Natural extract company Naturex announced today its acquisition of Swedish Oat Fiber. The supplier's unique fractionating process for producing beta glucans preserves the original structure of the oat molecules, making it possible to make oat flours with varying protein and fat content.
It's an acquisition that fits in with the company’s ambitions to expand into specialty plant-based proteins, CEO Olivier Rigaud said.
In September this year, it partnered with US start-up MycoTechnology to market and distribute PureTaste, a shiitake vegetable protein made from the fermented filament-like roots or ‘mycelium’ of mushrooms.
But the Avignon-based company’s strategy for entering the plant protein arena isn’t just based on acquisitions and external partnerships.
Internal R&D is also a big part of the firm’s history, Rigaud said, and manufacturers could expect a new plant protein, developed by its internal scientists, launched next year.
‘We don’t want to go into the ‘bulky’ protein market’
“We are looking a lot at plant proteins but we don’t want to go into the bulky market of soy or pea protein. We want to position ourselves in the high-end, functional market,” he said.
These so-called ‘bulky’ proteins often have taste and digestibility issues as well as a poor amino acid profile.
Naturex, which reported a revenue of €404.4 million in 2016, wants to use its own biomass which is currently going to waste.
Rosemary, for instance, which it sources to extract natural anti-oxidants used as meat preservatives, contain 15% protein. “Spirulina is also a very interesting protein but we only look at it for the colour,” he added.
“We extract phytoactives from lots of vegetables that contain very interesting proteins but we don’t use them. So our intention, and our plan with internal R&D, is to see how we can get value from this protein.”
MycoTechnology’s PureTaste is a perfect example of this “high-end protein”, Rigaud said.
“The beauty of the Mycotechnology process is that it provides a very neutral taste compared to current plant-based proteins but also that by feeding shitake mushrooms with a different substrate, you can in theory produce a protein with an adapted amino acid profile.
‘A new era of clean label extraction using living organisms’
The ingredient also marks a new direction for Naturex in terms of processing technology, which normally uses water- or solvent-based extraction methods.
“That’s what we find very interesting because, traditionally, we do water or solvent-based extraction. This is a new era where you use a living organism – in this case the mycelium – to do a very clean label extraction.
“It’s not fermentation as people normally think of it. There is no genetically modified organism to produce an active compound. Here this type of mycelium will simply absorb the amino acid from the substrate and create a new protein.
MycoTechnology also makes ClearTaste, a bitter-blocking extract made from the enzymes and metabolites of fermented fungi that reduces sugar in food and drinks.
Click here to read our interview with the CEO on its drive to bring the ingredient to Europe.
“We are working a lot on this type of technology through the open innovation partnership as a platform we can really spread across protein amino acids but also minerals or other active compounds.”
“The other difference to traditional extraction methods is you end up with a full spectrum product. It doesn’t need to be processed or refined any further. In the case of the mushroom protein, you grow it, dry it and grind it – and that’s it. This is a spot-on consumer trend.”
The MycoTechnology deal has been inked and regulatory approval for the US secured, but European manufacturers will have to wait a little longer before they can add PureTaste to their products – although Naturex is working closely with MycoTechnology for EFSA approval. The firms should have EU approval “in the first half of next year”, Rigaud said, and MycoTechnology already has a large pilot capacity of producing several tens of tons.
Fibre, flour and oil
Naturex's new beta-glucan rich oat fibre will perform well at a time when so many people have fibre-deficient diets, Rigaud said.
Regulatory changes in the US – where policymakers are changing the definition of dietary fibre – will also give its oat portfolio a boost. Oats are one of the few foods that fits the new definition, Rigaud said, and it expects to see manufacturers using oat fibres to replace inulin in bakery and breakfast products.
“But this is really a global acquisition,” Rigaud said. “There’s a lot of potential in the three big markets for oats – the US, Europe and Asia Pacific – and we intend to leverage it in all those.”
Meanwhile, flour is a kitchen kitchen cupboard ingredient that fits consumer demands for unprocessed products while the firm’s oat oil has “a nice synergy” with the plant-based oils Naturex already produces for the cosmetics industry.