EXPO WEST 2022: Above Food bets big on oats debuting new plant-based cheese products and disruptive processing technology

By Mary Ellen Shoup

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Above Food plant-based Oats

Above Food has been quietly building a plant-based foods portfolio which spans plant-based seafood to plant-based cheese, and its market presence is about to explode with the unveiling of a disruptive, more sustainable, oat processing technology that can be applied to virtually any plant-based ingredient within the company's domain, claims Above Food co-founder, president, and chief innovation officer, Martin Williams.

With the unpredictability of supply chains and the impact of climate change, food companies continue to face challenges around ingredient sourcing and manufacturing capacity when it comes to getting products to market. 

As a vertically-integrated company with a large ingredients business and a growing CPG platform (Loma Linda, TUNO, Neat, Culcherd, Farmer Direct Organic), Above Food has shielded itself against a lot of the same challenges many of its peers are grappling.

"Vertical integration is indeed a superpower,"​ Williams told FoodNavigator-USA at the Natural Products Expo West Show in Anaheim, California earlier this month.

Above Food has over 70,000 acres of farm land in Canada where it grows most of its plant-based ingredients including lentil, fava, chickpea, and oats, the latter being a core focus for the company this year. 

"For 2022, we have 72,000 tons of oats that are just ours,"​ said Williams who added that it will be using oats for in-demand products such as milk, creamers, and beverages and in plant-based cheese shreds under its Culcherd brand, which will begin rolling out later this year. 

According to Williams, oats offer distinct sensory benefits in plant-based cheese formulations (e.g. mouth coating and melt) and the company is also focused on supplementing the products with the addition of four different probiotic strains for added gut health along with pea protein and some fats to complete the formulation.

"It starts with gut health, but then we add in incredible flavors, so you get this flavor exploration and the backbone of an incredible health proposition,"​ said Williams.

Technological breakthrough for oats?

Earlier this year, Above Food announced that it had acquired Sonic Milling Systems ​and its proprietary hydrodynamic-cavitation technology (which has its roots in the Cold War-era Soviet Union as a way for submarines to eliminate waste underwater). The technology, said Williams, is able to eliminate the typical milling step most plant-based ingredient undergo in the manufacturing process. 

"The [Russian] engineers had created this system where they could use small bubbles in water to explode the garbage into nanoparticles without ever having to resurface and be undetected by sonar,"​ explained Williams.

"Well it turns out, that same technology, you can put anything into it. Oats are easy because they explode in a very predictable way."

By using hydrodynamic-cavitation, oats are fractionated into nano particles without producing a waste stream (therefore using more of the oats) and never exposing the oats to air or heat which could denature the oats. 

"It’s so flexible, it’s oat today, but it could easily be almonds, it could easily be hemp, it could be any type of seed or any type of grain. For a customer, we can co-locate this manufacturing right next to them, so there’s a great deal of flexibility there as a technology platform,"​ claimed Williams.

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