// This was a post I wrote while I was running a vegan jerky company in 2019. Since then Beyond Meat has done better and better, and there’s more traction for farmers to grow peas (cover crops!) and a much more robust supply chain (hello, pea farmers in Canada). With Beyond Meat moving to chicken nuggets and a related partnership with panda express, I couldn’t …pea more excited.
With plant based anythings being a trend in the food industry and with protein being the macronutrient) du jour), it’s not a surprise that food manufacturers are finding way to fortify anything they can get their hands on with protein (..initially I was going to suggest protein packed toothpaste as a joke, but as it turns out..).
Whey and soy protein have been, and still are, the largest markets for vegetarian protein. However a movement towards vegan foods (eliminating whey) and general consumer fears of soy, we see an unexpected winner in the plant protein space: peas. Specifically the yellow split pea.
I’ve had the same case of pea protein powder with me for about 3 years now. It’s moved with me through three apartments and two states. Raw and unsweetened, it tastes like dust – blended with a banana and some soy milk, it tastes (and looks) like mud. It takes some strange alchemy to produce something reasonably edible using just pea protein, but, to paraphrase Ian Malcolm from Jurassic Park, food tech companies, uh, find a way.
Peak pea hype was in 2013, presumably when Beyond Meat first released its chicken substitute. It’s been popular since - Ripple Foods uses it in its alt-milk offering. Lightlife foods uses pea protein in its plant based burgers.
But wherefore do the peas come from? According to the American Pulse Association’s intro to peas, in the USA, most of the farms that produce peas “reside in a regional belt north of 45°N latitude that runs from North Dakota, through Montana and Idaho, and into Oregon and eastern Washington.” And per Bloomberg, Canada is expected to become the largest supplier of peas by 2020. In the USA, the largest supplier of pea protein isolate (and pea adjacent products) is PURIS, a Minnesota based company.
The pea protein market is still relatively small, expected to reach $32m by 2025 (compare this to the soy protein market, expected to reach $7,794m in similar time frame).
But protein is protein - who cares if it comes from peas? Any of these companies, if they’re looking to expand globally, can (and thanks to capitalism, probably will) go with whatever protein most easily fits in with their supply chain and consumer sentiment. Consumers outside of the USA - especially in Asian markets - don’t make a sign of the cross at every block of tofu. Why support pea protein? Why encourage companies to build on this supply chain?
Plant based foods being a net positive for the planet aside, any challenge to one of the most subsidized crops in America (soy!) is fantastic news, even if the disruption is decades out. American farm subsidies encourage farms to grow the same crops over and over again on the same patch of soil (corn! soy!). Farmers live in the same market driven world we do, explains Tamar Haspel in WaPo - the whole food supply chain is built to prop up soy. Changing farm subsidies is one way to get them to diversify. Consumer demand is the other. If - even if its just in the USA for now - consumer sentiment shifts towards a plant based diet, it would make sense for farmers to grow peas as well - especially considering soy is grown a lot in the places where peas thrive.
In summary: support the land with your mouth. Go visit your local split pea dealer today.
Why farm subsidies don’t make sense, a video by the American Enterprise Institute: [link].
Farm subsidies explained!: [link]
Being new to this, a business model I’d never considered: Sell pea seeds to farmers, then buy the peas back to process: [link].
A short interview with the Tyler Lorenzen, the president of PURIS: [link]
A great article about how the way we live affects the food we eat - and how food revolutions affect the poor more than the rich: [link].