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Mung bean protein could be next big plant protein

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Mung bean protein is on track to be the next big plant-based protein, according to Green Boy.

Co-founded by two Dutch entrepreneurs, Green Boy offers plant protein isolates with 80% protein made from pea, fava, mung bean and chickpea protein. The lion’s share of its sales – around 90% - are for pea.

Green Boy entered the plant-based space around five years ago as an ingredient supplier but  also has a B2C brand that allows it to both showcase alternative proteins and obtain insider insights into the market that it uses to guide brands in their product development process, van Dijken said.

“We do this not to become the biggest retailer; our focus is really selling container loads of industry scale proteins but we do this because the market gives us information. We put [our B2C products] on our website, on Amazon, on Instagram, we sell locally in LA and we collect data from these sales.

“With this information, we go back to the R&D and customers and say, ‘We see that mung bean is popular so if you want to differentiate yourselves from your competitors, maybe you should use mung bean instead of pea protein for your next product development. That [strategy] has proven quite successful.”

Mung, fava and chickpea: Next generation proteins

The increasing popularity of mung bean protein is one recent insight gleaned from its sales data.

“We see from our data in the US that mung bean is the most popular, closely followed by fava bean and then chickpea,” he said. “They are second generation proteins that people are getting interested in.”

Although the pulse is considered a novel food by the European Commission, meaning the EU market is currently off limits for mung bean products, van Dijken said he expects that once EFSA scientists give the green light, there will be significant consumer demand.

A request for approval for mung bean protein, submitted by US company Eat Just, is pending.

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‘Different markets require different functionalities’

The supplier, which now has four offices in Amsterdam, Los Angeles, Sydney and Hong Kong with plans to open a Chicago office in 2022, worked with experienced food engineers to co-develop what co-founder Peter van Dijken describes as “a more functional plant-based protein”.

“When [the market] started to focus on the protein, there was one protein that should function in drinks, in alternative meat, in alternatives to dairy cheese and milk. It was a kind of one-shoe-fits-all. But the meat processors want something for extrusion with gelling capacity. If you are producing a drink, you want solubility.”

Last summer, Green Boy launched a plant protein (Plant-Meat Protein) for meat-like applications and recently launched one especially for dairy (Plant-Dairy Protein), with more application-specific products in the pipeline.

“We think that different markets require different functionalities and that’s why we are focussing on this,” said van Dijken.   

The lawyer-turned-entrepreneur said this functionality is protected by proprietary data but added that Green Boy’s food engineering know-how, its production process, equipment and raw material selection all play a part.

In the five years it has been in business, Green Boy has witnessed the evolution of the plant-based sector, with consumers expecting more from meat and dairy analogues.

“What we see in the market is that customers are getting […] more specific in terms of what they want from a functionality perspective. Somebody wants to make a particular kind of cheese or spread, and cheese has lots of sizes and forms. Do you want it to be melted, hard, or crumbly? The same goes for meat.”

Global supply chain

Although the company’s co-founders, Frederik Otten and Peter van Dijken, are based in Amsterdam and Los Angeles respectively, Green Boy’s products are made in China – a strategic decision based on an analysis of the global supply chain, van Dijken told Fi Global Insights.

“Mung bean and yellow pea comes from Canada, chickpea from Turkey, and fava beans from Australia. This is where the raw materials are grown but where should this be processed in the most sustainable and cost-efficient way? For us, it was China because you have to look at the valorisation aspect of the whole raw material,” he said.

“We analysed the market and saw that China for decades was valorising the yellow pea as much as they could – apart from the protein aspect. They were importing yellow pea from Canada to produce pea starch because they have a local market for noodles and vermicelli, which is gigantic.”

Most of the pea protein left over from the starch extraction process, however, was of poor, feed-grade quality. When demand for plant proteins such as pea began to explode around 10 years ago, Otten and van Dijken decided that if they could work with the Chinese producers to improve the protein quality and reach food-grade, it would be more cost-efficient.

“If you import yellow pea and focus on starch, it makes more sense because there’s more starch than protein: if you produce two to three containers of starch, you have one container of protein, depending on the quality.

“That means for EU and US producers focused on the protein, […] they’ll have all these starch by-products they need to sell. There aren’t a lot of outlets for that in Europe or the US, so these are dumped into the Chinese market.”

“We think in terms of sustainability, we send one protein container from China to the US or EU but there are three containers [of starch] coming back from the EU or US producers. For those reasons, we think it makes most sense in terms of valorisation, sustainability and cost-efficiency to produce this in China because there is a natural outlet for [what would be considered] a by-product.”

The result is Green Boy can offer proteins priced competitively, van Dijken added.

TAGS: Plant-based
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