The Perils of Plant Protein

*due to the plant protein market moving so darn fast, I want to say that this article takes place March 2018.

A series of events have made plant protein a big deal. Not only are more and more companies hopping to it, but supply is getting whacky, a lot of people are shovelling millions into it, and it’s just a chaotic mess under the curtain.

If you’re familiar with any type of performance work like a school play or something, sometimes you get a production where everything is chaotic in the backstage but the cast must pull together to wow the audience. This is the plant protein market in general.

As we move away from “perfected” proteins like milk and soy, we end up playing with proteins like pea, rice, hemp, fava, sunflower, cranberry, potato, pumpkin seeds, mungbean etc etc etc. As in, a protein with minimal optimization to maximize flavor. The biggest issue is that we have so much research to perfect soy and whey, but the new companies want something with no allergen, GMO, harming an animal, etc.

Whether you like it or not, this trend will grow and it’s growing so fast, no one can keep up. And people will do anything to make a sale.

Which One is Superior?

Pea and Rice lead the pack on popular plant protein because when combined, it gives the perfect PDCAAS, or the metric used to measure protein quality. Funny enough, both have been a pain in my ass. As a billion dollar company, when we decide to launch innovative products, we have the potential to “hug a company to death”. Due to the supply, we need to maintain, things get messy

Due to a crisis in Brown Rice Protein, supply sank. Due the spike in popularity, pea protein was hard to secure supply. Wait, let me rephrase that. GOOD pea protein. A huge problem is that many companies use proprietary processes to create quality and functional pea protein, and if you test it’s functionality, the difference is night and day.

Oh by the way, there is no official way of testing the quality of pea protein. Someone should look into that…

Though now there are several alternatives to plant proteins, do they compare? If you’re a small company, it’s smart to use them and differentiate yourself. If you’re large, you’re a bit stuck.

Hemp protein is banned in Australia (edit: not anymore), potato protein tastes like dirt, cranberry protein is like…why?

Either way, as a big company, it’s important to verify supply and talk to an honest salesman about it. Do your research. I learned the hard way about plant protein supply. Expect the product to take off, and prepare to calculate triple of what you need. If a plant protein company can’t commit, think of a plan B.

High Demand, Low Supply

As mentioned, no one can keep up and the problem is that people can’t build manufacturing facilities within months, it takes years. Not only that, but growing the products just for production is difficult to plan, and what’s worse is that some plant proteins are extracted through the waste streams (brown rice protein, for example, is extracted mainly from the bran. Makes sense when you think about it).

So when pea protein exploded, a lot of companies are now investing heavily in the stuff.

For example, Roquette is building a factory in Canada to handle supply.

Cargill invested in PURIS to improve their pea protein capabilities.

Cosucra decided to build more capacity for pea protein.

In fact, there are so many companies that are busting their butts to build manufacturing channels to give the world what it wants: pea protein!

Yet if the next plant protein pops up and explodes, how long would it take for big companies to get an adequate supply chain secured? The trend seems to be around 2 years.

Made in Where?

Most plant proteins are made in China. From what I’ve noticed, China does not have the best quality, but it has the best supply.

Though China is fast, cheap and efficient, it’s also really corrupt. This is historically accurate and sadly the perception of Chinese businesses.

Other countries are investing into plant protein. United States, Canada, all of Europe, etc. But Europe has a strange concept of “not building more even though demand is huge” and the Americas are just slow.

Either way, the stage is set that the plant protein market won’t go away. There are too many trending factors in which plant proteins will explode any time soon.

So where should you actually source your plant protein? To be honest, there is a multitude of factors to decide. Taste and functionality differ among almost all protein sources and it gets pretty tiring when you hear for the umpteenth time that their “plant protein is the cleanest and greatest ever”.

In general, you should talk to your broker or distributor and ask for a manufacturer’s CoA. This is required by law so it doesn’t hurt. You might realize that there are different people are pedalling the same plant protein as well.

One concrete fact is to be aware of Chinese products in times of crisis. Why? Food Fraud.

Food Fraud

When supply chain is tight, there are a handful of companies that are considered dishonest. If the end goal is money, then perhaps the worst thing can happen.

What I’m talking about is adulteration and when you think of protein adulteration, you think of baby formula and melamine.

If you look into melamine, this is a chemical that has a high amount of nitrogen. Not only that, but when companies analyze the protein content in food, they generally use a method that only measures nitrogen content, and then translate it to protein %.

You’d never think about it, but what if they do it to plant protein?

If supply gets tighter and tighter, there is a chance that this will happen. It’d be terrible, but what would you do if it meant life or death for your company? Some people will adulterate.

To remedy this situation, make sure to look at a Certificate of Analysis (CoA) and see how they analyze pea protein. If they are using a nitrogen measuring system, then you should question and push for a different method. Some methods include UV or any type of weight analysis based measurements. Perhaps NIR is the solution.

Overall, I have high hopes for plant protein and I believe there is going to be tons of innovation in the future. But it’s going to take a lot of time for everyone to eat it. 1% of the population is vegan and we still are having trouble stocking up on supply. Crazy, right?

The best piece of advice I can give is that if you’re small, go for a unique protein. If you’re big, invest into a unique process. Plant protein is going to be better, more important, more meaningful in the future. So be agile and think fast because if you stand still, you’ll get crushed.

Originally published on

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