- A survey from Streetbees found 55% of people have never heard of pea protein, and only 24% were sure they've eaten something containing it. The London-based global intelligence platform conducted the survey with nearly 1,600 consumers in the U.S. and the U.K. in August and September.
- About 63% of respondents most often associated pea protein as being natural, and 36% said it was environmentally friendly, the survey found. Of the people who have tried pea protein, 36% said it was tasty.
- Streetbees also found 61% of U.S. and U.K. consumers are interested in vegan food, and 79% said it's important to get enough protein. At the same time, only 37% of them believe it's possible to do that with a totally vegan diet.
Plant-based brands using pea protein in products may want to boost consumer awareness of their ingredients. According to this survey, some people do like pea protein when they try it — if they know they're eating it — so companies may be missing out on opportunities to leverage this factor and differentiate the ingredient from other plant-based protein sources such as soy.
While consumers are increasingly eating more plant-based products, they may not be closely reading labels to check on the source of the protein. This raises the question of whether they really know or care what ingredients they're consuming as long as they see terms such as "plant-based" or "vegan" on a given product.
Pea protein is gaining popularity as a way to add nutrients to products; replace allergens such as wheat, dairy and egg; and help keep gluten-free items together. The ingredient offers functional benefits and a healthier image, which comes from its 25% protein content. Experts also have said that pea protein can be more sustainably produced than soy.
The global market for pea protein is projected to grow to $176 million by 2025, according to Allied Market Research. Meanwhile, launches of foods and beverages containing pea protein posted a 19% annual growth rate between January 2016 and December 2018, according to Innova Market Insights data cited by Food Navigator.
Despite these promising figures, it's not clear whether pea protein demand will continue to grow if consumers don't become more familiar with it and its attributes. There also are concerns about supply since so many plant-based meat substitutes now include pea protein.
Meanwhile, big food companies are showing confidence in the future of pea protein with large investments. Cargill recently put $75 million more into Puris, which supplies a non-GMO and organic form of the ingredient to Beyond Meat and other customers. DuPont Nutrition & Health has introduced non-GMO Trupro Nuggets containing 70% pea protein.
Puris pulls out all the stops in marketing its pea protein products. Besides calling them the future of plant-based protein, the company said the powder "combines creamy, delicious flavor, smooth mouthfeel, and a clean finish with an astounding 80% protein content." Puris further notes the ingredient's status as vegan, free of gluten, solvent and soy, and "grown and made in the USA." Those qualities check several boxes for manufacturers and consumers.
Still, if the Streetbees survey is accurate, it might take a lot more outreach and education to solidify pea protein's presence for consumers and make sure it becomes a go-to plant-based protein source in the years to come.