Altruism isn’t enough to make plant-based protein competitive with livestock-based products. Advanced technologies, like twin-screw extrusion, help deliver on taste.
Plant-based protein is the hottest raw material trend in food processing, and meat analogues are the stars in giving Americans a choice between protein derived from animals or plants. Hummus may be the reigning champion in plant-based products, but burgers consisting of protein derived from wheat, soy, peas and other sources are gaining steam.
Throughput is limited — Impossible Foods’ new plant in Oakland, Calif., has a capacity of “only” 1 million lbs. a day, which would put it in the boutique packinghouse category — and prices are high. A&W charges $6.50 Canadian for the Beyond burger, equivalent to a complete meal deal for a hamburger. But a variety of factors point to bullish growth, not the least of which is wet extrusion’s ability to expand the audience beyond vegetarians and vegans.
Taste is king
Citing the resource-intensity of livestock — Potvin claims 600 gallons of water are consumed to produce 1 lb. of ground beef — he suggested environmental and social responsibility will drive growth in meat analogues. “The millennials are looking at the ethics of their food,” he says.
Sustainable production is a limited motivator, though. Fellow speaker LuAnn Williams, director-innovation at the Dutch research firm Innova Market Insights, cited survey data that suggests only 22 percent of U.S. consumers who increased their consumption of meat substitutes last year did so for planet-friendly concerns. By and large, healthy eating was the motivator, with 60 percent attributing increased consumption to health.
Taste, however, reigns supreme. Recent research by Mintel puts health a distant second to taste, with 52 percent consuming plant-based proteins because of the flavor, compared to 39 percent who cited health. Concerns about the environment (13 percent) and animal protection (11 percent) barely charted.
It’s an industry maxim that people eat with their eyes. Both Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods take that to heart with burgers that ooze artificial hemoglobin. Beet juice extract produces the “blood” in the Beyond burger, while soy’s leghemoglobin molecule delivers the myoglobin protein that gives Impossible Foods’ patty its red juice.
The good news about high moisture extrusion is that it is a continuous process. The bad news is the limited throughput. Scientists at General Mills Inc. have focused on altering an extruder’s barrel and die to increase throughput and lower costs.