The firm, a world leader in the manufacture of polyols, has been studying the properties of the yellow pea for a number of years, and is confident that the vegetable has great potential as an economical, plentiful and allergen-free source of protein.
"Roquette has in the past not been very active in the development of a speciality protein, but we're now going in that direction," Roquette baking, snack and meat market developer Bruno Gehin told FoodNavigator.com.
"We consider pea protein to have many benefits, not only for nutrition but also function."
The alternative protein market is growing at a rapid pace, for a variety of reasons. Alternative sources of protein are having a profound influence on the formulation of weight conscious food and diets based on low glycaemic index (GI) and high protein intake, and traditional manufacturers are beginning to take a look at new protein sources as a means of enriching their products.
Roquette believes that pea protein can complement existing protein sources, and help traditional food makers give their products new properties.
"Demand for protein ingredients is really on the rise," said Gehin. "They are ingredients with nutritional value, together with technical benefits."
Gehin claims that pea protein can be labelled as non-GM - an important consideration in the EU - and does not have to be listed as an allergen. This provides manufacturers with significant advantages in terms of marketing and labelling. In addition, there is a plentiful supply of raw material. France is the world's second largest producer of yellow pea, producing over 2 million tonnes a year.
There are also economic advantages. Caseinates, which are typically used in dietetic foods like infant formula, sports products and slimming foods, currently cost around €6.50 per kg while soy protein isolates cost €3.50 to €5kg for the same amount of protein. Pea protein can cost around half the price of caseinates.
"These are the reasons why we've invested a couple of years in researching and developing pea protein," said Gehin. "We needed to find a way of extracting starch in the smoothest possible way, and this is not always easy.
"The challenge was to find a way of preserving the protein in industrial conditions."
In addition, Roquette had to find a way of neutralising the taste.
The market for alternative proteins is becoming a little bit more competitive, though it remains very much a niche sector. Over 90 per cent of protein is still sourced from soy and milk-derived caseinates, though the speciality pea protein sector is likely to grow.
"The interesting thing is that pea processing is not new," said Gehin. "Getting rid of the envelope to create split peas has been around for a long time.
The new thing is extracting the protein. This could give a new future to the pea, one of the oldest sources of food in Europe."