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Jennifer Grebow is editor-in-chief of Nutritional Outlook.
Plant protein suppliers are innovating to get their protein ingredients into beverages, gummies, and more.
Plant protein was a primary focus at November’s SupplySide West trade show. Plant protein suppliers are innovating to get their protein ingredients into beverages, gummies, and more.
Pea Protein Beverages
With plant-based beverages on the rise, ingredient suppliers continue to focus on getting their plant ingredients’ dispersibility, taste, and other characteristics primed for the liquid format.
Pea protein often presents beverage obstacles due to challenges with grittiness and flavor (beany ‘off’ notes, etc.). But company advancements are making it easier to use. At SupplySide West, DuPont Nutrition & Health (St. Louis) introduced its new pea protein ingredient for beverages, called TRUPRO 2000. According to the company, this beverage-friendly ingredient outperforms competitors on mouthfeel and flavor. Derived from North American yellow pea, the ingredient is 83% protein on a dry basis and formulates well into both dry-blended and ready-to-drink beverages.
The company also conducted consumer sensory panels (on 77 consumers) to gauge user response. According to the company, the consumer panel liked TRUPRO 2000 more than “a leading competitive pea protein.” Both were administered in a beverage prototype. The company says the TRUPRO 2000 drink received better scores (45% and 57% higher) for flavor and mouthfeel compared to the competitor.
With TRUPRO 2000, “you have an improved flavor, and in some cases a 1-point-or-higher hedonic improvement on a 9-point scale,” said David Sabbagh, regional product manager, protein solutions, DuPont, at SupplySide West. And the ingredient offers lot-to-lot consistency, he claimed, saying this isn’t always the case with other ingredients. “In some other cases, you might see lot-to-lot variability, and that could cause a formulator a challenge. In this case, we have this consistency, so you can see that lot to lot, run to run, consistency in the functional parameters, whether it’s suspension stability, color, solubility, wettability, dispersibility, etc.”
At the show, DuPont sampled TRUPRO 2000 in a “Cocomint Plant Protein Shake.” The chocolate-and-peppermint drink contained 22 g of pea protein. It did not require any flavor masking and contained only 9 g of sugar. The company added its GRINDSTED CFF 1383 stabilizer system comprising gellan and xanthan gum in order to add creaminess, prevent separation, and help control viscosity.
The company says DuPont’s application scientists can also help companies fine-tune their recipes to achieve the most pleasing high-protein beverage product possible. “The higher in protein you go, the more complex the flavors can be,” said Stephanie Gray, associate application scientist. For instance, “We have our stabilizers that help provide that smooth mouthfeel. Just finding a nice flavor system that complements that type of plant-based flavor note really helps.” And TRUPRO 2000 requires fewer flavor fixes because the ingredient has a “clean” taste to start with, she said.
DuPont is also thinking ahead to plant-based beverage trends. At SupplySide West, the company introduced its VEGE Cultures range of microorganism strains that can help drink formulators create fermented beverages friendly to vegans, vegetarians, and flexitarians. These cultures include many of the company’s highly documented probiotic strains, including Lactobacillus acidophilus NCFM and Bifidobacterium lactis HN019.
“One of the really exciting things we’re seeing now in plant-based beverages is fermentation,” Sabbagh said. And although the plant-based fermented beverages market is still small, he noted the growing popularity of fermented beverages in general, driven by kombucha, resulting in growing interest in the plant-based fermented category. “The fermentation of plant milks is probably the most popular right now in plant-based fermented beverages,” he added. “There are coconut milks, almond milks, and soy milks that are being fermented.” He also noted more interested in fermented fruit and vegetable juices, including beet juice. In the past, he noted, many drinks would be fermented with dairy-based cultures, but DuPont’s VEGE Cultures now provide an option for staying plant-based and vegan because they are not grown on lactose-containing medium. At SupplySide West, the company showcased a fermented, oat-based ready-to-drink beverage made with VEGE Cultures.
Cargill (Minneapolis) also showed its flair for formulating with pea protein in beverages. In January 2018, Cargill and pea protein supplier Puris (Minneapolis) formed a joint venture to expand Puris’s pea protein production and reach. At SupplySide West, Cargill demonstrated a prototype spicy Mexican chocolate mocha cold-brew drink formulated with Puris’s pea protein as well as Cargill’s EverSweet steviol glycosides sweeteer. (Note: On November 8, Cargill announced a new joint venture with DSM (Heerlen, the Netherlands) for EverSweet. The new joint venture is called Avansya. Both companies will use their fermentation expertise to produce the fermentation-derived EverSweet steviol glycosides all under the brand name EverSweet. Cargill is also constructing a new fermentation facility in Blair, NE.)
At the show, Mark Fahlin, marketing manager for Cargill’s texturizing solutions business division, stated the advantages of combining Puris’s clean pea protein source, whose neutral flavor he said is a result of over 40 years of seed development, and Cargill’s formulating expertise. “Cargill brings such great application expertise,” he said. “We have people who have worked on pea protein for years, and the Puris product is great to work with because they have such a nice clean-label, farm-to-fork story-organic, non-GMO, domestically sourced.” A plant protein beverage like the company’s Mexican chocolate mocha cold-brew prototype hits on many key trends today, he said.
