Equinom will produce custom pea protein for use in Meatless Farm's products as part of a new supply agreement between the food tech company and Meatless ingredients subsidiary Lovingly Made Ingredients. The new pea protein from Equinom will deliver about 50% more protein and reduce Meatless Farm's overall carbon footprint, according to a statement from Equinom.
This partnership is Equinom's first involving a yellow pea protein ingredient for a CPG company. The Israel-based company that focuses on specialized crop breeding for human food plans to make more of its customized pea protein available to select manufacturers in the plant-based space later this year.
Equinom is known for its work using conventional breeding to improve the taste, nutrition and performance of commonly used ingredients. The company, which closed a $20 million funding round this summer, produces all non-GMO ingredients and is also working on improving sesame seeds and soybeans.
Equinom has been working on improving the yellow pea since 2015, and its program is beginning to bear fruit. Avichai Amrad, Equinom's projects and partnership manager and head of the company's yellow pea program, said that increasing demand for alternative proteins makes the up-and-coming ingredient worthy of the company's attention. After all, he said, common plant-based proteins like soy and wheat can only do so much.
The two companies have been talking about this potential partnership for a long time, Amrad said. CPG companies, which are used to buying whatever ingredients are available, do not always consider the possibilities of improving and modifying them. Meatless Farm, a European plant-based meat company whose products are available in 20 countries including the U.S., would benefit from Equinom's work in its pea crop and be able to tout its higher protein content and easier ingredient farming, which lowers its carbon footprint.
Amrad said there are also significant benefits to this agreement for Equinom, which symbolizes the first "closed loop" project in the space — in which the ingredient maker and the manufacturer work together.
"It's a good process that we can innovate through," he said. "They can tell us about all of the things they have in their production, in their food and we can see the end product. And then through that, we can take it back to the genetics and the peas, and breed a better product for them."
Meatless Farm Founder Morten Toft Bech noted Equinom's research into developing nutritious and sustainable plant-based ingredients and its ability to naturally and efficiently breed seeds. "We are committed to creating a more sustainable global food system from field to fork and partnering with Equinom takes us a step closer to reaching a net zero supply chain," Bech said in an emailed statement. "The higher protein content of our products will also help achieve our mission to help people reduce their meat consumption by providing credible plant-based swaps for meat that are accessible and still taste great."
Yellow peas have been one of the key ingredients for plant-based food in recent years, but the crop hasn't historically seen much innovation. According to statistics from Equinom, it's the fastest-growing protein source for meat alternatives, and is expected to be worth more than $140 billion globally by 2029. Tyler Lorenzen, CEO of pea protein company Puris, told Food Navigator last August that there had been 600 product launches in 2019, and 490 up to that point in 2020.
While peas are popular for plant-based applications, the nutritional value of these products can be lacking when compared to meat. Dialing up the nutritional value of pea protein could make these proteins more desirable for manufacturers.
Having an example of what Equinom's improved pea protein can do on the market could also provide a boost. CPG manufacturers and ingredient processors will be able to test its performance in the Meatless Farm products and see if the nutrition, taste and mouthfeel are as good as promised.
But this agreement could benefit Equinom in a much broader way. Manufacturers and ingredients companies who have no interest in using yellow peas will see how Equinom was able to customize this pea ingredient to Meatless Farm's needs through its breeding method. It may inspire more companies to think differently — considering ways to make the raw materials better tailored to the end product — and work with Equinom to customize more crops.