The Israeli firm, which recently received a $4 million investment from private equity company Fortissimo Capital, uses non-GMO techniques to breed improved seeds.
After developing a sesame seed variety that can be mechanically harvested rather than picked by hand - a change it says will shake the fundamental dynamics of the $8bn sesame seed market - it has turned its attention to plant proteins.
Peas currently grown in France have an average protein content of 20% and Equinom is aiming to increase this to at least 28% - or by almost half. The firm estimates that its high protein variety could be worth $250 million in the global market that processes half a million tons each year.
“In a market challenged by the growing worldwide demand for sustainable, non-GMO, plant-based protein sources, an increase in protein levels represents significant financial gain to protein processors and food companies,” the firm says.
Gil Shalev, Equinom’s founder and CEO said the company was contributing to creating market conditions that will eventually lower the cost of pulse protein.
“The variety is a unique combination of gene variations that we collected worldwide and combined into one plant by classic crossing methods, not by GMO. This is a unique combination that never existed before and that we have patented to protect the invention,” he told FoodNavigator.
Equinom’s scientists screened hundreds of varieties before settling on a few dozen that it used for the final varieties.
And while the commercial varieties are not scheduled to be launched until 2020, Equinom can provide small samples of flour to manufacturers interested in trying out the protein flour in their formulations, although it is “too early” to give farmers seed samples.
“We aren’t specialists in how to process the protein or its functionality so that’s why we are very open to collaborate with anyone to give us feedback,” said Shalev. “That will guide us to create the best varieties.”
Click here to read our interview with Equinom’s CEO and founder on its sesame seed variety.
The high protein varieties also have a "similar" crop yield.
“The idea was not just to increase the protein but to keep yield as it is today and make it a commercial crop. If a Canadian or French farmer grows pea with an average yield of three tonnes per hectare, it would be nice to have a higher protein content but that shouldn’t be at the expense of yield,” Shalev said.
Currently at the development stage, Equinom has already run several trials with farmers in Canada.
The seeds will be available at a premium but still competitive price, with Equinom collecting royalties on the seeds, vice president and business development chief Avi Posen said.
They can be grown using the same production techniques that farmers currently use. Meanwhile, dry processors should be able to use the same machinery while wet processors may need to adjust some equipment.
An improved nutritional profile
Protein quality often depends on how it is used in the final product, but Shalev said the firm is working to improve the amino acid score and anti-nutritional factors such as phytic acid, which inhibits absorption iron. It is also looking for genetic traits that can be crossed to improve the protein functionality, stability and solubility.
“We understand that the market is looking for high yield, high protein and a high nutritional value,” Posan said. “Our breeding programme allows us to work on all those traits at same time.”
In parallel, Equinom has also started working on mungbean, fava and lentils, although these crops are at less advanced stages.