Pea protein market will not be as big as soy, but will offer unique benefits as a specialty protein, says pea supplier

July 20, 2018
Jennifer Grebow
Jennifer Grebow

Jennifer Grebow is editor-in-chief of Nutritional Outlook.

Pea ingredients supplier Cosucra discussed pea’s promising future as a specialty plant protein, as well as challenges in scaling up supply, at IFT 2018.

The pea protein market may never reach the large size of the soy protein market, but that’s okay, says one pea protein supplier. At the Institute of Food Technologists’ Annual Meeting and Food Expo in Chicago, pea-ingredient supplier Cosucra (Warcoing, Belgium) said pea protein will remain a leading specialty vegetable protein in its own right, with significant nutritional and sustainability advantages above and beyond many other plant proteins.

“Pea protein won’t become as large a market as soy protein and wheat protein. That’s for sure,” Cosucra CEO Jacques Crahay told Nutritional Outlook at IFT. “I don’t think the pea industry will become the soy industry of the 21st century.” Cosucra has specialized in pea ingredients, including protein, for the past 25 years.

Pea protein is still an unfamiliar ingredient to some as the larger pea protein market emerges, and formulators are figuring out better and best ways to formulate with pea as a protein, including managing any off notes. Soy, by contrast, has been used as an alternative protein and meat analogue ingredient for decades, and formulators have devised advanced ways to work with the ingredient to maximize its impact and acceptability. One of the reasons soy also remains popular is because of its high Protein Digestibility-Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS) of 1.0, which is on par with other high-quality protein sources such as egg protein and milk/whey dairy proteins.

Pea protein’s protein content is lower than soy’s, although not significantly. Cosucra estimates that its Pisane pea protein ingredients have a PDCAAS of 0.94. Pea protein does, however, lead in some crucial nutrients. It is, for instance, the plant protein highest in the amino acid leucine, even above soy. Leucine is an essential amino acid for muscle protein synthesis. Pea protein is also rich in arginine and lysine.

“Our leucine is the highest of all plant-based protein, and our arginine is the highest of all plant- and dairy-based protein,” Frank Truong, general manager, Cosucra, told Nutritional Outlook at IFT. In addition, pea protein sidesteps any allergen concerns surrounding soy.

Another area where pea protein stands above other protein sources, plant and otherwise, is in its sustainability. Truong said that, in part, this is where pea protein will continue to shine over other plant protein sources because it outperforms all others on efficiency in water consumption, energy consumption, and land yield (the amount of usable protein produced per hectare of farmland).

For instance, he said, Pisane pea protein’s land yield is over 500 kg; the protein that comes in the next closest is soy, at less than 400 kg, followed even farther behind by rice, wheat, milk, egg, and meat proteins. Pea protein also requires less water to grow. According to Cosucra, pea protein requires 3200 liters of water to produce 1 kg of protein, compared to 5882 liters required for soy, 6923 required for wheat, and 27,286 required for rice. Pea also requires less energy to produce (9880 kilojoules to produce 1 kg of protein) compared to, for instance, wheat protein (18,923 kJ/kg). (Soy does outperform pea in energy efficiency, however, requiring just 8853 kJ/kg to pea’s 9880 kJ/kg.)

For these reasons, the pea protein market will continue to grow successful in its own right, Cosucra says. “It will become a specialty vegetable protein for very nice applications in meat analogues and in nutritional applications because of its amino acid profile,” Truong said.

Market researchers also predict a rosy future for pea protein. Grand View Research last year predicted the global pea protein market will grow at a 17.4% CAGR to reach $313.5 million by 2025.

Cosucra itself is doubling down on pea. In July, the company inaugurated a new spray dryer at its Warcoing, Belgium, processing facility, part of a €35 million investment. The company says this spray dryer will double the firm’s capacity to produce pea protein isolate by doubling the speed of the drying process. The company is also now making moves to expand its presence and to establish subsidiaries in the United States, Canada, and Mexico, with sights also on Asia-Pacific.

Meanwhile, pea protein still has a leg up on other plant proteins outside of soy. Even as competing plant protein sources emerge in the market, the pea protein market is farther ahead in terms of a developed market and supply, Cosucra says.

“The availability of this crop is very large in Canada, in France, and in Europe, and it’s one of the lowest-cost crops for vegetable proteins,” Crahay says. “If you go with other pulses, you need industrial availability and then a price that is similar to pea; otherwise, the price of the protein will be much higher.”

But even as Cosucra and other companies grow interest in pea protein, challenges for scaling up pea protein supply remain.

One of those challenges is tied to the fact that only a small fraction of the pea is actually protein, with the rest made up of pea starch and pea fiber. Truong says Cosucra’s peas comprise 16% protein, 48% dietary fiber (the company’s Swelite ingredient), and 36% starch (the company’s Nastar ingredient).

So, while expanding the pea protein crop is not a problem, “the problem is,” Crahay says, “that the market for these co-products are not expanding as fast as pea protein.” In order to efficiently scale, stakeholders need to find new markets and uses for the fiber and starch fractions of the pea. “This industry needs to value all the components of the pea at once,” Crahay says.

Cosucra is focused on increasing the valuation of these co-ingredients, Crahay says. In the meantime, “we’re struggling to market these products at the same pace as the pea protein.”