“By 2050 if we go on as we are currently, there won’t be enough food to feed 10 billion people,” said Alojas CEO Maurizio Decio. “We need to look and rethink the way we eat and produce food. We are not against animal ingredients because there are some animal-based ingredients that are relatively sustainable; what we are doing is trying to minimise the impact on the environment with the products we produce more sustainably in a measurable way.”
Alojas says it takes a science-based approach to its portfolio, producing ingredients and solutions that it can prove to be sustainable based on objective parameters such as life cycle assessments.
In keeping with this core principle of sustainable business, the Latvian company decided to produce and supply plant protein concentrate, rather than isolate, due to the milder production process that consumes less water and energy.
“To extract the protein from pea or fava or other agricultural commodities, [you can use] a wet process. This is the most successful process to produce relatively high-purity plant protein but it consumes 15 times the weight of pea in water, uses chemicals, and then uses energy for drying,” the CEO explained.
“The amount of water that an isolate factory consumes is enormous. We didn’t go for that process for this reason, we went for a dry process […] where you mill, use air to separate and the ingredient is ready.”
Maurizio Decio said major food manufacturers are increasingly moving away from protein isolate because its energy and water footprint is not in line with consumer reasons for choosing plant-based products in the first place, noting that it is very difficult to find life cycle assessments for protein isolate production.
Food Academy investment
Alojas recently invested in a food academy where it helps customers with their product development, including how to seamlessly switch from isolate to concentrate.
“[The dry process] gives you a product that has between 50 and 60% protein. You need to know how to use it because it contains a significant quantity of starch and fiber, so we help our customers to use it in their products. If you teach the customer to use it, the advantage in sustainability is unmatched. In many applications, the use of concentrate doesn’t make much difference when compared to the use isolates.”
For pasta, bread, biscuits and even mayonnaise, it is not necessary to use protein with 80% purity according to Alojas, and a concentrate with 50% protein can provide the desired taste, texture and appearance. The company has also used its concentrate, which is made using pea and fava beans, to make cheese alternatives, ice cream and baked products.
While Alojas is not the only company producing protein concentrate, its local sourcing policy helps it stand out from the crowd, it says.
“We are crop agnostic, which is one of the consequences of being sustainability-focused. We only process crops that are surrounding the factory within a radius of around 400 to 500 km. We are not going to get pea from Canada or the other side of the world and transport it to Latvia. We process what we can source locally and where we cannot source locally, we find partners in other agricultural areas that can process for us.”
“We use pea and fava beans but we could also source something else if it it is grown in the region,” said Maurizio Decio. “For example, buckwheat is a very interesting crop that is grown in Latvia. We haven’t yet thought about valorising it but that could be the next step.”
Aloja Starkelsen was founded in 1991 and was purchased in June 2021 by IRLMD Food Solutions, a company founded and led by Maurizio Decio. It is currently building a 15,000-metric ton capacity for legume processing and plans to increase this to 50,000 tons within three years. It is also debottlenecking its starch production to triple the volumes in the next two years, Decio said.