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Pea protein finds favor among global food investors

2019-07-03 17:38 Wednesday

In recent months, pea protein has hit the headlines as a leading alternative to soy protein, one of the staples of the sports fitness, functional food and healthy eating markets.


Its health food credentials, as well as it low price point and eco-friendly farming methods have all been pointed to as clear benefits, while consumer demand is driving increasing appetite in general for a wider range of plant-based protein sources – for instance oats and canola.

Behind the trend is not just consumers' desire to eat more healthily. A 2018 survey from the research firm Nielsen found 39 percent of Americans are actively trying to eat more plant-based foods as a substitute for beef, chicken and pork.

Yellow and green peas offer a strong alternative to meat, with their chewy, meat-like texture – a quality that has not gone unnoticed.

In Canada, Burcon NutraScience Corporation, a company that specializes in developing functionally and nutritionally valuable plant-proteins, has announced that it has entered into a joint venture partnership with an investor group to build a new $70 million pea-protein and canola-protein commercial production facility.

The protein production facility, which is planned to initially process approximately 20,000 tonnes of peas per year starting in mid-2020, will produce Burcon’s Peazazz and Peazac pea proteins, as well as Burcon’s Supertein, Puratein and Nutratein canola proteins.

“[The announcement] constitutes a truly transformative event for Burcon, and a new chapter in Burcon’s development focused on bringing the company’s unique plant proteins to market directly as a producer.” said Johann F. Tergesen, Burcon’s president and chief executive officer.

Meanwhile, earlier this month, meat-substitute producer Beyond Meat made IPO history when its shares nearly tripled in value on their first day of trading. The company’s vegan burgers and sausages are leading the fake meat revolution, with the pea protein as their star ingredient.

Beyond Meat’s pea-based offerings are joined by the new Lightlife burger, which arrives in U.S. supermarkets this month. There’s also Ripple Foods, with a line of pea-based dairy substitutes.

Even more foods use peas as a key functional ingredient: JUST’s eggless egg products, Good Catch Foods’ fish-free tuna and UK-based Nomad Foods’ Green Cuisine line that includes veggie burgers, sausages and Swedish meatballs.

With peas becoming such a hot commodity, big players are preparing to ramp up supply. Global pea protein sales will quadruple by 2025, says Henk Hoogenkamp, an adviser and board member for several food companies, with most of the increase stemming from more consumption of plant-based meat products.

Demand for pea protein is rising globally. Some analysts even predict the pea protein market will reach more than US$300 million within the same time frame.

The growth of the pea protein market is encouraging for farmers like Ryan Klassen. His family has been planting peas for more than 10 years on a 2-square-mile farm in Belgrade, Minnesota, the U.S.

"What peas do for the soil is invaluable," he says.

"It's a guaranteed 5 to 10 percent yield bump for whatever crop comes following peas, based on the nitrogen credit that they leave behind."

Klassen buys his seeds from Minnesota-based Puris, the largest pea protein producer in the States. Once he gets them in the ground, they'll grow quickly. Within a week, sprouts should emerge, and within two weeks, his fields will be lush with the color of legumes.

Agribusiness conglomerate Cargill, together with food producer Puris, is developing new products with pea protein, including dairy. Further products touted include functional drinks, dietary supplements and nutraceuticals.

"We tried an ice cream, so just a vanilla ice cream – really smooth texture," said Matthew Jacobs, who manages Cargill's plant-based protein business. "We had a cheese sauce. We had a smoothie." The pea, he added, could one day rival soybeans as a main source of plant protein because it is so versatile.

"The fact that it can be used well across a really wide range of very mainstream food and beverages is important," said Jacobs. He noted it is free of lactose, gluten and other allergens.

But the pea protein market is still pretty small compared to soybeans, even though soybean production has been declining.

Many people will be looking to see what the future has in store for this small but mighty ingredient in wider markets, including those in the global and Chinese functional food industry.

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