What type of protein would best position a major company to satisfy consumer tastes, while allowing it to be more of a global citizen and positioning it for a profitable future?
To answer that question, DuPont weighed the increasing consumer demand for protein, the world's growing population and concerns about the sustainability of meat production and nutritional value. And then the company chose to focus on soy because plant proteins have a lower carbon footprint, a higher yield per acre and many health benefits. There's also potential for blending with dairy protein. Research has found the combination scores better in overall liking.
"We see a very bright future for plant-based proteins," says Jean Heggie, strategic marketing lead for DuPont Nutrition & Health's specialty protein division. "We believe soy protein will continue to lead the way as a plant-based protein for the food industry because it's highly functional in a broad range of applications. It's readily available, and clinical research supports its health and nutrition benefits."
While there's a lot research on dairy and meat sources, less research is available on emerging protein sources such as pea and rice, their digestibility and ability to support health. Michelle Braun of the nutrition research team at DuPont Nutrition & Health said soy is the only high-quality plant protein, meaning it has been well-researched for its digestibility and ability to meet the supportive health needs of both children and adults in the areas of weight management, satiety, muscle health, supportive body composition and heart health.
An August 2015 report from Markets and Markets projects the soy protein ingredients market will reach $10.12 billion by 2020, representing a CAGR of 7.3%. However, the report also notes, "Currently, there are some limitations in the soy protein ingredients industry, such as allergies and anti-nutritional factors, which have been key areas of product development."
Although soy is considered a major allergen that must be declared on labels, DuPont provided data that soy allergy is relatively rare and reported at approximately 0.4%. The issue of anti-nutrients (such as phytates, enzyme inhibitors, and goitrogens) and their effects is controversial.
Another report by Future Market Insights observes that genetically modified soy could negatively affect the soy ingredients market. Over 90% of soybeans grown in the United States are genetically modified, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Blending soy and dairy proteins
DuPont has looked at the benefits of blending proteins and has collected technical data about flavor and nutrition, in particular related to soy and dairy proteins, according to Heggie. From an economic viewpoint, compared to dairy proteins, soy is generally more economical and more predictable in pricing and supply. That means manufacturers that replace dairy with soy will typically see significant long-term cost savings and have a greater ability to hedge against dairy protein supply and price volatility.
From a sensory standpoint, DuPont has observed that soy and dairy blends often score better than all-soy or all-dairy in overall liking. The company has also profiled over 60 high-protein commercially available beverages, Heggie said. The findings were that those formulated with a combination of soy and dairy generally scored higher in overall liking.
Heggie notes that all individual proteins tend to have both positive and negative flavor attributes. Dairy tends to be higher in barnyard notes, while soy tends to be higher in beany notes. Combining them often minimizes those negative notes, letting more positive notes come through.
Also, one study found that a soy and dairy blend promotes muscle building after resistance exercise.
For food manufacturers, Heggie and Braun note that the ratio of blending depends on the desired end product: the amount of protein wanted, the desired mouthfeel and sensory experience, and the general nutritional positioning of the product — is it to support weight management, muscle health or heart health?