Over the past 30 years, overall soy yield has increased by almost 60%, according to a US Soybean Export Council report. However, protein content has remained stagnant at around 35%.
This reflects the fact that traditional breeding practices have focused on delivering higher yields – not improving nutritional content, according to Equinom marketing director Itay Dana. “Traditional breeding practices have focused mostly on high yield, but specialty traits are now the in-demand trend for food companies,” Dana observed.
Equinom wants to address this demand and help develop soy from a commoditised ingredient into a value-added ‘breed-for-purpose’ market. The company has leveraged its agri-science expertise to address this issue by boosting protein in non-GMO soy. “Our bred soybean lines contain nearly 58% protein, which is 50% higher than the industry standard,” explained Dana.
Seed breeding tech a ‘game changer’ for meat substitutes
Equinom claims it is able to deliver more than a higher protein content. The group’s computerised breeding technology is helping it produce ‘tastier’ crops that are well-suited for use in alternative protein products.
Growing consumer interest in flexitarian, vegetarian and vegan diets is propelling the meat substitutes market. According to research firm MarketsandMarkets, the global sector is projected to grow from $4.6bn in 2018 to $6.4bn by 2023, recording a CAGR of 6.8% during the forecast period.
Equinom suggests that some of the biggest challenges facing formulators when developing meat analogue products include delivering an appealing flavour and texture.
“There is a pronounced gap between customer-demanded organoleptic qualities that produce the tasty, appealing, nutritious meat-alternative products that are taking over the market, and the low-value varieties and qualities currently produced,” explained Dr Sigal Meirovitch (PhD), head of protein development for Equinom.
“Consumers are seeking slaughter-free options but not at the expense of taste and texture."
Equinom’s computerised breeding technology is ‘a game changer’ for food companies operating in this space, the company claimed, driving market momentum with high-protein, tasty, plant-based products.
Boosting innovation potential
The company’s proprietary algorithm and breeding techniques map out precise genomic crop characteristics to be rendered into ‘highly desirable’ attributes. The system breeds for protein load, taste, texture and nutritional composition targeted to priority soy applications, including soymilk, tofu, fermented natto, miso and soy protein isolates.
According to Equinon, higher protein content opens up a number of innovation opportunities in these areas.
“By increasing the protein content in soybean we bring values to various industries. Firstly, the protein isolate market – can reduce the concentration/isolation processes (starting from a higher inlet) – which translate to better taste, less use [of] chemicals, et cetera. It also saves cost because there is a higher protein per grain,” Dana told FoodNavigator.
"In whole bean applications the development increases the nutritional value of traditional applications, meaning you get more protein per food unit, and improves taste.
“Meanwhile, in the milling and flour industry higher protein content increases the value for the milling industry by delivering an enriched protein product.”
Crops are produced within a strictly non-GMO environment, with no gene editing or manipulation, Equinom stressed.
Closer supply chain collaboration
Equinom added that its ‘progressive’ business model acts as a bridge between food companies and farmers to boost the cultivation of better-for-you, non-GMO soy.
“We work directly with food and ingredient companies to capture their specific requirements, while demonstrating soy’s full potential and extensive flexibility, as proven in the vast line of soy seed germplasm that our company has generated from years of breeding,” explained Dana.
The company also communicates closely with grain handlers, providing them direct access to its breed-for-purpose seed collection for sowing optimal seeds from its germplasm. This limitless seed bank meets food companies’ specific demands, while ensuring complete transparency throughout the soy supply chain, the company said.
The Equinom platform also has benefits for farmers, who are able to cultivate distinct, value-added specialty crops that can fetch higher prices than commodities.
“Equinom's high-resolution breeding program is taking charge of this agri-business sector, ushering in a new, more profitable era — and food companies are already reaping the benefits,” Dana insisted.
By increasing the protein output per acre of land, Dana told this publication that its innovative new seeds could help tackle one of the soy sector's largest challenges - deforestation. And while non-GMO soy only accounts for a small proportion - 7% - of the total soy market, the possible future rollout of Equinom's tech to the GMO space could broaden the company's impact.
"When a large part of the industry is based on the protein content (which mainly goes to the milling industry/feed industry) increasing the content could reduce the deforestation, because you need less acres. But, we should remember that the non-GMO soybean is only a small portion of the overall soybean market. We can see an interest from the GMO market to take our high protein varieties and incorporate them into their [portfolio] – and that could expand the impact."