'Younger generation in-tune with entrepreneurial spirit': Start-up innovation drives demand for vegetable proteins

By Paul Gander

- Last updated on GMT

'Inspirational' SMEs are delivering innovation in plant proteins ©iStock
'Inspirational' SMEs are delivering innovation in plant proteins ©iStock
French consumer perceptions of vegetable proteins are on the move, say organisations representing the sector, with two start-up winners of their national food competition exemplifying the grassroots innovation which is feeding through to supermarket shelves.

At the Groupe d’Etude et de Promotion des Protéines Végétales (Group for the Study and Promotion of Vegetable Proteins – GEPV), regulatory and scientific affairs officer Antoine Chardon told Food Navigator: “Back in 1989, we could only identify around 300 products containing vegetable proteins as an ingredient. But by 2017, that number was close to 5,000.”

He added: “Our regular work on perceptions shows that, in 2018, the majority of French consumers (88%) believe that these ingredients are healthy, good for the environment (76%), natural (68%) and synonymous with quality (65%).”​ Some 62% of consumers polled reported having purchased products containing vegetable proteins, and 80% of those said they would do so again.

Organisers of the Prot’eat food innovation competition GEPV and Terres Univia, which represents the sector’s supply chain in France, have jointly sponsored collaboration between two of this year’s winners and the ToasterLAB food industry accelerator. For the two start-ups, Tartimouss! And Life Loving Foods, the aim is to work with ToasterLAB for a year, and move quickly to industrialisation and consumer sales.

Life Loving Foods creates versions of popular products, such as kebabs, tandoori dishes, panna cotta or cookies, based on soya, pea or wheat protein. Founder Hani Zeid said: “For all types of food start-up, the one major challenge is early-stage investment in meeting legal requirements to operate.”​ He pointed to hygiene compliance and labelling as prime examples.

The next obstacle for start-ups was ensuring that production and delivery systems allowed for strict temperature and microbial controls, he said.

“All these challenges have to be met up-front before the core business challenges of consumer appeal, profitability, marketing and distribution can be attempted,”​ he added. “Not to mention competition from large, established groups and brands.”

The Tartimouss! range spans sweet and savoury products, with the fava bean as the key ingredient. Béatrice Maire, owner of Les Chocolats du Croisé, founded the company.

“I think that consumers who are not vegetarian or vegan still think of savoury products based on legumes as being bland and not much fun to eat,”​ she said. “Meanwhile, I believe that vegetarians and flexitarians are looking for new products built around legumes or vegetable proteins. That is to say, not visual copies of steak or cheese, but new products which could replace steak at a nutritional level.”

According to Terres Univia, the role of small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) should not be underestimated. “Younger generations are in tune with the entrepreneurial spirit and on the look-out for innovation and new food formats,”​ said senior project manager Noëmie Simon. “What’s more, larger businesses find inspiration in the agility and creativity of SMEs.”

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