The Upfield Food Science Centre, which is expected to open before the end of 2021, will help the Amsterdam-headquartered firm ‘push the boundaries’ in plant-based foods innovation.
Upfield has pledged a €50m investment in the site, which will house technology and equipment focusing on improving three areas in plant-based: sustainable packaging, flavour profile, and nutrition.
“The new Upfield Food Science Centre will allow us to transform the plant-based foods category, develop next-generation technology, and create a pioneering R&D community that attracts partners and talent,” Upfield’s chief research and development officer John Verbakel told FoodNavigator.
“The centre will be used to help us achieve our goal of innovating our way out of plastic packaging, while continuing to focus on creating delicious, healthy and sustainable foods made from plants.”
A new company with legacy brands
Upfield was born out of a sale of Unilever’s Baking, Cooking and Spreads (BCS) division. When BCS was sold to private equity firm KRR, it took on the name Upfield.
The company’s portfolio is made up of more than 100 brands, including Flora, Becel, Blue Band, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, Rama, and vegan cheese brand Violife. Today, Upfield is regarded the largest plant-based consumer packaged goods company in the world, operating in more than 95 countries.
Of Upfield’s latest announcement, Group CEO David Haines said it demonstrates the company’s commitment to ‘ambitious and pioneering’ R&D. “Our track record is good. Since Upfield was established under two years ago, we have already launched new and industry-leading plant-based cheese, cream, and butter products.”
Mimicking dairy in plant-based
One such example is the Flora Plant brand, which Upfield has launched in Austria, the Netherlands, and Sweden.
Flora Plant’s ingredients list includes vegetable fats and oils (from palm, sunflowers, and rapeseeds), emulsifier (lecithins), and broad bean protein. It is lactose-free and vegan, and according to Verbakel, presents the ‘same great taste and functionality’ as their dairy counterparts.
However, Flora Plant uses up to 70% less water and emits up to less than 50% of the carbon dioxide associated with animal alternatives, he continued.
Across the pond, Upfield sells Country Crock Plant Butter, which has also been formulated to taste, cook, and bake ‘just like dairy butter’.
“We selected plant fats and oils to mimic the way dairy butter behaves at different temperatures and in all its different usages such as: on toast, making grilled cheese sandwiches, or in baking pies and cakes,” explained Vegakel.
“Additionally, in developing Country Crock Plant Butter, we analysed the flavour of dairy butter at a molecular level, and then recreated this flavour with natural, plant-based ingredients so our Country Crock Plant Butter has the delicious flavour of dairy butter, but from plants not cows.”
Sustainable palm oil ‘an important component’
Similarly to Flora Plant, Country Crock Plant Butter uses a blend of plant-based oils. In the brand’s tub of Plant Butter with Olive Oil, for
example, the ingredients list includes a blend of soybean, palm kernel, olive, palm fruit, and extra virgin olive oils, as well as broad bean protein and soy lecithin.
Upfield is a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO) and sources 100% of its palm oil from physically certified sustainable sources. Further, the company has a partnership with Starlng to monitor compliance it its ‘strict palm oil policy’ through satellite technology, Vegakel told this publication.
The company values palm oil for its performance and nutritional profile, and continues to see sustainable sourced palm oil an important component of its business, he continued. At the same time, Upfield is ‘always looking for new ingredients’ that offer a similar performance as palm oil.
The R&D chief continued: “As a plant-based innovator, we are always open to new ingredients which help us meet our goals of producing sustainable, healthy, great-tasting products.
“For example, we currently have product lines using less common plant oils like Allanblackia which is a lesser-known crop.”