Why Royal Cosun bets on potatoes and sugar beet for plant-based protein

The ‘protein transition’,​ the switch many believe that we (the human race, that is) will need to make away from animal sources of protein towards alternative sources, is well on the way.

Plant-based fish and dairy, while seeing a significant downturn in recent months, is still a significant part of this.

When developing plant-based substitutes, ingredients companies often use soy, pea, and wheat protein. Dutch ingredients company Royal Cosun, however, focuses on developing plant-based products from sugar beets and potatoes – crops with a range of benefits.

Because they produce these products in such abundance, they have a range of side streams which they can put into plant-based analogues, as well as alternative applications of these crops as fish and dairy analogues. 

Developing plant-based alternatives from sugar beet pulp

Unlike the potato​, the sugar beet is a hardy crop and can withstand changing climatic pressures. “It’s simply more resilient, based on how it has evolved, how we have developed it and also the crop itself,” Royal Cosun CEO Hans Meeuwis told FoodNavigator. Warmer weather, for example, is ‘not negative’ for the beet.

This makes it a reliable crop to use in plant-based analogues, as it can be produced with less uncertainty than many other crops. In particular, sugar’s side streams, such as sugar-beet pulp, can be used as a functional ingredient in plant-based analogues.

Cosun has developed uses for the sugar beet pulp, which would usually be used only in cattle feed, within alternative proteins. “We’ve been looking for other applications for this product, which is a co-product; a by-product if you wish,” Mathys Boeren, director for research, development and innovation at Royal Cosun, told FoodNavigator. The company uses it in plant-based fish analogues and in falafel bites.