Illinois based Ingredion is one of the most important players in the plant-based ingredients industry, partnering with innovators in the space including NotCo, EVERY Company (formerly Clara Foods); and very recently with Sophie’s BioNutrients for dairy-free microalgae milk. Not forgetting of course its full acquisition of James and Suzi Cameron’s Verdient Foods last November.
Just eight weeks ago, Ingredion announced the opening of a new facility in Saskatchewan, to supply plant proteins from peas, lentils, and fava beans to our growing industry. Exciting times, both for the company and for the industry as a whole.
We spoke with Ingredion’s Michael Natale, Global Leader of Plant-based Proteins.
One could say that the business of B2B ingredient product offerings is a staid and well-traveled path. However, Ingredion has taken a very novel approach with its new Plant-based Protein Platform and Alternative Universe Campaign. Can you share what this is?
Plant-based alternatives offer a powerful solution to feeding ten billion people by 2050. In the industry, we talk about the plant protein market as the alternative protein market. However, many reports, such as the one covered in this publication by BCG stating that plant-based meats will be 22% of the market by 2035, note that plant-based proteins are no longer alternative. Indeed, they are the norm.
For some, working with plant-based protein is already in their sights. For many, it is a whole new world. With Ingredion’s decades of global experience, we are perfectly positioned to help companies-both established and those just bursting onto the scene-navigate this new dimension.
“Plant-based alternatives offer a powerful solution to feeding ten billion people by 2050”
Our North American supply facilities, including plants in both South Sioux City, Nebraska and Saskatchewan Canada, and our ingredient solutions, are at the forefront of the world’s shift to more plant-based proteins. From our extensive portfolio, our insights and research, and our globally positioned centers of excellence for plant-based dairy and meat products, we utilize our robust portfolio of solutions with our strong formulation capabilities to help our clients skyrocket in this new food universe.
We hope our e-guide on navigating the Alternative Universe can help those interested in innovating for the future of food.
As Ingredion guides its clients through The Alternative Universe, its customer relationships become more like partnerships. Can you share how you now work with clients, including The Every Company and NotCo, to help them navigate and thrive in the shifting and growing plant-based galaxy?
For us at Ingredion, it isn’t just CPG products that are changing. We are also changing how we do business. For example, we don’t just promote one thing as a solution and try to sell it. That’s old school. Instead, we understand that solutions start with a conversation.
Partnering with companies to create the next generation of plant-based products that will secure a sustainable food supply is a matter of pride for us because it is something that we care deeply about. That’s why when we had the chance to help Arturo Elizondo at The Every Company bring to market an animal-free pepsin via precision fermentation, we were immediately on board. The same is true for NotCo. We are thrilled to be one of their ingredient partners.
“Partnering with companies to create the next-generation of plant-based products that will secure a sustainable food supply is a matter of pride for us”
In particular, given our resources, we can allow smaller and medium-sized companies the opportunity to test and trial, without the need for infrastructure that could weigh them down. This allows them to try out ideas, some of which will fail until they find the right solution. We call this ‘failing up.’
It is the dawn of a new era, and we are helping our clients lead the way.
2021 has been a big year for Ingredion. Opening the pea protein plant in South Sioux City, Nebraska seems to be just one notch in the plant-based belt for the company. What other pulses and advancements will Ingredion bring to the food supply stratosphere?
Ingredion is committed to no soy, no wheat and no animal products. We have seen the success of our advanced pea protein technology address issues of taste and functionality in the marketplace as more and more companies come online wanting better ingredient options.
When selecting a source of plant protein, it’s important to access up-to-date insights into changing consumer preferences and ingredient acceptability. Soy is now perceived as a less sustainable protein source, whereas whole pea protein is increasingly accepted in a wide range of applications – even plant-based milk.
Breakthroughs in pea protein mean it now offers high functionality and cleaner taste as well as appealing consumer attributes, such as “source of protein”, “gluten-free” and “soy-free.”
We remain excited about pea, chickpea, lentil and fava/faba bean proteins and are constantly exploring what ingredients can bring the breakthrough of better performance and feasibility.
Along with taste, texture, price and convenience, it seems that helping your clients achieve clean label products is a big priority. Can you elaborate? Do you anticipate the ingredients will become the stars of front and back of pack marketing?
Health is the number one reason consumers consider buying plant-based alternatives. These same consumers would also switch brands and pay more to get products with their preferred health and wellness claims. But they do their research first. They use apps to scan labels, look at the nutritional content and check the sustainability credentials.
In fact, consumers now rank on-pack nutritional information more highly than health claims.
Thus, balancing affordability and nutrition in plant-based options is now sharply in focus. Products such as vegan cheese with zero protein content are no longer acceptable. Consumer expectations have changed. The challenge is to formulate nutritious products that deliver the right sensory appeal while reflecting consumer demand for low fat, sugar and salt. At the same time, the products must also offer a positive health benefit by including macronutrients, such as protein, fiber and carbohydrates.
The consumer is more and more educated about their personalized nutrition, and we expect this to continue to be a big driver in the market.
When it comes to nailing price, taste and texture with new ingredients, how can Ingredion help with performance through novel technologies and ingredient selection?
To make high-quality plant-based food more widely available and more affordable, the development of new tools and game-changing technology is critical. With accelerated innovation – in both ingredient production and supply, as well as manufacturing processes – the potential to scale up increases rapidly.
For ingredient innovation, this could mean developing cleaner taste, full functionality and colorless pulse proteins that are easier to formulate and appeal to consumers. We have a line of ultra-performance pea and fava bean protein concentrates and pea flour that not only result in tastier options but are lower in micro allowing food and beverage manufacturers to push protein levels in many traditional and RTE products.
For manufacturing, this could mean investment in capacity-building food processing equipment that adds scalability to meet growing demand. Ingredient innovation and supply, coupled with technology and processing innovation, can drive acceleration toward affordable and accessible plant protein for all, and enable more rapid growth of the plant-based industry.
What kind of role do you see fermented proteins and cultivated meat playing, and is this a planet that Ingredion will orbit?
Growth in the cultivated meat market is predicted as innovation continues, but consumer acceptance is needed to progress beyond early adopters. Still, initial studies show that a majority of early adopters imagine that 40% of their meat purchases in the future will be from cultivated meat. Other processing innovations, such as fermentation technology, which is already widely understood and accepted as natural, work well as a stepping-stone while attitudes catch up with an evolving food system.
Our work with The Every Company is our first foray into the world of precision fermentation, but it won’t be our last as we explore the deep space of fermentation and cultivated meats with our partners.
No one knows the future, but some have a better glimpse into the plant-based milky way than others. What are your predictions for the Alternative Universe in the next 3-5 years?
As global demand for protein continues to increase, plant-based proteins that are grown, harvested and supplied sustainably will play an essential role in the future of food and the health of the planet. With studies showing that a meat eater’s diet can produce almost double the CO2 emissions of a vegan diet, there is growing awareness that plant-based diets can support a more sustainable lifestyle. Meeting this demand through good sources of plant-based protein will require a commitment to invest, innovate and adapt throughout the food supply chain.
“it’s clear that the Alternative Universe is our future. Let’s explore this exciting new universe together.”
Indeed, 63.8% of global consumers say they try to have a positive impact on the environment through everyday actions and eating for planetary health, as much as personal health, is a growing driver. These are compelling reasons for all food and beverage manufacturers to want to play their part and reach for the stars.
While the exact way alternative proteins will usher in this global dietary shift is still unknown, it’s clear that the Alternative Universe is our future. Let’s explore this exciting new universe together.