After a surge of funding, pea protein maker Puris is expanding its portfolio and reach.
A year ago, Cargill put an additional $75 million into Puris, which increased its total investment in the company to more than $100 million. The new funding will more than double pea protein production when it opens its second production facility, a 200,000-square-foot plant in Dawson, Minnesota.
Tyler Lorenzen, CEO of Puris, said the company is on track to open the plant in Q2 of next year despite the pandemic. He said the new facility will grow the amount of pea farmers they can work with domestically and allow them to help create more plant-based products as demand continues to rise.
"We'll be the only dual manufacturer of pea protein and the largest North American manufacturer for that matter, which I think is a big deal," Lorenzen said.
As the company grows its manufacturing, it is also growing its suite of products this year. Puris is releasing a pea protein with a sodium content 15 times lower than the industry standard and a sweet lupin flour, which can be used for keto products because it is high in protein and fiber but low in carbs. In Q4, the company is also debuting a pea syrup.
"We're really excited about some of the product innovation that we're doing in terms of all the other parts of a pea, and there will be a lot more coming in that area from Puris over the next 18 months," Lorenzen said.
Innovating with more of the pea
When Puris considers new innovations, Lorenzen said the company often asks itself: "How do we make plant-based proteins that deliver on the nutrition that plant-based foods really need?" The ingredients company's answer this year is to use more of the pea.
Looking at plant-based meat, Lorenzen said "one of the big call outs" is consumers challenging the amount of sodium in the alternative burgers. According to Business Insider, plant-based burgers have far more salt than their traditional counterparts. Beyond Burgers have 380mg of sodium, totaling to 16% of the recommended daily limit.
Lorenzen said Puris' pea protein is already 50% less sodium than most competitors, but the company's latest product, a low sodium textured pea protein for applications like burgers, cuts that back even further, making it 15 times less than its competitors.
"Call 400 to 350 [mgs] as your standard amount of sodium in each burger. We can cut that in half utilizing our ingredients. We see that as a big step forward in matching the nutrition needs of food eaters to ingredients that we're producing," he said.
As for its new sweet lupin flour, Lorenzen said the company developed that product — made from sweet lupin beans — in response to the keto movement. The growing popularity of the diet, which is heavy on plant-based meat, challenged Puris to see how it can incorporate plant-based keto solutions into other products for a low-carb diet. He said lupin is a unique ingredient because it's a pulse, but it doesn't have starch in it, so it is high in protein and fiber, and low in fat. The company is now taking orders for the flour while building out different applications for it.
During the pandemic, a baking frenzy occurred as shoppers were quarantined at home. Many turned to alternative flours when traditional ones were out of stock. Puris is touting the new product as a keto-friendly "1:1 substitute for other flours" with a nutty, sweet taste while delivering a better-for-you addition to bakery applications.
Both the sweet lupin flour and the low-sodium textured pea protein will be shipped to customers at the end of this year or early in 2021.
Looking ahead, Puris is currently scaling up its operations on pea syrup, which it plans to launch in Q4. Currently, the company has shared samples of it, and Lorenzen said it is similar to other syrups on the marketplace, but peas avoid criticism facing some corn syrups for not being non-GMO and has an advantage on alternatives like tapioca and rice syrups.
"We think pea really has a leg up on all of those," he said. "Peas are the most sustainable crop out there. They're nitrogen fixators, they build soil health, drive biodiversity and can really help not only our soil and our climate but our waterways here in the U.S."
Experts have said that pea protein can be more sustainably produced than other ingredients like soy and corn. Lorenzen said Puris is hoping to capitalize on more organic crops in the future. Organic food is a $50 billion market, he said, but only 1% of farmland in the U.S. is farmed organically.
"So how do we go after that problem? Well, let's create more value for organic farmers, which entices them to switch more of their land to be farmed organically. And we can do that by creating value out of the whole pea because they're all organic for that matter," Lorenzen said.
Demand soars as pea protein's popularity grows
From plant-based meat to milk, Lorenzen said pea proteins have been growing by the double digits for some time now, but when the company launched its first pea protein product in 2014, the category was really young and it is still "quite fragmented in terms of quality from supplier to supplier."
Lorenzen said Puris, which was founded in 1985 in Iowa by his father, who was a plant breeder, has always created its ingredients by utilizing its proprietary process in its genetics and breeding with the intention to feed humans.
Pea protein has become increasingly popular in foods as companies look to do more plant-based foods. The global market for pea protein is expected to reach $385.7 million by 2027, according to Grand View Research. Puris is a major supplier of pea protein to Beyond Meat, which uses the legume to make its burgers.
"We're participating really as a linchpin between all the plant-based food companies you see on the market, and the farmers that grow it, and really being the engine behind that," he said.
While more ingredient manufacturers are getting into the pea protein space, Lorenzen said Puris stands out because it is not just dabbling in plant-based; it is its core business.
"I really think the reason why we'll be successful and why we're a great partner is, it's not only about offering protein, but it's really understanding what that protein needs to do in application and having the connection between why does it all matter? Why does plant-based nutrition matter on the front of global scale? And how do we not only talk about it, but how do we prove it in large volumes, but also with radical transparency," he said.
Puris started production on the new facility in the last year, but it's not the only one growing its operations. Roquette plans to open a large facility in Canada by the end of the year, and ADM opened a plant in North Dakota. Lorenzen said having all its production domestically in the U.S. also separates itself from competitors because the local approach to manufacturing food allows for more sustainability and accessibility.
In addition to the $75 million infusion last year, the company also raised an additional $25 million in March, which the company said came from current members of the Cargill joint venture. When asked if the company will continue to raise more funding in the near future, Lorenzen said that it wasn't the focus right now.
"We're really focused more on serving our customers and running a business that's balanced in taking care of our people, making money, but also taking care of the planet," he said.