Protein: A tale of two cities

By Hank Schultz contact

- Last updated on GMT

Arla Foods Ingredients photo
Arla Foods Ingredients photo

Related tags: Sports nutrition, Nutrition

Two companies are taking opposite roads toward protein delivery innovation—one a whole food and the other a reductionist line of ingredients—and each having success in their own way.

The two companies, Puris and Arla Food Ingredients, spoke with NutraIngredients-USA at the recent SupplySide West trade show in Las Vegas, NV.  Puris has spent decades developing a light tasting, clean pea protein, whereas Arla has gone the other direction with its whey ingredients, snipping them into smaller and smaller pieces.

Ticking the whole foods box 

Tyler Lorenzen, president of Puris (which until recently was known as World Food Processing) said that the company has ridden a wave of demand for clean, whole ingredients. This wave is made up of consumers who are increasingly interested in and knowledgable about the ingredients in the functional foods and supplements that they consume. It’s the underlying dynamic that drives the plant-based protein trend, he said. With years of selective breeding of pea strains under its belt, the company is well positioned to benefit, he said.

“It makes people feel good if they are moving in a direction they think is healthy. People want to know how you are sure your ingredient is healthy, and they want to know where it comes from,”​ Lorenzen said.

“Whole food nutrition is what everyone is talking about. In the plant-based nutrition space, our pea protein checks a lot of the right boxes. It’s vegetarian, non GMO, allergen friendly,”​ he said.

Cost is still a deciding factor

Puris has had success placing its protein in sports nutrition products as well as in a variety of food and beverage matrices. It has had so much success, in fact, that the company has trouble keeping up with demand, especially in the realm of its organic offerings. But it is still a bulk protein, which means however clean and pleasant tasting it might be, it has to compete against that commoditized price background. It ain’t caviar, in other words. 

“We have to be able to provide it economically, first and foremost,” ​Lorenzen said. “And then we had to breed the pea to remove the off notes in the taste of the protein. Soy had a big head start; it had forty or fifty years of innovation before it matured in the market.”

Lorenzen said that the years of hard work put into the genetics of the plants and how best to grow them means that many of the problems that farmers might encounter have already been dealt with by the company, helping them earn extra money growing peas in rotation or as a cover crop.

Lorenzen said one of the big new opportunities for his company’s ingredients is in sports nutrition, long dominated by soy proteins when it comes to the plant-based offerings.

“It would be silly for us not to go where other plant proteins have gone before,” ​he said.

Up and coming player in sports nutrition

Sports nutrition is directly in the wheelhouse of Arla Foods Ingredients. The company has taken the path of breaking down the full whey protein molecule into hydrosolates. This chops up a big molecule that is already quite readily absorbed into smaller pieces that enter the bloodstream even faster. Peter Schouw Andersen, Arla’s head of science and sales development, said this speaks directly to the highly informed sports nutrition customer, for whom performance is the key.

“Whey protein isolate has become the standard in sports nutrition. The next big thing are the hydrosolates,” ​Andersen said.

“It’s like a predigested product. You get a faster recovery. It has been used in medical nutrition for decades, and now it has been moving into sports nutrition,”​ Andersen said.

The main drawback for hydrosolates has been the taste, Andersen admitted. These smaller molecules tend to be bitter, but Arla has been working hard to tailor its manufacturing to come up with hydrosolates that are milder tasting to start.  

“That’s the main issue. The functionality of these molecules is actually very good. We have been altering our processes to come up with hydrosolates that have different ends. It’s from the ends that the bitter taste comes,” he​ said.

Each hydrosolate has its own taste profile

Andersen said apples to apples comparisons are difficult when it comes to hydrosolates. While there are standards for what a whey protein isolate ought to look like, there are none for hydrosolates, he said. The ingredients would look different from each manufacturer, meaning the taste, and the way to mask that with bitter blockers and other formulation tricks, would be different too. Andersen said he believes Arla has the solutions to this issue, offering milder tasting hydrosolates that can be effectively masked in a formulation.

“At the moment there is a fairly small amount of hydrosolates in the sports nutrition world. But I see these has having as much potential as whey protein isolate. Hydrosolates are outgrowing everything else in the whey industry. We have a whole application department of 50 peopel working on flavorings and bitter masking,”​ he said.

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