Rooting for the natural

Cosucra’s significant investment in its pea and chicory root processing facilities have greatly expanded the Belgian company’s capacity, as the demand for plant-based alternatives is at an all-time high

With the market for plant-based products currently ranking among the ten major trends in the food industry, it comes as no surprise that developer and producer of pea and chicory root ingredients – Cosucra – has continued to evolve at breakneck speed in the last three years. Based in Belgium, the company has grown in double figures during said period and now exports its products to some 45 countries around the world. In addition, it opened a second processing plant in Denmark as part of its €60m development programme designed to support the growth in pea protein and chicory root fibre.

“The plant itself was an investment aimed at helping us meet the ever-increasing global consumer demand for the use of pea protein in food and beverage applications,” begins Cosucra’s Commercial Director, Eric Bosly. “The need for transparency and trust in regards to product origin, as well as considerations for animal welfare and environmental issues, are the key drivers behind this growth. Therefore, we decided to renovate and upgrade a former soybean processing plant in the port of Aarhus, which will be jointly operated by us and its current owner AABT.

“We believe that food should be obtained with respect to the planet and for this reason, the facility will process local peas from the Baltic region that will be transported by ships to the plant,” Eric explains. “This unique situation gives us close access to the new EU pea-growing areas of Denmark, Lithuania, Poland, and Sweden. Furthermore, the project aims to minimise the carbon footprint caused by the processing, by transforming the secondary products into valuable biogas through an agreement signed with a local biogas plant.”

The intensity of energy used first to move raw materials to all of its facilities and then to process them into valuable ingredients, is one of the most important features of Cosucra’s activity. As an environmentally-conscious company, it has ensured the sites’ easy connection with water, utilising ship transport as a mode of dispatching crops to the plants. “We are also working on streamlining the process and choosing the appropriate technology to reduce energy. For instance, our new spray dryer is recovering almost 50 per cent of the energy used for drying by recovering heat on the flue gas before sending it to the stack. Last but not least, we have invested heavily in biomethanisation to process all our liquid wastes into valuable gas that is used after cleaning for the generation of electricity,” Eric discusses.

Growth areas
As mentioned earlier, the new site in Denmark is only one of the major infrastructure development projects undertaken by Cosucra. In a €35m scheme started in 2015, the company installed a second pea protein processing line in its main facility in Belgium (in Warcoing), which has since doubled its capacity. Last year, the investment was completed with a second drying tower that was commissioned in June.

“Plant protein, and pea protein, in particular, has been adopted by mainstream flexitarians while supporting vegans and people concerned about their wellbeing. In this sense, the investment discussed addresses the demand and reinforces our technology and sustainability leadership in the natural ingredients and plant-based nutritional markets,” Eric comments.

Going on to cite some key figures that underpin the shift in consumer preferences, he points out that in most countries, around 20 per cent of people claim that they are trying to reduce their meat consumption. “It is key to clarify that this percentage includes consumers from all age groups and not just millennials. The move from niche vegetarians to mass market flexitarians opens up opportunities in plant-based ingredients, which are considered as clean-label and more natural products. For example, 67 per cent of people believe that pulses have a positive impact on their health. The same goes for pea protein, with 60 per cent of consumers trusting its health benefits in 2017. In addition, the number of consumers unaware of pea protein has dropped from 30 per cent to 15 per cent in the period between 2015 and 2017.”

It has been estimated that the launches of products containing pea protein have grown six-fold over the last six years, which has led to the broadening of the scope of categories available in the marketplace. One such area of growth is injectable fibres and, earlier in 2019, Cosucra launched a new pea cell-wall fibre called Swelite™F with a finer particle size. Eric elaborates: “Suitable for injection processes and thanks to its good water holding capacity, the product can improve the yield of meat products, however this is not its only application. Swelite™ is also showing functional benefits in pasta fillings by reducing the water migration from the filling to the dough.”

Future potential
As well as in peas, Cosucra also specialises in chicory root ingredients and its Fibruline™ range has proven especially popular with customers over time. A milestone development regarding Cosucra’s offering in the field came in 2016 when a claim linking Fibruline™’s soluble chicory inulin and oligofructose to a reduction of blood glucose rise after a meal was validated by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). “According to the verdict, consumption of foods and drinks containing inulin or oligofructose (or chicory root fibre) instead of sugars induces a lower blood glucose rise after their consumption, compared to sugar-containing foods and drinks. This was a major confirmation by the Authority, which has allowed us to advance our sugar replacement solutions offering, as consumers are increasingly looking at the sugar level of their beverages and foods and for low or sugar-free products,” Eric analyses.

“Our strategy is aligned with customer challenges and consumer needs and it is this drive to provide healthy and tasty ingredients that are clean-label and organic, that is driving our product development process,” he continues. “In order to strengthen our position on both the chicory root fibre and pea ingredients markets, our teams are exploring the full potential of inulin, pea protein, and pea fibre.”

The market being more receptive to ethical food products than ever, Cosucra eagerly anticipates the revolution that plant-based food is bound to stir in every corner of the industry. The company sees ongoing changes as a wonderful opportunity to explain to customers how it tackles their concerns for the planet and the wellbeing of animals. “Many products are no longer accepted by society and the need for reformulation is clearly on the rise. The trends that we are observing at the moment, are certain to last, which provides us with fantastic possibilities for the future. We may well grow by 50 per cent in the next five years, thanks to the enlarged range of ingredients we are planning to 31develop,” Eric summarises his view on the prospects ahead of Cosucra.