The pulse industry has completely transformed in the past 20 years, moving from traditional canned and dried products to today’s sophisticated pulse-based meat alternatives, says Mariët van de Noort, food scientist and owner of MFH Pulses.
Van de Noort is one of the speakers at the Foodvalley Summit Proteins of the Future on 10 October 2018 in Ede, the Netherlands. She has been working in the pulses industry since 1997. In those days, there was little interest in moving beyond basic dried and canned beans, peas and lentils. Gradually, companies started to become interested in bean flours, and pea protein for use in meat products, and then in the early 2000s, consumers started to consider pulses as ingredients in meat substitutes.
“Due to meat scandals, environmental awareness and health awareness, you started to see growing interest in vegetable
proteins,” she said. “In Holland, meat businesses started to think about doing something else. So the first companies moving into meat replacers were Dutch companies who didn’t see a very bright future in meat production, and now they are ahead in vegetable proteins in Europe.”
The Protein Cluster
MFH Pulses is a member of The Protein Cluster, a Dutch business platform linking ingredient suppliers, food manufacturers, retailers and others interested in using plant-derived proteins. Van de Noort says the main benefits of membership for her include being able to pool resources – to hire a booth at trade shows, for example – and the opportunity to work with a broad range of companies to develop new products.
“The Protein Cluster can support in the beginning when you have a product for scaling up by providing a network of production companies,” she said. “…You don’t have enough money all the time to invest in equipment.”
She predicts that the rapid improvement in the quality of meat alternatives, such as vegetarian products that mimic the texture and flavour of steak or chicken, will drive more
consumers toward a flexitarian diet – and pulses are likely to play a starring role.
Need for different products
“Between 1997 and now it is a huge and totally different market,” she said. “You now have quite high quality meat replacers in The Netherlands, but I think there’s also a need for totally different products around vegetable proteins, but that’s high risk for businesses.”
Beyond meat replacements, van de Noort suggests that consumers eventually may return to eating pulses in their natural form, in line with the trend toward less processed food – and as more people get used to eating less meat.
“However, there’s still a lot to do with education on vegetable proteins,” she said.