Sat, May 18, 2019 - Page 13 News List

The pea’s protein punch

By Deena Shanker and Lydia Mulvany  /  Bloomberg

Customers in November 2017 stop to get a free vegetarian burger at a food truck in downtown Washington, DC.

Photo: AFP

You can call it an overreaction to some bad soy headlines, or chalk it up to concerns about the environmental impacts of meat. Either way, it’s hard to ignore the food industry’s new favorite protein source: peas.

Earlier this month, meat-substitute producer Beyond Meat made IPO history when its shares nearly tripled in value on their first day of trading. The company’s vegan burgers and sausages are leading the fake meat revolution, with the pea as their star ingredient. The protein from the legume has surged in popularity, especially among manufacturers of meat, dairy and seafood substitutes.

Beyond Meat’s pea-based offerings are joined by the new Lightlife burger, which arrives in US supermarkets this month. There’s also Ripple Foods, with a line of pea-based dairy substitutes. These foods also use peas: JUST’s eggless egg products, Good Catch Foods’ fish-free tuna and UK-based Nomad Foods’ Green Cuisine line that includes meatless burgers, sausages and Swedish meatballs.

With peas becoming such a hot commodity, big players are preparing to ramp up supply. Global pea protein sales will quadruple by 2025, says Henk Hoogenkamp, an adviser and board member for several food companies, with most of the increase stemming from more consumption of plant-based meat products.

Peas thrive in northern climates, and Canada is expected to become the global production leader and account for 30 percent of output in 2020, Hoogenkamp says. New processing facilities are being built there, as well as in France, Belgium and Germany. Agriculture giant Cargill has an agreement with Puris, a producer of plant-based food ingredients, to significantly expand its pea protein operations. Some mothballed soy protein factories in China will probably be converted to pea protein facilities, Hoogenkamp says.

SECURING SUPPLIES

Companies are racing to secure supplies.

“You need to lock up your supply chain,” says Chris Kerr, founder of Good Catch and chief investment officer at private venture fund New Crop Capital. “It’s not a crisis, but you definitely want to plan ahead.”

In anticipation of its new products, Lightlife bought more than a year’s worth of the ingredient.

“We went really long on pea protein,” says Michael Lenahan, its vice president of marketing. “There was uncertainty at the time about how much would be available.”

Ripple Foods has created its own supply chain, working with farmers and developing its own proprietary process for cleaning the peas and extracting their protein. The peas are grown in North Dakota, Montana and Saskatchewan, Canada, before being processed in Northern Illinois.

Supply worries are likely to be short-term if demand continues to grow as projected.?

“I’m never too concerned about the supply of agricultural products,” says Peter Golbitz, founder of Agromeris, an agriculture consulting firm specializing in plant-based products. “They can expand production lines, or more competition enters the space. Making pea protein is not rocket science.”

Nonetheless, Beyond Meat is already looking to mix up its ingredients list.?

“Pea protein is an amazing resource for us, it works well, but there’s nothing particularly special about it,” Chief Executive Officer Ethan Brown says. “If you think about the plant kingdom, there are so many other stocks we can use — mung bean, brown rice, mustard seed, lentils. We will have a much more diverse bench of proteins.”

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