Cargill: “We Continue to Explore New Opportunities in Plant Proteins”

Laurie Koenig - Cargill
©Cargill - Laurie Koenig

As the demand for plant-based food sweeps the globe, large-scale conglomerates that have acquired their wealth through the exploitation of animals are investing in, and sometimes even acquiring, smaller vegan companies.  

Daiya Foods, known for its vegan “meltable” shredded cheese, is now owned by Japanese Pharmaceutical company Otsuka. Nestlé USA acquired vegan meat company Sweet Earth Foods in 2017. And popular vegan non-dairy brands So Delicious and Silk are part of French yogurt company Danone’s portfolio.

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© Cargill, Inc.

Yoplait, who’s parent company is General Mills, invested almost $60M in California-based artisanal nut cheesemaker, Kite Hill. And before selling its 6.5% ownership stake in Beyond Meat this year, Tyson Foods had invested $34M in the company. 

Minnetonka, Minnesota-based Cargill, a major meat and agricultural commodities processor that has been in operation for over 150 years, is also making the transition to vegan-friendly products. It has invested in “clean meat” companies Memphis Meat and Israeli startup Aleph Farms. It has also been a significant investor in Beyond Meat’s pea protein producer PURIS. In 2017, Cargill sold its last remaining US feedlots to invest in, among other things, plant-based proteins. 

We discussed Cargill’s history and its plant-based goals for the future with Texturizers and Specialty Lead, Laurie Koenig.

Cargill has invested approximately $100m in the North American pea protein industry. Will Cargill continue to grow its plant-based protein portfolio? 
We continue to explore new opportunities in plant proteins. Our current portfolio includes pea, vital wheat gluten, and soy.

PURIS Proteins is one of Cargill’s strategic partners. Please describe how this partnership began and plans for future growth. 
Pea protein has quickly emerged as a significant player in the plant protein space due to its consumer acceptance—people are familiar with peas—along with its versatility across application types and ability to meet manufacturers’ allergen and label-friendly objectives. Recognizing its growth potential, in January 2018, Cargill formed a joint venture with PURIS, the leading US producer of pea protein. 

PURIS was the natural choice for us. It produces the best-tasting pea protein on the market and has a vertically integrated supply chain, with established relationships with over 400 US farmers, including US Certified Organic pea farmers. Because of our initial investment, PURIS was able to expand its production of this high quality, plant-based protein.

In August 2019, we invested an additional $75 million in PURIS, enabling the company to double production of its proprietary pea proteins. This was a direct response to the ever-increasing demand for the company’s category-leading products. As we look ahead, we expect to continue to partner with PURIS to bring these great tasting, sustainable, and label-friendly pea protein ingredients to customers in North America and across the world. 

Cargill also manufactures corn and soy-based plant-proteins. Are the products available as non-GMO or organic?
Currently, Cargill’s plant protein portfolio includes pea, vital wheat gluten, and soy. Our PURIS pea protein and Prolia® soy flour and Prosante® textured soy flour are all available in non-GMO options.

In your opinion, what is driving the increased consumer demand for plant-based ingredients and proteins?
Health Focus International offers some insights into global plant-based eating trends. In their August 2017 International Plant Study, they found an international shift in consumer desires to add more plant-based foods, beverages, and ingredients to their diets, and to reduce their intake of animal-based products. They determined the underlying motivations for the trend were broader than becoming a vegetarian or reducing meat consumption. Rather, the Health Focus researchers saw it as a complementary strategy with consumers striving to increase vegetable- and plant-based consumption while still incorporating animal-based proteins for a healthy balanced diet.1

To get a deeper understanding of consumer attitudes toward plant proteins, Cargill surveyed more than 1,900 US grocery shoppers. Among our findings: one in four consumers said more protein in the diet is always better, and at least six in 10 were at least somewhat likely to check the ingredient list for protein. In general, protein has a strong health halo, with more than half of consumers reporting they seek protein for its health value and energy benefits, while nearly half also associate it with satiety and building muscle.2 

Also worth noting, we found that protein source is increasingly important to consumers. Nearly half of the consumers in our survey said the type of protein in foods is very important. This was especially true of consumers who are limiting their meat intake, seeking “clean label” products, or consuming plant-based proteins regularly. Nearly half of the respondents in our survey agreed that they felt better about eating plant protein, and almost as many were trying to eat more proteins from plants.3 

Those results track with the recent Food and Health Survey from the International Food Information Council Foundation, which found that one-third of consumers are eating plant-based protein daily, and three-quarters view protein from plant sources as healthy.4

Please describe what steps Cargill is taking to reach the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals? 
We know that today’s sustainability challenges can only be addressed through a concerted global effort, which is why we support the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). There are direct connections between our efforts to nourish the world in a safe, responsible and sustainable way and the SDGs, and we welcome the acknowledgment of the role the private sector must play to achieve these goals. For our part, we are working to implement these principles as part of our strategy, culture, and day-to-day operations.

As just one example, Cargill has partnered with CARE in a rural development partnership that has reached more than 2.2. Million people in 10 years, helping build more resilient communities in 10 countries through improved food and nutrition security, increased farmer productivity, and greater access to markets. Read more.

1 Health Focus International. International Plant Study. Consumer Entry Points in Eating and Drinking. August 2017.
2 Cargill Proprietary Research, 2018.
3 Cargill Proprietary Research, 2018.
4 International Food Information Council Foundation. “2019 Food & Health Survey, International Food Information Council Foundation. May 2019. Download here.