Fungi-based protein can give soy and pea a run for their money, says Quorn

By Elaine Watson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Nutrition

Marketers of meat-alternatives like to talk a lot about sustainable protein, and how we’re going to feed the world in 2050. But are these things really primary purchase drivers today? FoodNavigator-USA caught up with Quorn Foods at the Healthy & Natural Show in Chicago to find out…

"As much as sustainability is a big component, I'd say the biggest purchase drivers right now are health and wellness,"​ said marketing coordinator Emily Steingart, who caught up with FoodNavigator-USA at the Healthy & Natural Show in Chicago last week.

And while the video playing on Quorn's US website talks about "helping millions of people live more sustainable lives,"​ the fact that Quorn is low in saturated fat and calories and high in protein and fiber - and claims to have a superior texture to many soy-based products - is a bigger motivator for many people cutting down on meat for health reasons, said Steingart.

Quorn, which is based in the UK, but has a growing presence in the North American market, occupies a unique place in this market in that its product (‘mycoprotein’) is not plant-based (it’s a single celled micro-organism from the fungus family), and is produced on a commercial scale via a continuous fermentation process.

Quorn usa chikn tenders-recipe

Quorn has traditionally performed strongly in the natural retail channel but has been making steady progress in the mainstream grocery market, securing listings in a clutch of leading players from Kroger, Wegmans, Safeway/Albertsons and Target to Walmart.

The company - which  is based in the UK but has been in the US market since 2002 - was acquired by Flippino packaged goods giant Monde Nissin last year for £550m ($838m).

Fungi-based protein

So how does Quorn talk about mycoprotein with consumers?

Said Steingart: "It's fungi-based protein, it's just that simple... when consumers hear that it's meatless and soy-free, they ask OK, but what is it, and as the plant-based category grows, there is an assumption that these products are either soy or pea protein or vegetable based, but fungi-based protein is a new category and we're proud to be in it.

"Our products have an exceptional texture that mimics chicken and beef. So one of our biggest tactics is sampling." 

Made from a single celled microorganism from the fungi family (‘mycoprotein’) grown using a controlled fermentation process, Quorn was launched in the UK in 1985 and first introduced to American consumers in 2002.

Where should retailers stock meat-alternatives?

As for merchandising, retailers have historically put meat alternatives in a dedicated natural, meat-free or vegetarian set in the frozen aisle or in the chiller, said Steingart.

"But there is a movement to put these products near the meat or the frozen meat and that has naturally higher traffic in the store, so that's definitely a consideration for us. Right now if you are in the natural section, you only tend to get people that are looking for our products."

What is quorn?

Quorn usa chikn tenders

Quorn mycoprotein is derived from an organism found occurring naturally in the soil in a field in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, UK (Fusarium venenatum strain PTA-2684) in the 1960s.

Today it is produced on a commercial scale in large tanks in the UK using a continuous fermentation process fed with glucose, vitamins and minerals before being heat treated.

When it is extracted, flavorings are added along with egg white for binding so it can be shaped into nuggets, tenders and cutlets.

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