An industry veteran breaks down what they are, and where and how novel proteins are being used in the industry. Plus, hear what's driving this plant-based trend.
Type the phrase “novel proteins” or a variation of it into Google and you won’t find a single, clear definition. Sometimes novel proteins are vegetarian meat alternatives like tempeh, seitan, etc. Another search might tell you that “novel protein foods” are high-quality and rare proteins used in pet food and meant for animals that may have allergies (think: duck, venison, etc.).
So, when we at Victory Hemp say “novel proteins,” what do we (and other ingredient manufacturers like us) mean? We chatted with Chris Fields, a food industry veteran and VP of Scientific Affairs at Applied Food Sciences (AFS) to discuss novel sources of protein and also where and how they’re being used in the food industry.
AFS is an innovative functional ingredient company that harnesses trends in the marketplace and bridges the gap to consumer needs and desires. In her current role, Chris spends half her time on innovation and the other half sustaining business.
So...what are novel proteins?
Novel proteins offer a range of solutions—integrating easily into food products and adding nutrients. But novel proteins aren’t just plant-based. For instance: cell-based meats (taking and growing meats from plant or animal cells) is both sustainable and ecological.
Where is protein—and novel protein—being added?
Protein has grown into a category that has really become mainstay. It’s in natural food stores already, and is now migrating into conventional grocery stores. Protein is currently second to fiber as the most sought-after ingredient. A recent market insights survey found that food and beverage products launched with the claim “high in protein” grew 22 percent between 2017 and 2018, and new products on the market with the claim “plant-based” grew a whopping 64 percent in that same time frame.1
We’re seeing protein in breakfast-based solutions like cereal, breakfast bars, and bread to add satiety and energy to start your day. It’s being added to milks and alt milks; oat milk has recently replaced soy milk as the most sought after alt milk solution.
We’re seeing protein added to foods eaten throughout the day, too. Pasta manufacturers are adding it to their product—that’s pretty innovative. It’s also showing up in packaged snack foods. It adds value to snack foods.
What’s different about V-70™ as a novel source of protein?
The value of V-70™ is that it’s neutral-tasting and has a high water-binding capacity. This makes it integrate well into foods that have gelling capacity, and/or foods that you want to maintain moisture in. Examples are sauces (condiments like mayonnaise or mustard, etc.) and spreads, as well as non-nut-based spreads to get it on par with peanut butter. Manufacturers might appreciate the 70% protein complete with all nine essential amino acids and omega-3s, but it is the neutral flavor and near white color that provides a significant formulation advantage over other novel proteins.
There’s growing consumer interest in plant-based diets. How does hemp and other plant-based proteins contribute to the novel protein trend?
Interestingly, a September 2019 survey done by the National Cattlemen's Beef Association demonstrated significant consumer confusion regarding protein and plant-based alternatives. While more than half of the consumers believed plant-based alternatives to be healthier, only 25% thought it was a "great source of protein."2 This highlights an opportunity for ingredient suppliers to help bridge that gap by better aligning their products with consumer expectations.
Hemp has a tremendous sense of familiarity, which drives its overall acceptance. Because hemp is trending widely across the food and supplement markets, added curiosity pushes consumers to try it. Moreover, unlike soy or other novel proteins, which may have negative implications surrounding added estrogen or allergens, this is not the case with hemp.
Also, Victory Hemp produces minimally-processed hemp protein, doesn’t use harsh chemical solvents, and the texture and flavor of their hemp heart protein is neutral enough that masking agents aren’t usually needed. This helps to keep the ingredient list on food products shorter and cleaner, unlike when most soy protein isolates and pea proteins are made and used in food products.
What are some other up and coming novel sources of protein? What’s hemp competing against?
Lots of food companies have invested in pea protein—and there has been a lot of innovation in that space. Peas are a rotational crop like hemp, and are easy to cultivate. Most of the innovation has been in making pea protein isolates. When you make an isolate from pea protein, it’s neutral tasting, but it lacks the fiber and other nutrients that were valuable in the pea.
The other innovation that’s come a long way in the last few years is mushroom-based protein. They’ve been able to use processing technology to eliminate the mushroom flavor and still provide an umami flavor. It’s being added to bars, meal replacements, and coffees.
Hemp protein, however, and particularly V-70™, is more of a complete nutritive choice, containing micronutrients like vitamin E, vitamins B1 and B6, iron, magnesium, zinc, potassium, and more. Some of these can be hard to obtain enough of on a plant-based diet – but hemp delivers uniquely high amounts of these nutrients. In addition V-70™ has healthy fats and fiber in it, along with the high percentage of protein at 70%.
Where do you see V-70™ fitting best in the novel protein market?
We haven't seen the penetration of hemp protein in the mass market. We have some educating to do—people need to know that hemp protein comes from the seed, not the flower, and has a much clearer pathway to regulatory compliance. Additionally, educating the market on the difference between hemp seed protein and hemp heart protein. Hemp hearts are the hulled white inner parts of the hemp seed. The removal of the shell presents a much cleaner ingredient that is white instead of green and is void of bitter, pungent flavor typically associated with hemp seeds.
That said, V-70™ would be ideal in meal replacement and nutrition bars, non dairy yogurts and ice creams, and the milk alternative space. The gelling capacity and fiber, which adds structure, of V-70™ are characteristics that also make hemp a good fit for meat analogues. That’s absolutely a space where we’re doing a lot of product development.
What drew AFS to partner with Victory Hemp?
We formulate nutrition into our customer’s products, which are CPGs. And it’s our goal to make an investment in plant-based protein, especially with consumers increasing appetite for it. Partnering with Victory Hemp gives us a strong stake in plant-based protein, and allows Victory Hemp to focus on their infrastructure and supply chain so that together we can bring hemp to product development labs and so that consumers can then experience the great taste and nutrition benefits of hemp. Our joint goal is to make hemp more mainstream.
- Innova Market Insights - Trends and Opportunities in Personalized Nutrition AFS Innovation Retreat July 2019 - Global, 2018 vs. 2017
- NCBA, 2019 - survey +1800 respondents regarding plant-based substitutes