Plant based protein overview (Newsletter #8)

(Estimated reading time: 9 Minutes)


Our earlier newsletters outlined the market opportunities for alternative proteins for both animal feed and human consumption in the form of insects.  Further, our last newsletter explored the possibilities for indoor farming in light of declines in the nutritional value of food crops.  

Declining nutrient profiles in our foods have led to increased dietary micronutrient deficiencies- predominantly iron, iodine and calcium.  An active adult’s daily protein requirement is roughly 0.8 grams per kilogram, and crucially, it is estimated that by 2050, 150 million people could be at risk of protein deficiency.  These statistics underscore the need for high-protein foods with robust accompanying micronutrient profiles.  These are some of the reasons that the plant-based proteins market is gaining traction.

In this newsletter, we will delve into plant-based proteins- from peas, algae and seaweed to mushrooms.  Food tech innovations are sprouting new and exciting forms of rich protein for novel foods and functional ingredients.  This burgeoning market is creating ripe opportunity for food tech developments to process and formulate ingredients with robust amino acid profiles.  We are witnessing the uncovering of wonderful and sophisticated synergies between food and science where unique products and nutritional benefits are taking the plant-based protein industry to the next level.

The market

The plant-based protein industry has recently seen growth in light of ever-increasing consumer demands for foods that are both high in protein and ethically produced:

  1. According to Research and Markets the global plant based protein market is expected to reach over $10.8 billion by 2022, supported by a CAGR of 6.7% during the forecast period of 2017 to 2022
  2. 15% rise in dollar sales for plant-based foods and beverages in the US this year.
  3. Nielson Product Insider found that the highest growth categories for plant-based protein products were diet and nutrition, desserts, and yoghurt products.
  4. According to HealthFocus data, 17% of U.S. consumers aged 15 to 70 currently claim to eat a predominately plant-based diet, while 60% report to be cutting back on meat-based products.

The market for plant-based proteins has even been tapped into by animal protein industry giant Tyson Foods, who now has a 5% ownership stake in Beyond Meat- a leading plant-based meat alternative company.

Animal proteins vs. Plant based proteins

Plant-based proteins are often seen as inferior to animal proteins because they typically do not contain all 9 essential amino acids, while animal proteins such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy are considered complete.  However, the attractiveness of plant-based proteins is highlighted by their lower environmental costs and higher health benefits:

Screen Shot 2017-12-14 at 13.28.23

1. Type: Pea proteins

Peas have been around for centuries but only recently their protein potential has been unlocked.  Already established in niche fitness products, it is now showing growth in the mainstream food and beverage market.

  • Varieties: Peas
  • Industries:  Food and beverage; Sports supplements
  • Market: Expected to grow 13.5% per year in volume  through 2023 (Global Market Insights)
  • Advantages: Highly sustainable crop production; Easily digestible and highly bioavailable; Amino acid profile suitable for muscle building
  • Potential  drawbacks: Undesirable gritty texture; Low in one amino acid- methionine

To meet the growing demand for pea protein, Roquette, a specialty food ingredients and pharmaceutical excipient company is building the biggest manufacturing plant to date with an expected processing capacity of over 120,000 tons per year.  According to the Canadian pea exports will increase to 3.2 million tons in 2017/18. With its 120,000 ton capacity Roquette will be able to supply roughly 5% of Canada’s pea exports.

Innovative pea-protein products include:

  • The Beyond Burger plant-based patties- Beyond Meat uses pea proteins as their primary ingredient.
  • Just Mayo- Hampton Creek uses pea proteins in their vegan egg-alternative.
  • Pea-based plant milk- Ripple Foods and Bolthouse Farms are producing non-dairy milk alternatives.

2. Type: Algae & Seaweed      

Peas aren’t the only green plant making waves in the food and beverage industry.  Algae and seaweed protein sources are increasingly being utilised in novel snacks, food formulators and drinks.  Spirulina is celebrated as a complete protein source- with a protein content of up to 77%.  

  • Varieties: Microalgae; Seaweed; Spirulina
  • Industries: Food and beverage; Food formulators and functional ingredients; Condiments- salad dressing
  • Market: Commercial seaweed market projected to reach $17  billion by 2021- forecast to grow at 9.17% (2016-2021); Global market for single-celled microalgae forecast  to reach $44 million by 2023, supported by a CAGR of 5% from 2016-2023  (Credence Research)
  • Advantages: Highly sustainable crop production;  Ingredient cultivation with minimal inputs; Do not compete with traditional food crops for space   and resources; Robust omega-3 profile; Rich in protein, ascorbic acid, iron and vitamin B
  • Potential  drawbacks: Consumer acceptance; Allergies to seaweed; Risks to pregnant women

Tech specialist companies GlycoMar and MicroA are now refining polysaccharides from microalgae using only light and CO2 to cultivate microalgae in seawater.

Other innovative algae and seaweed-based products include:

  • Spirulina-based ice cream- Oppo uses this protein source in their mint-choc swirl ice cream
  • Spirulina-based antioxidant drink- Algama uses it in their antioxidant-rich drink Springwave.

3. Type: Mushrooms

Mushroom proteins provide a nutrient-rich, fat-free and low calorie solution to meeting nutritional needs and research has found that mushroom proteins can be more satiating than animal proteins.

  • Varieties: Shiitake; Reishi; Chaga; Cordycep; Maitake
  • Industries: Food and beverage; Drink supplements
  • Market: Market expected to reach $50 billion by 2019,  supported by a CAGR of 9.5% from 2014; Whole Foods trends listed functional mushrooms as a  top trend for 2018
  • Advantages: Fat-free, low in calories; Rich in vitamin B, vitamin D, calcium, phosphorus,  potassium and magnesium; Meaty texture; Rise of sustainable food processing platforms  through mushroom fermentation
  • Potential  drawbacks: Consumer acceptance- association with mould; Sustainability of production

Innovative mushroom protein products include:

  • Mycoprotein™- Quorn Foods are using their patented complete protein source in their meat-like products such as BBQ dippers and chicken style pieces.
  • Mushroom-based drinks- Four Sigmatic are producing a range of coffees, elixirs, lemonades, cacao and matcha using a variety of mushrooms such as Shiitake, Chaga and Reishi.
  • Functional ingredients- MycoTechnology have produced a bitter blocker, ClearTaste, that helps reduce sugar content in beverages, alcohol and protein powders. Their shiitake shake, PureTaste is a complete protein, comprising 77-80% protein, with a DIAAS (Digestible Indispensable Amino Acid Score) of 1, comparable to animal proteins. MycoTechnology, Inc have received $35 million from Kellogg’s venture capital fund.


The flourishing and diverse world of plant-based proteins is clearly giving animal proteins a run for their money.  There are various startups utilising and producing foods rich in protein with robust amino acid profiles to meet consumer demands for environmentally gentle protein sources.  To support this industry startups are heavily investing in R&D to produce tech for fermentation processing, deodorising proteins and nutrients for clean meat.

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