As InnovoPro CEO Taly Nechushtan awaited the launch of a plant-based ice cream using the company’s chickpea ingredient last month, she observed that its success was defined as much about the offering itself as it was overcoming the industry’s checkered past.
Nechushtan said one of the biggest hurdles manufacturers face when using chickpeas and other ingredients to make plant-based yogurts, cookies, cheeses, crackers, mayonnaise and milk is overcoming the consumer perception that dogged previous product launches in the space: Many of them were disappointing.
Prior iterations often failed to sufficiently replicate their animal-based counterpart in taste and texture, and frequently contained a lengthy ingredients list that stood in contrast to the slimmed-down number people were looking for.
“It’s not enough to say you are plant based. People are not stupid,” Nechushtan said. “There was some greenwashing in the beginning, but right now I think the [food] companies are more aligned on the main goal, which is creating new products that are not only plant based but also are healthy and tasty.”
The Israel-based food ingredients company fits squarely in this shift with its newest application.
InnovoPro’s proprietary chickpea protein CP-PRO 70 is featured in a new plant-based ice cream made in partnership with Milkadamia, a maker of macadamia-based dairy products. The ice cream, which will be available later this summer at Trader Joe’s in chocolate, vanilla and strawberry varieties, never melts because of the protein. (InnovoPro declined to disclose exactly how the ice cream remains stable.)
The debut comes amid a surging market for products made without eggs, milk or other animal-based ingredients. The global dairy-free ice cream market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 14.8% from 2019 to 2025 to reach $1.2 billion in sales by 2025, InnovoPro predicted, citing data from Grand View Research.
The company’s CP-PRO 70 dramatically shrinks the ingredients list of ice cream to between six and eight including water, oil, sugar, flavors and salt by performing a host of functions simultaneously.
In comparison, vegan-based ice cream has an average of 23 ingredients, while a traditional dairy version has about 18, InnovoPro estimated. Vegan ice cream is particularly onerous, the company said, because it takes more ingredients like gum and emulsifiers to replicate milk’s taste and texture.
InnovoPro said in addition to its neutral taste, its CP-PRO 70 protein can act as a thickener, emulsifier and provide foam, while contributing to a clean label profile. The company’s chickpea ingredient also is low in carbs, higher in fiber and has similar functions compared to soy, a popular option for plant-based foods.
R&D teams at small and large CPGs “want it all and until now it was hard to find a plant-based protein that answered all that,” Nechushtan said. “There is a strong wish from companies to change” what goes in their foods.
Nechushtan said CP-PRO 70 is the only ingredient that can address sustainability, functionality, nutrition, clean label and taste.
It also has financial benefits that make it an attractive option for food and beverage companies. With a shorter ingredients list, food manufacturers save money sourcing, buying, shipping and storing, a solution that is especially beneficial today with the global economy facing widespread supply chain challenges, she said.
Chickpeas have become a star ingredient in recent years as the race to find the next best alternative protein option heats up. The legumes are in demand because they not only contain protein but also fiber, vitamins and minerals. They also can be used to make allergen-free products, unlike wheat, soy and nuts.
InnovoPro is not the only player in this space, and as demand for chickpeas intensifies, other competitors are poised to move aggressively to meet demand.
InnovoPro has competition from Israeli food-tech start-up ChickP, U.S.-based Nutriati, an ingredients company developing and producing chickpea protein and flour, and Cambridge Commodities’ ProEarth, among others. Tate & Lyle purchased Nutriati last month for an undisclosed amount.
InnovoPro’s rapid success has caught the attention of investors. In April 2020, InnovoPro raised $15 million in a Series B funding round. Then earlier this year, ingredients giant Ingredion announced an equity investment in InnovoPro to allow the company to bring its chickpea ingredient to more consumers.
Nechushtan said InnovoPro is prioritizing growing market share in Europe and the U.S. and helping CPGs develop more recipes using its chickpeas. During the past 18 months, 30 companies have launched new products with CP-PRO 70, she said.
Along with CP-PRO 70, InnovoPro is promoting the use of CP-FOAM, a chickpea substitute to replace the functionality of egg whites in meringues, mousses and other foods, and CP-XTURA, which is designed to provide texture to plant-based meat and chicken. CP-FOAM and CP-XTURA were launched last December.
Nechushtan did not rule out InnovoPro being acquired by a large ingredients company in the future, but for now, her priority is increasing demand for the company’s product. “I think every startup eventually is, in some ways, going to get [acquired] but we are very much focused now on our strategy and on our commercial traction,” Nechushtan said.