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Reigning protein: Plant-proteins and hybrids tap into demand for planet-friendly nutrition, notes Kerry exec

Plant-based hybrid proteins can provide a complete nutritional profile and a more environmentally friendly approach to nutrition. This is according to Mindy Leveille, Marketing Manager, Proteins, Kerry Taste & Nutrition, who highlights plant-proteins’ market potential and how it compares to dairy protein. “Healthy aging, sustainability and general wellness are key secular trends in society and plant proteins are well suited to help address these emerging markets and consumer needs,” she tells.

Protein’s reign is intensifying as plant-based alternatives continue to enter the space. Leveille explains that beyond the confines of specific markets, such as sports nutrition, healthy aging and weight management, protein is going mainstream as consumers recognize its importance for general health and wellness.

“Sports nutrition has helped advance general consumer knowledge about the importance of protein to personal health and wellness, but now it is a mainstream market in its own accord,” Leveille says. “The plant-based protein trend owes a great deal of its popularity to the rise of more environmentally conscious and sustainable diets like the vegan and flexitarian ones.”

With the global population projected to reach nine billion by 2050, and with rising consumer incomes in many emerging countries over recent decades, the demand for quality dairy protein should continue to grow. “Plant proteins will likely continue to have a growing share of the global protein market but there is plenty of market room for both plant and animal proteins. The need for additional supplies of sustainably produced dairy and plant proteins is expected to continue to rise to feed expanding consumer appetites around the world, for quality food and beverage protein products,” Leveille highlights.

Recognizing these needs, Kerry’s nutrition and R&D teams have created ProDiem, a complete plant protein that combines pea and rice and “is optimized for digestibility to be equivalent in quality score to gold standards like whey or casein,” the company notes. At the upcoming FiE, taking place December 3-5, in Paris, France, the company will also showcase ProDiem Refresh. It is a plant-protein ingredient for use in low-pH beverages such as waters, juices and energy drinks. The company further notes that ProDiem Refresh has been optimized to go easily into solution, and improve taste, clarity and stability.

“Kerry’s ProDiem plant protein combines both pea and rice protein to deliver a complete protein and all the essential amino acids required for muscle building and maintaining good health. ProDiem can be a solution for product developers seeking non-dairy proteins for their food and beverage products. ProDiem has a clean, neutral flavor, and offers good texture and dispersion as a non-dairy, soy-free vegan protein alternative ingredient.”

Hybrids for a complete nutritional profile
Dairy protein is considered a complete protein as it contains all essential amino acids. In the plant protein space, aside from soy, plant proteins are considered incomplete, in that they are missing some of the essential amino acids, Leveille explains. Essential amino acids cannot be made by the body. As a result, they must come from food.

“Even though many plant protein sources are incomplete, we can still create a complete plant protein by combining several plant proteins together. We can achieve a protein that is equal nutritionally to dairy protein,” she adds. “One important trend is the development of hybrid protein products combining both dairy and plant proteins for timely assimilation of amino acids while addressing the desires of flexitarians for reduced consumption of animal proteins.”

Moreover, plant protein sources provide a host of other nutrients, such as complex carbohydrates, fibers, vitamins and minerals. The ability of plant protein sources to contribute more to a diet than protein alone has led to their inclusion in many dietary recommendations around the world, Leveille continues. Certain plant proteins can also provide benefits associated with reduced cost in use.

Plant-based innovation in food and beverages continues to flourish as a result of consumer interest in health, sustainability and ethics. Innova Market Insights has pegged “The Plant-Based Revolution” as its number two trend for 2020, while “Hello Hybrids,” a nod to the hybrid products trend, ranks at number seven of the market researcher’s Top Trends list.

“Plant proteins are generally perceived to be much more environmentally sustainable and animal-friendly for consumers who are concerned about the issues surrounding animal husbandry and climate change. Plant proteins such as Kerry’s ProDiem provide a quality ingredient alternative in addition to dairy proteins for product manufacturers who want to address the needs of the expanding vegan or flexitarian marketplace,” Leveille says.

With the rise of high-quality plant protein ingredients, the marketplace is seeing food and beverage products being developed in exciting and innovative ways that combine both plant and animal protein ingredients. “These new plant and animal protein products are responding in kind, by picking up their pace of technological innovation,” she adds.

Taste and texture performance
Protein ingredients are often associated with sensory issues, such as gritty texture and “off-notes.” These issues are driving the need for continued innovation in protein ingredients. As protein reaches more categories, it is critical for food and beverage manufacturers to work with protein experts who also understand sensory aspects to address these challenges.

Factors affecting the taste and texture of protein products include the source itself, the protein inclusion rate, the steps involved in manufacturing and any flavor masking techniques used.

“Taste is the most important driver for consumers when choosing a protein product,” Leveille underscores. “It is key for food or beverage manufacturers to work closely with their knowledgeable ingredient suppliers to ensure they develop the best product possible in terms of taste and texture. For example, Kerry’s ProDiem has been formulated using proprietary masking technology to address the texture and taste challenges traditionally associated with plant proteins.”

“In product formulation, we must consider functionality, taste and consumer acceptability of the protein source. A pea protein is not going to have the same functionality in a yogurt application as a sunflower protein. Having the right positioning is key. There are many different functional and taste capabilities for each plant protein on the market,” she adds.

Future trends

Looking ahead, Leveille predicts a positive outlook for the protein market. “The future is extremely bright for the protein space as the global population grows, so will protein needs. Given this growth, there is plenty of room for both plant and animal proteins. In the plant space, emerging new protein sources such as canola (also known as rapeseed), sunflower and flax also provide outstanding emerging possible proteins for use in foods and beverages and for feeding tens of millions of new consumers,” she concludes.




 

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