Whether its meeting dietary restrictions or simply looking for creative ways to liven up their plates, consumer demand for plant-based proteins just keeps growing.
And ADM is staking its claim in the growing segment. Along with the usual suspects such as soy, the company’s portfolio includes a number of novel sources—such as pulse, ancient grains and seeds and nuts—that range in taste from rich and meaty to creamy, dairy-like solutions. The selection aims to accommodate the full range of products, such as bars, meat analogs, dairy alternatives and snacks.
During a visit to the company’s New Jersey culinary facility, we sat down with Marie Wright, vice president and chief global flavorist at ADM Nutrition-Wild Favors, and Andrew Miller, director of alternative proteins and business alignment, to discuss the market drivers, formulation challenges and inspiration for plant-based proteins.
Further Reading: ADM Gets Wild with New Creative Flavor Center
"Maybe ten years ago, orange would be the next big flavor then pomegranate the year after, but now it’s a whole array of different flavors."
Perfumer & Flavorist (P&F): What would you say are the segments that are driving growth behind plant-based proteins?
Andrew Miller: Definitely the meat analog space is one of the major drivers right now. Also, in the dairy alternative space—so plant-based milks—and sports nutrition and powder beverages. Those are the areas we’re seeing drive a lot of demand for plant-based proteins.
Marie Wright: And bars! A huge category.
P&F: I know you’ve expanded your savory facilities and plant-based facilities here [in New Jersey]. Can you tell us more about where you’re headed with this new expansion?
Wright: We’re in the process of expanding our culinary and savory program globally, working alongside with our colleagues in specialty ingredients on the protein side. It’s not only a huge, growing market here, it’s a growing market for global growth … we want to be seen as the delivering the true, authentic food taste, whether its meat or not meat, with this vast array of ingredients including amazing protein products.
P&F: With plant-based food, you’ve got a lot of flavors that you want to make sure don’t necessarily taste like a plant. What are some of the other key challenges you face in formulating plant-based proteins?
Miller: One of the challenges we’ve seen with plant-based proteins, and in particular novel plant-based proteins, is some key functional characteristics. Solubility is a good example; there’s pretty limited solubility with some of the novel plant-based proteins out there today, and that’s where, by focusing on production design, we’re looking to deliver novel plant-based proteins with superior solubility.
P&F: What would you say are the implications behind clean labeling in this category?
Miller: There’s where it’s really important to have a diverse portfolio of plant-based proteins. With our soy protein portfolio, we not only have conventional, but we also have non-GMO and organic options. As we think about novel plant-based proteins, one of the drivers behind interest is allergy, for instance, so that’s where we expand our portfolio.
Wright: When it comes to clean label, I think it’s becoming second nature for us, and clean is definitely another category that we’re playing very strongly in. They’re becoming more than the norm. They were new-ish maybe a couple of years ago, but now much of our product line is clean.
P&F: What are the current popular flavors in plant-based proteins and what are the emerging flavors?
Wright: I just think the environment is so different now. Maybe ten years ago, orange would be the next big flavor then pomegranate the year after, but now it’s a whole array of different flavors because there are so many different influences, from a food cultural perspective … it’s a lot of different elements: African, Peruvian, different fruits. It’s not one specific thing, and I think a lot of it is the experience—creating the product itself and that taste experience.
P&F: Can you tell me a little bit about the relationship between the culinary center and the flavorists. How does everybody work together?
Wright: It’s an almost a sort of symbiotic relationship; we feed off each other. Definitely working with the chefs to provide gold standards—maybe it’s a recipe they’ll construct for us, something we’ve seen, or maybe a customer has asked for something specific and they’ll develop it for us. They help develop the actual product itself that the customer may be interested in as well, so they work with the customer and we’re creating the taste to go into that product. So they might have certain elements they’re happy with but they’re missing something. It’s a very collaborative, symbiotic relationship; it’s a very equal relationship, and it’s kind of exciting. I think they didn’t have flavorists prior to being part of our company, and I think they love being part of that interaction.
P&F: Where does the team find inspiration when creating new flavor combinations?
Wright: Most of us are foodies, so we are very cultured in food. We also have a very strong consumer insights team, we have a lot of social media tools that we use with our outside voice, where we’re tapped in to consumers and we can actually put together concepts and ideas and actually get a feeling as to whether they would be liked and are able to get feedback as to what consumers are interested in. Having very strong consumer insights with what I call modern tools; not just relying on the normal kind of trend tools.
We also have a CAP—culinary advisory panel—which is a panel of chefs and other interested parties who have culinary interests or expertise across the globe and who are spotting things. We have our friends in Shanghai, Beijing feeding us all the information about what’s going on, and that’s in all the different areas around the world. It’s a real mixture of “yeah, we’ll go out and try anything,” but also these great tools and great connections.
P&F: Is there anything you’re noticing with your upstarts and entrepreneurs, such as trends, flavors or experiences they’re pursuing and trying to create for customers?
Miller: One of the things we’ve seen—and I think this dovetails nicely with the plant-based proteins—is sustainability. One of the things that inspires me about plant-based proteins and flavors is to continue to develop solutions that meet those consumer needs and be able to deliver them in a really delicious format.