Plant-based protein boom ready for take-off

MONTREAL — Plant protein demand could help eat a million tonnes of pulse crops if more could be slipped into the biggest products.

“There’s potential there,” said Pulse Canada’s Tanya Der during the Pulse and Special Crops Convention.

If the main product categories now using pulse proteins could simply boost the amount of pulse proteins they include to 10 percent from today’s five percent or less, large increases in pulse protein consumption would occur.

Pulse crops have long been used as a staple food by people around the world, but that has mostly been in the form of whole seed consumption or lightly processed goods.

However, the boom in demand for non-meat and perceived-as-healthier products has led to a great increase in demand for products either based on pulses and other plant sources, or including them as ingredients.

During the pulse convention a number of speakers highlighted the growing importance of the pulses-as-ingredients market as a major potential growth market and source of premium value.

With plant protein extraction plants being built in a number of places around North America and across the world, this premium market has potential to add significant value and depth of demand to traditional whole crop markets.

In terms of adding pulse proteins to existing products, the greatest potentials are in flavoured milk drinks, milk alternatives, ice cream, packaged bread, meat substitutes and yogurt.

Pea protein now makes up only a tiny proportion of overall plant protein ingredient use, with soybean protein dominating the market. That domination isn’t necessarily permanent, with signs that processors and marketers would be happy to use other protein sources like pulses in addition to, or instead of, soybeans.

Samara Foisy, who oversees new product development for the Loblaws grocery chain, said the food industry is moving away from its heavy reliance on soy proteins. That’s an opportunity for pulse crops.

In 2017, 900,000 tonnes of soy protein was used by the global food industry, but only 27,500 tonnes of pulse protein, according to Euromonitor International.

Der said pulse proteins are already showing up in many products around the world, from breaded chicken breasts in the United Arab Emirates to meat floss in China to turkey ham in France.

Pulse ingredients have already seen major gains, with a five-times increase in new products including pulse proteins over the past 10 years. But with inclusion rates still low, and many products not containing pulses proteins at all, the potential gains are great, Der said.

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