cheese, replacing replace cellulose- and potato-based anti-caking agents while providing label-friendly performance. The pea starch also delivers good flowability with minimal clumping and reduces powdery appearance on cheese shreds compared to the performance of cellulose. The clean label ingredient also supports even and complete melt, reduces blistering versus cellulose powder and provides clean flavor (without the dairy notes of potato) and less powdery mouthfeel.
In gluten-free baked goods, meanwhile, PURITY P 1002 pea starch provides good volume and crumb firmness, she said. “In gluten-free bread, the pea starch enables good sliceability and shelf-life and freeze/thaw stability.”
In confectionery, it can be used to achieve up to 50% gelatin replacement in gummies “for cost savings and differentiated texture while retaining clarity,” while it can also help firms meet demand for clean label extruded snacks “with innovative textures,” she added. “The pea starch can be used as part of a system for added extrusion expansion and helps in the development of crispness while keeping formulations low in fat.”
In emulsified meat products, meanwhile, the pea starch provides a clean label means of creating firm texture while improving the cook yield, while in batters and breading, it can offer good adhesion and help maintain crispy textures over time. Picture credits: Ingredion