Not that long ago, pulses were consumed either whole or split.
These days, they are being processed and incorporated into all sorts of foods, according to a panel of speakers assembled by the Global Pulse Confederation.
Alexandra Londono, global head of Buhler’s pulse and local grains business segment, said annual pulse flour production has rapidly climbed to 50 million tonnes.
She expects that volume to double within the next five years.
Buhler produces the equipment needed to process pulses into value-added products and business is booming.
“We see huge market pull,” Londono said during a recent webinar organized by the GPC.
“Everyone wants to play there.”
Making pulse-based meals used to be a labour-intensive process involving hours of soaking and cooking. Now, pulses are found in off-the-shelf snacks that can be consumed on the run.
“Today, it’s all about snacking. Big meals are a thing of yesterday,” said Londono.
Sarah Wallace, chief executive officer of The Good Bean, often ate roasted chickpeas out of a paper cone on her way home from school when she was growing up in Mumbai, India.
When she moved to the United States she was surprised to discover that nobody was making pulse-based snacks.
Wallace is now the head of a company that created North America’s original chickpea snack.
The Good Bean also recently acquired Beanitos, a company that created the first bean chip.
Tortilla chips are a US$9.8 billion market and growing. A survey found that 46 percent of Americans want chips that offer better nutritional value.
“This is a massive opportunity,” she said.
Vishal Vijay, head of business development with Agrocorp International, said his company has been trading pulses for 30 years but only recently ventured into value-added processing of the commodity.
“We decided to take the plunge when we saw the amount of interest that was being generated in the market,” he said.
The company has a protein plant in Cut Knife, Sask., that is producing a concentrate with 58 to 60 percent protein, which is being sold to North American food manufacturing plants.
The challenge has been what to do with the starch. Starch comprises 75 percent of the plant’s end products, protein 15 percent and hulls the remainder.
“The joke is that we don’t run a protein extraction plant, we run a starch extraction plant,” said Vijay.
“For plants like ours to be successful, we have to find a worthwhile utilization for the starch.”
They have uncovered one good market for their starch pellets in the U.S. pet food industry.
“They like it because of the stickiness. It is able to act as a glue in their formulations,” said Vijay.
Abhishek Sinha, chief executive officer of GoodDot, a plant-based meat manufacturer in India. He said that country is another huge potential market for such products.
Outsiders scoffed at the idea of marketing a meat alternative product in India because the stereotype is that all Indians are vegetarians. The reality is that 72 percent are meat eaters, according to the country’s latest census.
“India is the dark horse of this space,” he said.
The product was launched in late 2017 across the country and has been a big hit because it is an affordable protein replacement for meat.
Many Indian consumers are wary of meat products since the outbreak of COVID-19. A simultaneous outbreak of bird flu has caused a “bloodbath” in the country’s poultry sector.
Derrick Quandt, chief executive officer of Banza, a U.S. company that makes pasta and rice products out of chickpeas, said pulse-based foods are becoming mainstream items.
That is why the company is targeting retailers like Target, Walmart and club stores instead of boutique natural products outlets.
Their pasta and rice products are gluten-free but that is not how they are being marketed. Instead, they are being sold as healthy comfort foods.
“We’re not saying, ‘don’t eat this or don’t eat that.’ We’re saying, ‘eat Banza because it’s great and it’s fun and it makes you feel good,’” said Quandt.
Julianne Curran, vice-president of market development with Pulse Canada, said there were only three companies processing value-added pulse ingredients when she started in the business 15 years ago.
In the last few years, the pulse processing sector has exploded. Pulse Canada hopes those companies will create new markets for 25 percent of Canadian pulse production by 2025.
The organization has met with fractionators and flour millers to see what support they require to build that new source of demand.
The answer was twofold — they want health claims and they want common language developed to describe the various pulse ingredients.
“This is a real big priority for the industry,” she said.
That is going to take some work because there is such a wide diversity of pulse ingredients and processing techniques.