Benson Hill today announces the launch of TruVail™, a new line of non-GMO plant-based protein ingredients sourced from Benson Hill’s proprietary Ultra-High Protein (UHP) soybeans, reducing the need for additional processing steps typically required to concentrate protein levels. The resulting less processed, ingredient requires up to 70% less water and up to 50% less CO2e to produce.
Says Bruce Bennett, President of Benson Hill’s Ingredients Business: “Better ingredients start with better beans. Whereas food manufacturers are usually relegated to use whatever limited ingredients the commodity system has to offer, TruVail™ ingredients are sourced from soybeans specifically designed with consumer interests in mind.”
vegconomist took the opportunity to find out more about the company, the recent acquisition of Creston and its plans for the rest of 2022.
What is Benson Hill and what is your role in the plant-based market?
The simplest way to describe Benson Hill is as a food innovation company.
Few disagree that consumers are demanding more nutritious, sustainably produced ingredients for both the health of people and the planet, yet our food system today is fragmented. Seed innovators are largely focused on the farmer and yield optimization because farmers depend on yield and commodity markets for their livelihood. Food manufacturers, particularly plant-based manufacturers, are faced with energy-intensive processing steps and supply chain issues to get to desired protein levels. Today, consumers face tradeoffs across a plethora of personal objectives including culture and beliefs, convenience, affordability, and accessibility.
That’s where we come in. It starts with seed, data, and technology. Through CropOS®, our food innovation engine, we identify the natural ability within plants to increase protein expression, value-added oil content, and other attributes. Through advanced breeding practices, we are working to accelerate commercialization and decrease cost – making food better from the beginning, right out of the ground. This is the first part of our value proposition.
The second is business model innovation. Through closed-loop, vertical integration, we offer food manufacturers high-quality, minimally processed ingredients that can be tailored to their needs while partnering with our customers to create on-trend food products.
By reducing processing steps through harnessing the power of genetics and Mother Nature, we can assist our customers in meeting their sustainability goals as well. Together, these two components, technology, and business model innovation make us the ‘picks and shovels’ of the plant-based movement.
What does the plant-based market look like right now? And how has it evolved over the last few years?
Overall, analysts predict the plant-based protein market could reach $162B by 2030 but the past few years have been particularly pivotal. Nielsen Research recently reported a 53% increase in plant-based sales at retail with almost the same percentage of consumers stating consuming plant-based products made them feel healthier. Some of this is a direct result of a reduction in dining out, although restaurants are increasing their plant-based options as well. Cooking at home places a direct focus on healthier and more sustainable eating patterns.
According to recent research commissioned by EIT Food, 80% of Gen Z consumers believe their food should be more sustainably produced and consumed and 7 out of 10 believe plant-based products achieve this.
“We all have the same goal – food that’s simply better for us and the planet.”
Our focus, as the picks and shovels behind the protein movement, is to continue to innovate seed varieties that work to reduce processing and energy use, that are more nutritious and sustainably produced from the get-go, and be at-the-ready to meet the evolving needs of food manufacturers as they work to meet the needs of consumers. We all have the same goal – food that’s simply better for us and the planet.
What benefits do your ingredients offer to consumers and partners?
The work we are doing with soy right now is probably the best example, although the same premises would hold true for yellow pea or any crop that has a role in the production of plant-based proteins, human food, pet food, and animal feed. Our overarching goal is more nutritious, great-tasting, sustainably produced, and accessible food choices demanded by consumers. We believe this happens when you make food better from the beginning, starting with the seed.
For instance, we’ve innovated and commercialized non-GMO Ultra-High Protein soybean varieties and non-GMO varieties with high-oleic oil content via a network of farmer partners to contract 70,000 acres of soybeans last year. After a successful harvest last fall, we expect this acreage to increase again in 2022, and we’re adding new farmer partners to the team every day.
These soybeans are then processed at facilities we’ve acquired in Seymour, Indiana and, more recently Creston, Iowa. We can then bring our customers the high-quality protein ingredients to be used in many markets including meat alternatives and meat extensions, baked goods, snacks, and other applications.