And while formulators are working to overcome pea protein’s beverage challenges, there is still work to be done in the plant-based yogurt space, he added. “With a lot of the plant-based yogurts out there, the taste, the mouthfeel, the texture is not quite there,” he said. He compared the beginning state of the plant-based yogurt market with the now-successful plant-based milk market. “Yogurt is where plant-based milks were 15 years ago, where its share of the market is around maybe 1% of the volume of the category. I would say the biggest obstacle today is taste.”
Innovation will continue in the plant-based market. “It’s constant,” Fahlin said. “Our customers, the maker of dairy products and plant-based products, are always wondering what’s next, what’s new, what do you have in the way of improvements, what new concepts are out there that would be new to market that resemble certain conventional dairy products.”
And focus will continue to center on beverages. At SupplySide West, Gregory Paul, PhD, marketing director, global consumer segments, DuPont Nutrition & Health, noted that the plant-based beverage market has grown approximately 33% annually over the past five years. And he noted the rise of pea specifically. “If you look at the time period 2013-2017 and at the plant proteins being used in beverages, soy was the most common. But if you look in the last year, pea is the plant protein most used in new beverage launches.”
Almond protein also made news at SupplySide West, with almond-processing giant Blue Diamond (Sacramento) highlighting its new almond protein powder and exhibiting for the first time at SupplySide West. According to the company, the almond powder’s fine texture, smooth mouthfeel, and neutral flavor are ideal for nutraceutical blends, protein smoothies, shakes, and bars.
In a press release, Jeff Smith, director of marketing, Blue Diamond Global Ingredients Division, said, “Almond protein powder is perfectly positioned to take advantage of consumers’ preference for natural, plant-based ingredients, while offering manufacturers more versatility in formulating clean-label, protein-enhanced products.” He said that in a protein blend, the almond protein can even assist with masking unwanted flavors of other protein sources.
At SupplySide West, ingredient supplier Sabinsa (East Windsor, NJ) said it continues to see extremely high interest in its Promond almond protein powder, which it introduced at last year’s SupplySide West show. The ingredient contains 50% protein content affirmed by AOAC method testing.
Bunge (St. Louis) introduced a new lentil flour at this year’s SupplySide West show. Formulators can use the lentil flour to substitute modified starches for a cleaner label, the firm said. It also contributes protein content at the same time.
“Unlike modified starches, which contain essentially no protein, Bunge’s lentil functional flour can boost protein content across formulations and help achieve ‘good source,’ ‘excellent source,’ and high-protein claims, depending on the application,” said Helbert Almeida, Bunge senior research and development fellow, U.S. Milling, in a press release. “It also offers all the nutrition of other pulse-flavored flours, including fiber, vitamins, and minerals, with a cleaner, more neutral flavor profile that is suitable for both sweet and savory applications.”
The company adds that the lentil flour can be listed simply as “lentil flour” in an ingredient list because it is made using only non-GMO lentils, water, and heat. And it performs with the same sensory characteristics as highly processed modified starches, the company claims. The company is targeting the growing demand for clean-label starches in markets such as bakery, yogurt, soup, and noodles.
Says the company: “According to AC Nielsen, within the categories that commonly use modified starches, such as bakery, yogurt, soup, and noodles, the clean-label segment is now almost $10 billion and has shown 6% annual growth for the past three years. Protein claims on products in these categories are also increasingly popular, commanding nearly $2 billion in the U.S. market and growing at 13% during the same period. Consumers are looking for both clean label and higher protein, and Bunge’s new lentil functional flour can help.”
Plant-Based Ingredient Demand Is Growing Globally
Plant-based ingredient supplier BI Nutraceuticals (Rancho Dominguez, CA) says interest in plant-based ingredients and plant proteins is happening worldwide. “The market for plant proteins is really cranking, so it has been a very strong market for us and it’s a market we sell to globally now,” said company president and CEO George Pontiakos at SupplySide West. “So not just in North America; we see a lot of interest in Central America, South America. Uruguay has been a big market for us. So it’s not just a North American focus. It’s really global now.” At Supply Side West, one of his company’s prototype samples was a high-protein red velvet shake containing pumpkin seed protein (10 g of protein), which also lent 3 g of dietary fiber.
Consumer research also bears out the growing demand. In November, DuPont Nutrition & Health released the results of new consumer research it conducted together with HealthFocus International on the eating habits of more than 1,000 U.S. consumers. Based on those results, the report indicates that there is “significant market opportunity in plant-based foods.” The survey found that: 1) almost 60% of respondents expressed a goal of making the switch to plant-based foods permanent, and 2) taste is often a top barrier for why people may not consume plant-based food. “The research reveals that more than half (52%) of U.S. consumers are eating more plant-based foods and beverages, while the number rises to two-thirds (65%) globally,” the company said in a press release.
Meanwhile, Cargill has conducted extensive global consumer research on consumption of dairy and non-dairy alternatives over the past year and has shared those findings, which were obtained from 5200 grocery shoppers in 13 countries. Importantly, the survey found that 50% of U.S. respondents said they consume both dairy and non-dairy products, and that 25% of consumers in the U.S. are now “less-itarians” or flexitarians, moving away from animal products. Moreover, the survey looked at nuances in how consumer preferences for dairy and dairy alternatives differ globally, finding, for instance, that survey respondents in Asia-Pacific had a higher preference for dairy alternatives, while dairy products are still favored more in Latin America.