“There is a real trend towards pea protein ingredients because they are non-allergenic," according to Eric Bosly, global commercial director at Belgian, family-owned pea supplier Cosucra. "Many customers want to replace soy with pea thanks to its positive, clean label image, and meat analogues are a new area where we can really mimic meat fibres.”
Frank Truong, who recently joined the company as general manager of Cosucra’s newly opened North American subsidiary in Chicago that will cover the US, Canadian and Mexican markets, confirmed that Cosucra sees “good growth” in plant-based meat and dairy alternatives.
“In Europe and the US, we are very active in [this category]. Brands are leading the way in the use of plant based proteins. You have Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat, Pinnacle Foods and its Gardein brand and Kellogg’s with Morningstar Farms, Danone and Whitewave.
“We are in conversation with some of those companies. They have primarily used soy in the past but now are looking to pea protein. It’s part of their NPD priority,” he told FoodNavigator.
According to Bosly, for the best, meat-like texture, manufacturers should combine several functional ingredients. Cosucra's protein isolate, Pisane, has both texturising and emulsifying properties and creates a “fibrous” analogue with a neutral taste. If combined with Swelite, a dust-free, dispersible pea fibre powder, however, the product will have more 'bite'.
“Thanks to its good water and fat retention, Swelite gives a good bite to meat-free burger. In fact, this concept was developed previously for meat but now plant-based proteins are using it too,” he said.
Meanwhile, functional starches can help plant-based ingredients withstand the sometimes harsh manufacturing processes needed to recreate the texture of meat.
According to Cosucra, its native pea starch Nastar is able to resist shearing, crumbling, heat treatment and acidic conditions and, thanks to a high amylose content, can be used in extruded products.
The supplier has also been working to increase Pisane’s solubility. In some beverage applications, particularly non-dairy protein drinks, pea protein can leave a sandy texture if it has not been formulated to have a high solubility, said Bosly.
While pea protein provides good texture, taste is an area it still needs to improve on, Bosly admitted. The ingredient has for years battled with a bitter aftertaste.
“We have developed a special process that, by physical methods so without the use of chemical additives, reduces the aftertaste,” said Bosly. “This was one of the drawbacks of pea in the past. People today are very happy with the mild flavour but this is still the main development part and you can expect further improvements.”
Aside from the functional advantages, one reason to opt for pea protein in a formulation is its environmental impact, Truong said. It takes 3,200 litres of water to make one kilo pea protein compared to around 5,900 litres for soy or around 588,000 litres for beef, and the production process is gentler.
“Soy also uses hexane to extract fat from soybeans but in pea it’s a very natural process. We just use physical means to separate the two, there is no use of organic solvents,” he said.
“People care about how products are manufactured and our customers do ask what kind of solvents we use.”
According to Bosly, consumers are increasingly interested in assessing their environmental footprint by looking at what they eat. “The fact we are very energy efficient – with this new investment, the fact that all the logistics of our raw materials is done by barge – means we can address those concerns.”
In 2013, the Belgian company committed €35 million into a second pea protein processing line and second drying tower, which was officially opened earlier this month and will double its capacity.
“Based on our experiences and tight links with our pea suppliers – in Europe we have access to good quality yellow pea – it was obvious for us to invest in Europe in order to provide substantial volumes to the market,” Bosly said.
While Cosucra is focusing on Europe on the supply side, Truong said it expects the North American and Asia Pacific markets to be the biggest drivers of growth for pea-based ingredients from now until 2022. Based on external market research and its own sales figures, it expects North America alone to account for around 41% of growth.