Base as a breeder
Many companies talk a farm-to-customer approach, but Iowa-based World Food Processing actually lives it, by breeding their own pea and soy varieties, processing the ingredients and fine tuning the formulations. The only part of the process that falls out of their direct purview is the growing, which is done by longtime farming partners.
“My father started the business in 1985. He started it as a seed breeding company focused on food grade soybeans,” Tyler Lorenzen, president of World Food Processing. “He was looking for a soy bean that was lighter in color, tasted better and had more protein. I think a lot of people thought he was crazy but he stuck to his guns and his vision has come true in out way of controlling from production from the seed right through to the finished product.”
Lorenzen, who took up the reins at the company after a brief career as a professional football player, said the nature of traditional plant breeding meant the company’s program by necessity was developed over a period of years. With that experience under its belt, the company can now fine tune varieties of peas and soy beans for local growing conditions in the Dakotas, further south on the Great Plains and parts of the Midwest where most peas processed as ingredients (as opposed to canned as vegetables) are grown.
“We breed for a farmer’s given location. It has been a long program so we have established it step by step. They get higher yields and have the integrity of a non GMO source. We sell seed to the farmers with the option to buy it back,” Lorenzen said.
Good for the soil and the farmer
Peas offer some big advantages as rotational crop, Lorenzen said. For organic producers and others seeking ways to naturally improve the soil, peas like other legumes fix nitrogen into the soil, actually leaving it better than before. This helps to counteract the potentially extractive nature of modern agribusiness moncropping models, he said.
“We give our farmers more tools to be successful. Peas are a great rotational crop, and with our breeding program we can now grow peas in places where they never had before. It’s still a cool, short season crop, but in some locations it can be planted immediately after the snows, harvested, and a second crop can be brought in,” Lorenzen said.
The company, which has processing facilities in several states, mills its pea protein to a smaller size than most competitors, which, along with its genetic characteristics, enables its to act as fat replacer and emulsifier in formulations ranging from smoothies to salad dressings, Lorenzen said.
“We bred these peas to have a higher protein content per acre of peas. After we achieved that, we bred for a pea that has the mildest flavor possible. In the plant-based protein world, the thing you need to control is taste. There are a lot of first-time users, and if it doesn’t taste great, they won’t come back,” he said.
Vega paved the way
Of course, PurisPea can function as a straight protein addition as well as replacing fat and adding creaminess. One of the big opportunities in the present market is in sports nutrition formulations, following a path paved by Vega, a sports nutrition brand founded on an all-plant message.
“Vega has done a tremendous job of championing plant proteins in the marketplace,” Lorenzen said.
The challenge now is for pea proteins to match the multi functionality of soy proteins, which dominate the market, and with which World Food Processing has extensive experience.
“You are talking 60 some years of innovation industry-wide around soy protein and for pea it is less than a couple decades. A lot of the challenges around vegetarian protein is matching that dairy experience. With the proper ingredient base to start with you can match that mouthfeel,” Lorenzen said.
“We only commercialized our pea protein in 2014, and the opportunity is so big because of the newness of the ingredient, and being the only non GMO, potentially organic pea protein grown and processed in the US,” he said.