Back in January, pea ingredient supplier Puris (Minneapolis) and ingredients firm Cargill (Minneapolis) announced a joint venture, with Cargill providing, among other things, investment backing for Puris to expand its current production capacity for pea protein and to eventually build a second processing plant. Following the Natural Products Expo West trade show in March, Puris’s Chief Marketing Officer Jon Getzinger told Nutritional Outlook that these investments will help Puris ramp up supply, which currently is lagging behind growing demand for pea protein.
Getzinger called the joint venture with Cargill “pretty straightforward.” “Both Cargill and Puris are committed to the plant-ingredients space,” he said, given Cargill’s leading position in soy protein. “Cargill surveyed the competitive landscape for the best-tasting pea protein and the most defensible position, including our vertically integrated seed-to-solution model, which includes selling our seed to U.S. farmers and then processing what is harvested only at our plants in the U.S., and decided no one else could match our capabilities,” he said. “We, in turn, wanted to be the first [pea protein supplier] to have a second [processing] plant.” Getzinger said that Puris is the only pea protein supplier currently with a processing plant in the United States and, once its second plant is built in the U.S., the company will be the first pea protein supplier worldwide to have two plants.
At Natural Products Expo West, Cargill representatives told Nutritional Outlook that the joint venture with Puris is Cargill’s first activity in the pea-protein space, expanding the company’s plant-protein portfolio which until now has focused on soy alone.
One of the challenges Puris has experienced, Getzinger said, has been generating enough supply of pea protein—specifically, pea protein with 80% or more protein content—to meet supply. “The ability to procure 80%+ protein has been tight over the past year or so as demand outstripped our ability to produce,” he told Nutritional Outlook, noting that the company’s peas are both grown and processed in the United States. “With the current plant expansion underway and expected to be completed this fall, and a second plant that we hope to bring on line in the near future, we think that we can be there for our customers as they grow.”
Growing Pea’s Share of the Market
What will it take to grow pea protein’s share of the plant-protein market? As Getzinger pointed out, “As fast as pea protein is growing, it is still only around 10% of the soy market in North America.” He said that ingredient innovation, such as the new, better-tasting ingredients coming out of Puris, will help to grow the market.
In addition, he added, “Until the large CPGs begin to utilize pea ingredients in their mainstream products in much the same way the innovative companies that they are acquiring are using those ingredients, then pea ingredients won’t be ‘mature.’”
In addition, pea-protein growers, like growers of many other crops, face ongoing challenges related to the growing demand for organic ingredients in general. Like many companies, Puris is dealing with the fact that organic acreage in the U.S. is still limited. “True organics are more expensive to grow, resulting in a large market for ‘fake’ organics coming in especially from countries such as China,” Getzinger said.
One tactic Puris is relying on to improve conditions relates to its agronomy practices. By employing some notable, conventional breeding practices proprietary to Puris, Getzinger said that Puris has been able to partner with farmers to grow peas in states farther south and enable those farmers to do things like double-crop. “Due to our unique, vertically integrated system, we are able to sell our seed to farmers and then buy their harvest back on contract allowing us to avoid the pitfalls of a spot market purchase,” he added. “This is especially important with organic crops, which are more limited and prone to disruption on the spot market. When the second plant comes on line, our ability to supply the new plant will be assured due to our unique abilities on the non-GMO and organic seed side of our business.”
New Innovations in Pea
In addition to scaling up, Getzinger said Puris is focused on pea-ingredient innovation. The company’s goal is to harness ingredients using “virtually every part” of the yellow field pea, including pea protein, pea starch, pea fiber, and soon, he said, pea syrup.
And while pea starch and pea fiber offer very little protein content, an ingredient like pea starch offers benefits of its own that are attractive to today’s marketers and formulators. “The current trends such as cleaner labels, including the elimination of corn and soy, coupled with tapioca and potato starches becoming more expensive, has left the door open for pea starch to shine,” Getzinger said. “Pea starch has a higher ratio of amylose-to-amylopectin than dent, tapioca, rice, or dent corn, resulting in the ability to handle higher shear with a very firm gelling capacity, but [with] none of the volatile pricing associated with the others.”
And, as with all companies involved with pea ingredients, continuing to improve the pea-protein taste—which some describe as “bitter,” “beany,” or “earthy,”—is paramount. Getzinger said Puris has a good handle on this.
“We’ve made a better-tasting portfolio of proteins, starting with the non-GMO and organic seeds that we breed,” he said. “From there, our proprietary manufacturing process allows us to produce the best-tasting pea proteins in the market. By having a variety of proteins, we can match their functionality up with different applications, ensuring a good fit in both taste and texture,” he said, adding that the same is true for the company’s starch, fiber, and soon-to-launch syrup ingredients.