Taking the pulse: Europe leads world with surging legume innovation

By Katy Askew contact

- Last updated on GMT

Consumer access to legumes is on the up as NPD levels rise ©iStock
Consumer access to legumes is on the up as NPD levels rise ©iStock
Peas and beans, soybeans and lupins are on the menu in Europe, the region that boasts the highest levels of pulse-based product development globally.

According to new research from PortugalFoods in cooperation with scientists of Universidade Católica Portuguesa (UCP), more than 27,000 new legume products were placed on the market globally between 2013 and 2017.

The highest international growth rate was seen in Europe, where a 39% increase in pulse products was registered, the researchers, led by Carla Teixeira, noted.

The UK saw the most significant levels of NPD activity and the market accounted for 19% of total new legume-inclusive product launches in Europe. This was followed by France with 14% and Germany 13% of new legume products.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, which launched the International Year of Pulses in 2016, has championed consumption of pulses. The FAO is working to increase awareness of the benefits of legumes, including health, sustainable development and food security.

The researchers, which are operating within the framework of the European Union’s Project TRUE (TRansition paths to sUstainable legume-based systems in Europe), said that their data suggests that since 2013 the food industry in Europe has increased both the diversity and the quantity of legume products. Thus, the 2016 International Year of Pulses had a “significant effect”, they concluded.

“It is clear that the European Food Industry has increased the number and type of products that incorporate legumes in their composition, suggesting that the IYP2016 was successful at making legumes more available to the European consumers,”​ commented Ana Gomes, researcher at UCP.

“This study brings valuable information for TRUE, which also aims to increase pulse consumption in Europe by developing new legume based products. We now have a good baseline on which to grow in the next four years,”​ UCP-based institute of the TRUE deputy coordinator, Prof. Marta Vasconcelos, added.

Health and environment drive product development

Rising consumer awareness of matters such as health and environment encouraged the food industry to focus its product development in line with these interests and boosted interest in pulses, the researchers suggest.

In line with this trend – which has spurred rising adoption of flexitarian, vegetarian and vegan diets – the majority of product development was focused on the meat substitutes market. According to the research, there was a 196% rise in legume products carrying vegan claims and a 73% rise in gluten-free claims.

“The product sub-categories with the highest increment were meat substitutes, with an amazing growth rate of 451%, pasta, with an increase of 295%, and bean-based snacks, growing by 128%,”​ project lead Teixeira revealed.

The types of legumes processed also showed some changes. Although green beans were still the legume most often processed as of mid-2017, their overall share decreased by 23% compared to 2013. Chickpeas, on the other hand, increased their share by 47% and lentils by 8%.

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