ADM, Benson Hill partner to scale high-protein soy

Dive Brief:

  • Archer Daniels Midland and Benson Hill have announced a long-term strategic partnership to scale the latter’s Ultra-High Protein (UHP) soybeans to use in ingredients for plant-based food and beverages. Benson Hill created the UHP soybean through its CropOS tech platform for plant genomics. 
  • The agreement will enable ADM to process and commercialize proprietary ingredients derived from Benson Hill’s UHP soybeans through an exclusive North American licensing agreement.
  • The partnership between ADM and Benson Hill is happening as demand for alternative meat and dairy is predicted to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 14% to reach $125 billion by 2030, according to the companies.

Dive Insight:

Soy, the most commonly used ingredient in plant-based foods, is known for its high protein content. But ADM and Benson Hill are aiming to maximize its potential by making Ultra-High Protein soybeans a key player in the ingredients space. The companies said their partnership will allow plant-based food and beverage producers to meet demand for meat alternatives and other products using soy as a key ingredient.

ADM has made soy protein a key focus of investments in the past year. In 2021, the ingredients giant acquired non-GMO soy ingredients maker Sojaprotein. And earlier this year, it invested roughly $300 million to increase production capacity for soy protein concentrate at its Decatur, Illinois, alternative protein facility.

ADM felt a synergy with Benson Hill, as they grow and source soybeans in the same regions, according to Leticia Gonçalves, ADM’s president of Global Foods. The ingredients giant saw potential in how Benson Hill’s CropOS technology — which uses artificial intelligence and genetics to improve food crops — could provide new agricultural capabilities for farmers. ADM also believed it could scale Benson Hill’s technology across its vast network of 55,000 farmers, Gonçalves told Food Dive.

“We looked at their capabilities and the convergence of data science, plant science and food science,” Gonçalves said. “It’s a very transformational partnership when you think about the revolution to drive high-value products to meet consumer needs in the plant-based space, along with providing more nutritious and sustinable products.”

Matt Crisp, CEO of Benson Hill, said the UHP soybean has nearly 50% protein content, compared to roughly 40% crude protein in traditional soybeans. The company’s technology has enabled it to harness the power of the legume that has not been fully realized in other soy protein ingredients for plant-based products, he said.

“What’s remarkable about that is, it’s genomics and technology that’s allowed us this visibility to look at the genome of that soybean seed and tap into a lot of natural genetic diversity that has been bred out of them over the course of the last 20 or 30 years,” Crisp said.

Benson Hill has been working independently to tap its UHP soybeans in ingredients. Earlier this year, the company announced its TruVail high-protein soy ingredients line sourced from the UHP soybeans.

The companies both see the sustainability aspects as a winning factor for the UHP soybeans. The legumes contain more protein than traditional varieties, which eliminates the need to make soy protein concentrate, saving energy and water. Crisp said Benson Hill has conducted lifecycle analyses of proteins to understand their CO2 and water impact. The company sees UHP soy as fulfilling the sustainability needs of both food producers and consumers.

“It’s fairly commonly known now that your CPGs’ largest carbon footprint is derived from their ingredient supply chain,” Crisp said. “We feel like we’re not just partnering to create more value at the processing level, but we’re also bringing more value to the customer bases increasingly demanding these types of features.”

According to Crisp, creating more “bespoke” ingredient streams in the plant-based space requires both tech platforms like Benson Hill’s CropOS and scale that is possible through a commodities giant like ADM, which historically have not been utilized together because the technology were only available in niche spaces.

“What we’re doing is marrying technology and innovation with scale, which is an extremely powerful combination,” Crisp said.