Plant Protein on the Rise

Last month, 225 food manufacturing professionals from across the United States gathered to discuss and share information about what seems to be on all of their minds – protein.  Of course, the USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council (USADPLC) and American Pulse Association (APA) were active participants to make sure the discussion centered around pulses, the fastest trending plant-based protein source.

On May 22-23, 2018 Global Food Forum hosted its 6th annual Protein Trends & Technologies Seminar. North America’s largest protein ingredient market and technologies conference provided industry leaders with cutting-edge research and networking opportunities through its tradeshow displays, world-class speakers, and interactive protein sampling station.   The first day focused on trends in the protein market, while the second day explored the technical challenges, such as formulation, flavor, and even product labeling.

It seems that healthy-minded consumers are obsessed with protein. Consumer data-gathering companies, like Euromonitor and Mintel,say that consumers not only want to know the amount of protein they are consuming, but also the source of the protein. Although soy and dairy-based proteins have dominated the market for years, a new star is on the rise, pea protein. In fact, in a recent Mintel survey, 70% of U.S. consumers reported that they perceive plant-based protein to be healthy. 

To stay in front of this trend, the USADPLC / APA sponsored a pulse-based lunch demonstrating the versatility of pulse protein. The menu included lentil cauliflower tacos, chickpea salad, and other various pulse entrees. Based on a poll taken of the 150 R&D, marketing, and food professionals who attended, the lentils were a success and well received. Hosting the lunch sparked conversations regarding the uses of pulses and further opportunities in the pea protein market in the USA. Additionally, USADPLC displayed a booth featuring USA pulses and their diversity.  Jeff Rumney, Director of Research, represented the U.S. pulse industry at the seminar. There, he networked with industry professionals and connected with new members. 

Steve French, the managing partner of Natural Marketing Institute, discussed five segments within the U.S. population who actively engage in their health at varying participation levels. Among these are consumers French called “Magic Bullets.”  These are individuals who have a lower commitment to long-term health goals but are looking for a quick and easy solution, or a “magic bullet.”  Rumney believes this data can be useful for the North American Marketing Campaign.  “While this segmentation is subjective if we apply this information to our current marketing campaign, our marketing targets “Well-Being” and “Food Active” segments of the population (those consumers most concerned and informed about health, nutrition, and exercise),” explained Rumney.  “Pulses used as an ingredient may be able to reach the other segments as well that are less motivated to seek healthy foods.” 

However, it was these more motivated segments of the population that sparked the protein trend.  Led by the sports nutrition industry, the demand for nutrient-dense foods is driving the inclusion of more protein-rich ingredients into our everyday food items. As consumers increase their activity levels and focus on their health, they seek more protein in their diet. While whey-based products have previously directed the market, the consumer appeal for plant-based sports nutrition drives the inclusion of pea protein isolates into the market. According to Carolina Ordonez, Senior Consumer Health Analyst for Euromonitor International, plant-based protein blends, such as rice and pea, offer higher Protein digestibility-corrected amino acid scores (PDCAAS), meaning they are a higher quality protein source.

As a result of the U.S. pulse industry’s outreach to food manufacturing professionals and conferences, such as this protein trends seminar, Rumney is finding that pulses have become a part of the food industries vernacular.  “Amongst the leading food scientist and protein specialists, the word “Pulse” is used enthusiastically, frequently, and with a consensus of its importance in the future of food,” said Rumney.

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