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Has IFF achieved a paradigm shift in plant-based protein?

6 min read

The plant-based protein sector is growing fast. New products are popping up everywhere. And now IFF’s SUPRO®TEX is going to generate a “paradigm shift” in the world of plant-based meat. It’s a bold claim. So why does IFF believe they’ve got something special?

We have a constant desire to innovate,” says Marcus Pesch, IFF’s VP of global innovation. And SUPRO® TEX is the latest innovative product to emerge from IFF’s Re-Imagine Protein programme. It’s made up of irregularly shaped chunks of soy protein, combined with other texturants, that closely resemble whole pieces of meat. If the concept sounds familiar, the patent-pending end result is ahead of the game, says Pesch. “The taste is better than what we had before, the size is new, and the texture is closer to real meat. But also, we now have a range of product development capabilities under one umbrella, such as flavors that allow us to develop authentic meat profiles that consumers love.” 

He’s referring to IFF’s merger with DuPont’s Nutrition & Biosciences business in 2020, a move which allowed to boost its R&D capabilities to a comprehensive level. “What’s really interesting is the new combination of IFF’s development and operational elements. It’s a game-changer,” says Pesch. “As a result, IFF’s chefs have reached a gold standard of how plant-based meats should look and taste. We have flavor and protein experts, specialists to mimic texture and get the color right. And we have nutrients, minerals, and probiotics from IFF Health to offer additional functional benefits.

When soaked in water with flavours and colours, SUPRO® TEX will absorb the liquid and change the texture evenly. “We have specialised flavours which are highly soluble and very easy to integrate into the protein. You put the SUPRO® TEX into water and let it soak to the level of tenderness you want. The more water it absorbs, the juicier it gets. During this process, it absorbs the taste and colour from the liquid, so it’s completely flavored on the inside instead of just the outside. You would get to taste spices, herbs or flavours that would stay on the outside when it’s cooked.”

Guests at Food Matters Live’s first Tastes of Better event in March will get to make up their own minds about SUPRO® TEX when it’s served up in a variety of ways.

What’s in a name?

So how would Sonia Huppert, IFF’s global innovation marketing lead, describe SUPRO® TEX? As a substitute for meat? As a replica? The answer is neither. 

When you say substitute, you’re really talking about replacing, or thinking of replacing,” she says. “So using the term ‘alternative’ is much better for me than using ‘substitute’. And if you say replica, you’re really talking about mimicking, which of course is important, because the consumer likes to see something familiar that they know, but we strongly believe that mimicking is not enough. We need to go beyond that into what we call greenfield design. We’re entering a space where currently no product exists. The beauty of it is, as an example, when you talk about nutrition, you can put nutrition at the centre of your formulation and your design. But when you mimic, you’re already in a little box, so there are things that you cannot change.”

Pesch wonders whether IFF might need even a better word than alternative, because we have to be creative about it, tweak it to meet consumer needs or wants, and to include other trends like health, personalised nutrition, and so on. “With meat I can’t do that, but with SUPRO® TEX, I can assign a level of fat, and decide what vitamins and minerals to include, there are so many options and opportunities. There will be a time when consumers are going to ask for more than just a mimic.”


The irregular size and versatility of Supro Tex allows for a variety of recipes

The irregular size and versatility of Supro Tex allows for a variety of recipes

Increasingly, it’s going to be about giving “different options to the consumers, depending on what they want to eat, or what they have eaten during the week, or during the day,” says Huppert. “What we’re seeing when we do consumer research is that consumers want variety, they want different formats and different types of things.”

That suits SUPRO® TEX, which she says is “immensely versatile, you can do a lot with it, plug and play with different flavours or colours. There’s a lot that could be done with the product. Customers could perhaps think a little outside of the box to get the most out of it, but yes, indeed, we hope it will really be a paradigm shift.”

Protein and retail

As for where IFF wants to shift the product, the ‘target’ is “definitely global retail,” says Pesch. “I would say the main markets are Europe, the U.S and China. The Chinese protein market is definitely an exciting one, it’s huge.”

It’s also a huge distance from the production site, but travelling long distances is not a problem for SUPRO® TEX, which is ambient. That removes any requirement for cold storage at any point along the supply chain, which represents “pretty low cost for our customers,” says Huppert. “They don’t need to invest into deep frozen storage, and they don’t have to worry about temperature variation during transportation.”

As for potential manufacturing partners, Pesch says IFF is open to collaborate with “any type of food manufacturers. It could be a pioneering start-up or a global consumer goods company. It could also be the meat industry as a whole. You’ll see many meat companies going to vegan. They may buy this and fine tune it, add different tastes. It has the potential to be adapted in lots of different ways. It has been designed as a simple ingredient with a clean flavour, then you can add bacon, garlic, onions, herbs, a good red wine, and you have a beef bourguignon.”

This level of versatility is important, because IFF is not specifically targeting vegetarians, or vegans. “We need to reach out to mainstream consumers,” says Huppert. “You could call them flexitarian, I like to call them small meat reducers. A lot of people are already on board with this reduction, people are not stopping eating meat, they will continue, but they will always want choices.”

She says, “This is a very important distinction because mainstream consumers eat meat, they have another reference point to compare against. So, to avoid making consumers feel like they are making a trade-off, the product needs to be excellent. And there needs to be price parity, so not only you get consumers to try the product, but also have them to continue to buy it.”

And does she believe they will? How is plant-based meat making its way into the mainstream consumer? “We’re seeing more and more consumers that are willing to decrease their animal-based intake and go to an alternative,” she says. “And we are seeing repeated purchase, which is a good sign that this is a trend that will continue. To change eating habits will take years, it will take decades. But it is a segment that continues to grow. And it’s growing faster than the rest of the of the food and beverage market.”

Meet IFF at the Food Matters Live: Tastes of Better series, an opportunity for ingredient innovators to showcase first-hand their latest ingredient, flavour and colour innovations to our UK audience of brands, manufacturers, retailers, foodservice and QSRs.