You recently acquired ZFS Creston. What does this acquisition mean for Benson Hill’s business model?
As we mentioned in our announcement of the acquisition, we are incredibly proud to play a greater role in the Iowa agriculture community – a leader in soybean production nationwide with a large percentage of family-owned farms. It’s a core component of our value proposition to take our technology to market through a closed-loop, integrated path to food production. In addition, the Creston facility has the potential to expand and broaden our ingredients offering to assure we stay aligned with the demands of the consumer and emerging trends that will guide our go-to-market strategy.
With this increased capacity, we believe we can execute our portfolio approach within the plant-based protein category and leverage our proprietary soybeans across an even more diverse growing region that corresponds well with the strength of our soy genetics. Immediate access to this capacity is expected to accelerate our ability to produce, commercialize, and expand our ingredient portfolio.
What strategic advantages does the acquisition give Benson Hill?
First – it’s speed to market – plain and simple.
Second – Creston enables us to deepen and expand our farmer partner relationships and network while adding momentum to scaling the exciting output traits developed through our CropOS® platform.
Third – Benson Hill’s technology will play an important part in supporting our customers’ ability to create great food products with more minimally processed ingredients that support a more sustainable approach to creating great food. The investment marks a definitive step in Benson Hill’s ability to convert its proprietary soybeans into value-added soy protein ingredients.
What are Benson Hill’s current and upcoming innovations in the food tech space?
Modernizing our food system is one of the greatest challenges and opportunities impacting our food system. We’re striving to be a positive force for change. We have built a world-class on-farm soy protein expression data set to improve sustainability and refine the predictive capabilities of CropOS® for seed improvement that will define and refine how the food system functions in the future.
Despite being one of the fastest-growing crops for plant-based ingredients, yellow pea has received little genomic innovation to date compared to soy and other major crops. Our scientists created a comprehensive genomic map, which enables us to accelerate a breeding program to develop uniquely differentiated varieties. Leveraging these capabilities, Benson Hill is working on a pipeline of products with the potential to significantly reduce off-flavors, increase the quantity of the protein the plant creates, and ultimately displace the need for expensive, energy- and water-intensive processing steps typically required to produce protein ingredients used in plant-based meat alternatives.
In addition to our soybean processing capabilities at Seymour and Creston, we’ve expanded and upgraded the processing capabilities of our wholly-owned subsidiary Dakota Ingredients to better serve the pet and human food markets. Through its elite grower program, the operation can now test premium yellow pea varieties and supply ingredients that meet food-grade, kosher and non-GMO certification standards.
What are Benson Hill’s plans for 2022?
During the 2021 season, we executed our largest soybean field data gathering effort ever, and we plan to continue this growth into the 2022 season. The 2021 harvest of identity-preserved, proprietary soybeans with favorable protein, anti-nutrient, and oleic oil profiles will source Benson Hill’s portfolio of nutritious and sustainable ingredients designed to serve the alternative plant-based meat, specialty cooking oil and other human food, animal feed, and aquaculture markets.
The strong 2021 harvest results are an important landmark as we commercialize our soybean portfolio, especially with the introduction of our ultra-high protein ingredients in 2022. Our farmer partners are excited about the future as well, as commitments for contracted acres in 2022 are well underway and have already exceeded the 70,000 acres planted and harvested in 2021. Many returning farmers have increased their acreage commitments, and we are fielding in-bound interest from new farmers seeking to plant Benson Hill’s innovative soybean varieties that can provide value-added consumer market opportunities.
Through our recent acquisition of Creston, we believe we can now enable our integrated model to drive demand for our innovations and in the future capture licensing and partnership revenues opportunities based on our IP. This is a rare moment for us to be aggressive, capturing share in a strong market driven by rapidly growing demand from consumers and a severely undersupplied capacity for soy protein ingredients. We are excited about the opportunities for this year and beyond.