Protein products are evolving to meet the changes in consumer demands. And consumers are wanting more and more from their protein products. First, they are becoming more conscious of labels, ingredients and certifications that verify the product they are buying is what businesses claim it is. Additionally, they are more discriminating on the taste and texture of their products than ever before. Finally, consumers are expecting the right mix of product specialization and value – a difficult needle to thread. Through newly developed protein verification testing methods, advanced flavor profiling, and a variety of organic and other “certifications,” businesses are discovering ways to manufacture plant-based protein products that meet consumer demands.
As products in the plant protein category continue to grow through innovation and research, critical areas dealing with protein identification, purity, strength and composition, become even more important for brands and consumers during the decision making process. Nowadays, understanding the basic health benefits and advantages of the protein based supplements is not enough for the typical consumer. Surrounded by constant flow of information that shines light on topics such as adulteration and spiking, safety, and regulatory changes to quality concerns, the consumer is educated and demands full transparency from the brands they choose to do business with.
With the consumers’ attention swaying towards a clean plant-based protein, the industry is facing the next big question: how to offer a great tasting, healthy product to the consumer, while increasing the transparency and meeting the demands of the marketplace. The answer to this dilemma is protein verification technology – such as Protein Verified (proteinverified.com) – that addresses the historical shortcomings of the protein supplement category.
One of the most important missing links in this category has been the inability to definitively identify the source of the protein in the processed raw ingredient due to test method limitations. Recent development of innovative identification methods of proteins, based on the LC-MS/MS technology, have shifted the landscape of the protein supplement category. LC-MS/MS is extremely selective which allows for conclusive identification of proteins in protein supplements whether it is in raw ingredient or finished good form. One advantage of LC-MS/MS over DNA testing is that many compounds used for protein spiking don’t contain DNA, and as such, are invisible to DNA testing methods. Protein verification through LC-MS/MS is especially sought after for plant-based proteins. Even a blend of plant-based proteins can have the individual sources of proteins be conclusively identified by LC-MS/MS testing. Consumers who choose to buy plant-based proteins over animal-based are keen on reading the label and verifying ingredients to ensure they are getting a solid product. The selectivity of LC-MS/MS will give consumers this confidence.
The terms ‘NON-GMO’ and ‘Organic’ have been around for a while now and are gaining popularity in the consumer world. However, the difficulties that manufacturers and brands face to create these products are heightened with the introduction of plant-based proteins.
Manufacturers are finding the biggest challenge in making great tasting plant-based protein drinks while maintaining an ‘Organic’ or ‘NON-GMO’ product, is cost. The cost to make a certified Organic product is high due to the certification process to become Organic Certified, the natural ingredients used in the product and the amount of ingredients needed to create a great tasting product.
Plant-based proteins are usually associated with a very earthy or sometimes ‘off flavor’ profile which needs to be masked before it can be flavored. This task is not easily accomplished when having to use NON-GMO and/or Organic flavors due to their higher cost in use. Working with a partner who has access to and experience with plant protein specific maskers can be a huge advantage in achieving a desirable flavor profile. Another hurdle is finding the correct balance or ‘gum system’ to use to help improve texture and mouthfeel.
One thing that should definitely be considered when choosing between NON-GMO, GMO, Organic, or Non-Organic (or even Organic Certifiable), is the target demographic and the cost of production for an organization and the loss of margin for the organization and its customers. Unless there is clear evidence that certain materials are unhealthy, or even healthier than others, cost may possibly be one of the key deciding factors in which direction to head when it comes to identifying what type of label claim is actually desired or necessary for a Flavor or Finished Good. While all of these are difficult obstacles to overcome, flavor companies, Food Scientists, and manufacturers are all finding more and more solutions to these issues daily.
From a nutritional standpoint, when compared to whey or other animal protein sources, single-source plant based proteins are not considered complete proteins – they do not contain an adequate proportion of the essential amino acids for humans. However, by combining multiple plant protein sources or by adding supplemental free amino acids to single plant sources, plant derived proteins can provide the full spectrum of essential amino acids that the human body needs.
There is still much to learn and discover on the path to create the best plant-based protein drink to meet consumer demand. From new technologies with protein verification through LC-MS/MS to deciding on certifications and flavors, plant-based protein has opened up a new avenue for businesses and is gaining popularity with consumers every day.
Written collaboratively by: VP of Technical Affairs – Edgar Grigorian, SVP Genysis Labs – Spencer Carter, Director of Product Development – Andrea Heglas, and Sr. Flavor Scientist – Conor Delaney.