The majority of plant-based proteins currently consumed come from a limited number of sources. Innovopro wants to shake up the status quo with what the company says is a first-to-market chickpea protein ingredient.
Dr Ascher Shmulewitz, an Israeli entrepreneur, founded Innovopro three years ago. According to the company's chief executive officer, Nechushtan, the motivation was simple: “To make something good for people, something healthy, a medical food.”
Consumer demand for alternative protein products is growing and the group’s chickpea protein “definitely” feeds into this top consumer trend, Nechushtan said. Speaking to FoodNavigator at Rabobank start-up pitching competition, FoodBytes! London, the CEO noted growing interest in flexitarian diets as a key driver of this.
“We are seeing a lot more flexitarians, which are now a very large population. People who eat meat but once or twice a week they try to eat vegetarian food.”
This consumer base is not willing to compromise on taste, Nechushtan believes. “One of the main selling points of our chickpea protein is you don’t have to compromise on taste. If you are making a vegetarian or a vegan dish, it can taste wonderful. It doesn’t have to be something that you think ‘it’s healthy but it doesn’t taste so good’ about.”
Disrupting the disruptors
Innovopro wants to do more than ride the wave of growing demand for alternative protein products. If interest in alternative proteins is disrupting the food sector, this start-up wants to disrupt the disruptors with its new ingredient.
Beyond taste, Nechushtan stressed chickpea protein has a number of advantages over other leading sources of plant-based protein, including soy, pea and rice.
“You have various kinds of proteins today, soy, pea, rice. All of them have their issues. The only one that doesn’t have any is chickpea protein. It is a very functional product. The industry is looking for functionality in their protein,” she argued.
“You have a lot of different proteins but they all have their own problems: one has a very pronounced flavour which is difficult to mask, one doesn’t have the functionality, another is highly allergenic and has association with GMO – even though there is non-GMO consumers perceive it as a GMO product.”
Indeed, while soy might have acted as something of a trailblazer in the plant-based space, it is highly allergenic. Some 28 different proteins present in soy have been found to bind to Immunoglobulin E (IgE ) antibodies which are produced by the immune system when you have an allergic reaction. And the more you eat soy, the more likely you are to develop allergies to it.
Functional, clean label, sustainable… and cost competitive
According to Nechushtan chickpea protein has it all.
Innovopro said chickpea protein has:
- "Significant" amounts of all essential amino acids (except Sulphur)
- Is "rich" in unsaturated fatty acids
- Adding 2% chickpea protein enables removal of carrageenans and modified starches
The company also stresses its functional characteristics. According to Innovopro, chickpea protein:
- Creates a firm and stable emulsion that stays stable during shelf-life
- Forms a foam for producing airy gluten-free baked goods
- Is water and fat binding – generates a rich mouthfeel and increases the viscosity of product
- Remains functional in both cold and warm methods of preparation
- Has a subtle taste that does not overcome other flavours
“Chickpeas are associated with health generally, and heart health... Chickpea protein is free from - free from gluten, non GMO, it is less allergenic. It [also] has a very bland flavour, so you can mix it very well with other ingredients without overpowering the flavour, which is a problem with a lot of [alternative proteins].”
This bland flavour means chickpea protein can be used across a number of applications. “The chickpea protein can be used in non-dairy products, energy bars, sports nutrition. It is very soluble so you can put it into a dry blend beverage to ready to drink, as well as meat analogues. It is suitable for a lot of applications.”
Innovopro has developed a number of finished products in its application lab. These include:
- Egg-free mayonnaise: vegan mayonnaise
- Pudding: a non-dairy dessert that uses pure chickpea protein to replace modified starch, carrageenan, maltodextrin, and pectin.
- Vegan Ice Cream: made with chickpea protein in place of lecithin, starch, carrageenan, guar gum, and LBG.
- Non-Dairy Milk Beverage
- Veggie Burger
- Energy Bar: contains CP Pro 70™ chickpea protein as a protein source, combined with dates and coconut.
- Baked Snack: Our baked snack contains chickpea protein as a protein source, and chickpea starch.
“Our in-house application kitchen allows us to develop formulations where we can assist the customer. Because it is a new product, [customers] need help [understanding] how to use it.”
Innovopro is also positioning the ingredient as a sustainable protein – not just compared to meat but also compared to other plant-based alternatives. In particular, Nechushtan suggested, because chickpeas can grow “everywhere” sourcing and production can be close to the market, meaning a reduction in food miles. Meanwhile, increasing the amount of chickpeas cultivated would be beneficial for biodiversity in the agricultural sector.
“Sustainability is one of the main things that concerns everybody today. You are looking for a cleaner world… from packaging to what you produce, where you are buying, how much fuel you are using in transportation. These are things that we care about - and our customers care about. It is the perfect match when you can bring all these different pillars to the customer.”
Importantly, Nechushtan said, its functional nature means it can be used to clean up your ingredients list. “The functional properties of chickpea protein mean you can actually take out some unwanted ingredients in the ingredients list: emulsifiers, stabilisers, more chemical products or ingredients that consumers cannot even pronounce – four to five ingredients – and add only one: chickpea protein.”
This means that while chickpea protein is at the high end of the cost scale for plant proteins, at least until Innovopro is able to lift volumes and achieve economies of scale, if you take the overall cost of a product Nechushtan explained it is actually competitively priced.
“When industry look at the pricing they look at the price per serving. Because you can take out other ingredients in your formulation it actually brings the final cost down so that it will be almost the same. You will have a cleaner label, you will have a healthier product, for the same cost.”