The Changing Faces of Protein, Energy

S&D coffeeBrent H. Hall wears a beard, est. 2009, that Daniel Boone would have used as a rug in his log cabin. Dense, fiery orange and probably made of steel wool, it’s the kind of beard not commonly seen at a place like this year’s Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) show in New Orleans. A few blocks south in the Garden District, Hall may face some competition from the shameless locals. But the beard’s presence almost doesn’t seem right here.

Yet Hall, a manager of product innovation at S&D Coffee & Tea, nonetheless found himself competing with the legions of clean-shaven scientists at IFT, many of whom showcased innovative takes on alternative energy ingredients and plant-based proteins. No matter the sartorial preferences, it’s clear that, in its own way, S&D wants a piece of the pie.

One form of the company’s logo features a guitarist doing a Chuck Berry kind of walk. The logo’s body is a mosaic of coffee beans. Hall said that it symbolizes the idea of beverages and extracts as compositions of their own. Does that mean S&D is the cool booth at IFT?

“We try to be,” Hall said.

Yet for all of S&D’s coffee and tea extracts, among the heaps of other coffee and tea extract companies in the ingredients industry, such as Teawolf and Autocrat, S&D’s still developing yerba maté could best typify the evolution of energy-boosting beverages.

Paddy Spence, CEO of Zevia and the founder of natural channel data supplier SPINS, drinks yerba maté sweetened with stevia every morning. He swears by the stuff. The herb, sourced in a variety of South American countries, contains vitamins and minerals, amino acids, antioxidants and, most relevant to a constantly fatigued American market, caffeine.

Guayaki Grapefruit GingerBut yerba maté is just one key factor in the developing movement for natural and organic energy drinks, often referred to as “clean energy” products. One of the most significant players, Runa, deploys another Amazonian super-leaf called guayusa, while Little Miracles uses exotic tea leaves, among other ingredients. However, the RTD brand mostly commonly affiliated with yerba maté is Guayaki. Hall said that S&D looks to this brand as a barometer of quality.

“We’ve mirrored some of the things that they do and kind of used that flavor profile as a measurement of where we want to be,” he said.

The growing interest in alternative energy sources must be at least partly attributed to the rise of health-conscious consumers. However, Mintel senior consultant Nirvana Chapman believes that consumers are also interested in these options because they understand the potential risks of the more established energy sources, such as Red Bull and Monster. While sales of these energy drink category leaders have weathered recent bouts of negative press, Chapman said that these incidents have nonetheless influenced shopper behaviors.

“People are just wary of that kind of quick, easy, maybe unnatural energy,” she said. “They’re looking for something a little longer lasting.”

These effects, she said, have turned more consumers away from short-term energy options offered by guarana and B vitamins and pushed them toward alternatives.

“I know 5-hour Energy says it lasts for five hours,” Chapman said. “But people might want something a little more substantial than a little shot.”

The demand for something more substantial has created a pathway for ingredient suppliers to experiment with products that can satisfy consumers between meals and, in some cases, as meals themselves. This voraciousness has paved the way for protein sources beyond whey.

Tate & Lyle, a London-based global ingredients supplier, showcased a wide range of technology at IFT. A blood orange sangria mocktail was made with Tasteva, the company’s stevia sweetener. A roasted red pepper gazpacho featured the company’s Promitor soluble corn fiber. However, on the side of protein, the ingredient with some of the most expansive innovation at the show, Tate & Lyle presented an iced mocha café au lait with whipped coconut water. The indulgent beverage was made with PromOat Beta Glucan, another soluble fiber, and Proatein, an oat-based protein.

Proatein can be applied to smoothies, shakes, juices and any other beverage with a thicker viscosity. The innovation follows the expanding trend of oat-based beverage companies, such as Oatworks and Sneaky Pete’s. And when it comes to formula development, Tate & Lyle sales manager Megan Mullinix believes that Proatein sets the benchmark for oat-based proteins.

“There really isn’t a gold standard when it comes to soluble plant proteins,” she said.

Because of the lack of a gold standard and the constant demand for protein CPG products, IFT showcased a bevy of other plant-based proteins. There were rice proteins, hemp proteins and wheat proteins, such as MGP’s Optein, which has the flexibility to work with smoothies, sports drinks and energy drinks.

algaviaThere were a number of brands experimenting with pea proteins, such as Farbest and Ganeden, and microalgae proteins, such as Roquette and Solazyme, the latter of which introduced AlgaVia, a vegan protein that is minimally affected by temperature and pH. AlgaVia sits in a naturally-occurring cell wall that provides fortification in beverages like smoothies, among other categories.

It’s tough to say if more beards will show up at next year’s IFT show, but here’s the safe bet: alternative energy and protein sources will be back again.