2016 has been quite the year for pulses in the food and dietary supplement industry. The UN General Assembly declared 2016 the International Year of the Pulse and since then, the industry has gone nuts (1). Companies and startups have innovated pulses into snacks, chips, cereals, pastas, and many other forms of common foods (Banza Pasta, Maya Kaimal Chickpea Chips, My Vega Pea Protein, Brami Snacking Beans, and Tolerant Foods Legume Pastas). At 2016 IFT, “Made with Pulses”, a new logo developed by the Global Pulse Confederation, was launched to help food and beverage manufactures increase consumer awareness and the use of various pulses given the increase in our diet. Some companies are already on board to use the logo on their brands, few of which are expected to hit the shelves at the end of 2016 (2).
Pulses are classified under legumes and members of the Leguminosae family as beans, peas, lentils and chickpeas and are known to be rich in amino acids along with having a high protein content (3). Certain pulses when mixed and eaten with grains such as rice are considered a complete protein. These ingredients have been used for many years through many cultures, namely it’s heavy use in Indian cuisine for thousands of years as a source of meatless protein. The term “pulse” includes all legumes (mainly soybeans, peanuts, and green beans and peas) except those that are used for oil extraction and green beans for consumption. The Food and Agriculture Organization division of the United Nations classifies 11 pulses as “primary” with the most common ones seen on US grocery shelves as kidney beans, pinto beans, mung beans, dry peas, chickpeas, black-eyed peas, and lentils (4).
Some common pulse products seen on the markets, aside from the dried beans themselves and dried pea snack are powdered pea-protein to replace whey and snacking products, mainly in the form of chips. Pea-protein has gained considerable attention and growth in recent years, and a 2016 market analysis report by Research and Markets reported that North America is the largest market accounting for 35% of global consumption, followed by Europe at 33% (5). Fresh peas and legumes themselves are consumed heavily in Asia, but the supplemental protein segment of this market is still growing. From a global standpoint, the forecasted compounded average growth rate is 8.83% from the end of 2016 to 2020 if others markets continue to grow and companies innovate further to meet the needs of different markets (6). Driving innovation in this category are mainly start-ups that are focusing on the individual pulse ingredient as the trend for animal-free products grows into different categories of food. Large companies, like Morning Star, known for their veggie patties and other “hamburger-like” food products, are also using a variety of pulses in their formulas and are even making pulses the main ingredient in some products. According to a survey by ingredient company, Ingredion, 34% increase of American household purchases related to pulse ingredients was in conjunction with a 74% increase in new pulse product launches from 2010 to 2014, and the number of new products keeps growing (7).
Growth in this category can also be attributed to the increasing social awareness of healthy living. With an increase in healthy eating trends, convenience is vital given the perception of difficulty and expense associated with eating well, the FAO declaring 2016 as the year of pulses to drive innovation helps increase consumer awareness. Consumers need to be eased into eating well into order to sustain the habit of eating well. By introducing pulse products through familiar means, allows for easier consumer acceptance in the long term. Innovative examples of the brands that have capitalized on this are: Hippeas and their organic chickpea puffs, Brami’s lupine bean snacks, Other Bean hummus, Beanitos’s variety of different bean chips, and Banza, whose line of chickpea pastas range from penne to spaghetti. There are many more brands that are making cereals, snack bars, gluten/bread replacement products, and many sports performance supplement brands developing better vegetarian based protein than the large amounts of pea protein in the market (7).
As appetites change and food trends come and go one thing that remains certain for the next few years is the need for convenient and healthy food. A relativity new need that’s gained a lot of investors and traction in 2016 was the use of pulses in food products for added nutritional and health benefits. Another need is using pulses in animal-free products that try to mimic properties of meat products, like vegetarian burgers, and chicken alternatives as well as its use in the sports nutrition industry an alternative to whey protein. As stated by the UN General Assembly, 2016 is the International Year of the Pulse and the industry reacted with a plethora of products. However, since there are a variety of pulses, it’s safe to assume that many more companies innovating on this front will release products incorporating them. As we close out this year, the industry looks to 2017 to see how this trend will take shape into the following year and what new pulse ingredients will be used as innovation in this category grows.
This article is part of our on-going series “The Science of Food” which is comprised of essays from students in the M.S. in Food Science program at Chapman University. The essay was originally published on the Food Science Student Association’s blog, which you can read here: http://chapmanfsnsa.blogspot.com/.