David Janow, founder and CEO of Axiom Foods, said being first to market has been a huge help in positioning his company’s ingredients in this growing sector. Janow was a pioneer of rice protein back in the early 2000s.
“I have been at this for 15 years now, way before anyone would listen to me,” Janow told NutraIngredients-USA. In a not uncommon story in the dietary ingredients field, Janow, who started his professional career as a practicing attorney, saw value where others saw only waste.
Value in waste stream
Much of the available rice protein was being discarded or diverted to low value applications, Janow said. Much of it was left over from the manufacture of monosodium glutamate. And what was being extracted was done using the unattractive solvent hexane, he said.
Janow pioneered a method of extracting the protein via an enzymatic process that yielded a clean ingredient. Axiom now markets several different grades of rice protein under the Oryzatein brand name.
Rice protein occupied a unique niche within the still-developing plant based protein field, Janow said.
“Soy was known as a potential allergen, so people were looking for an alternative source,” he said.
Convincing the gym rats
The development of the plant based market was at first impeded by the acceptance of the sports performance community, Janow said. While this was a niche segment of the market, especially so a decade or more ago when Axiom was first getting its feet wet in the market, it has an outsized influence. The idea seems to be that muscle builders ought to know about how proteins perform in terms of muscle protein synthesis. They had focused on eggs in the early days and they switched to whey.
“The hardest part was to get the bodybuilders and weight trainers to see that plant based proteins could be a viable alternative,” Janow said.
Axiom released a study in 2013 that showed that rice protein isolate performed as well as whey protein isolate in a clinical trial on post resistance exercise recovery. Janow said the study was a game changer, because there was an assumption that rice HAD to be inferior to whey in this application because of the different amino acid concentrations between the two.
“What we did was show that it was equivalent to whey,” Janow said. “Now you go into the supplements aisle and there are whole walls of sports nutrition products based on plant proteins.”
Janow said the development road has sometimes been a hard one, and it’s not just about changing perceptions. Plant proteins have formulation issues of their own. Rice is at least one of the milder flavored plant proteins, Janow said.
“All of the plant proteins have some issue. In rice protein there has been the issue of grittiness. The amino acid molecules are sharp, and that’s what you feel in your mouth. One of our big hurdles was to get it into a micron size where it was small enough that that was no longer a big issue,” he said.
Janow said over the years the company has delved into plant breeding to develop a better raw material.
“On the rice side we have developed a rice that has 4% or 5% more protein. It wasn’t GMO; it was done with traditional crop breeding and it takes years to do this,” he said.
Huge upside for plant-based proteins
Axiom now markets other plant based proteins as well, including varieties of pea, hemp and sacha inchi protein. Janow said the company is well positioned to benefit from the continually expanding plant-based market.
According to Mintel research cited by the company, the number of products with a high-protein or vegan claim increased by 54% in the 2008-2014 time frame. And in 2014 the protein supplements industry was worth $7 billion with good growth prospects for the future.
“Applications patents are something I went for early on. It was a huge battle to get the patents through but I think those patents at the end of the day will help us thrive. Now all of the big companies, the Cargills of the world, are getting in on this,” Janow said.