Improving taste, quality and performance critical to plant-based protein success

September 27, 2023 | Plant-based protein

Ingredion Global Plant-Based Protein Lead Mike Natale sees major growth opportunity for food and beverage manufacturers

Plant-based proteins continue to attract an increasing number of consumers looking for alternatives to traditional animal protein. Whether it’s for personal nutrition and health reasons, consideration of environmental impacts or any combination of a wide range of factors, it’s clear that demand for plant-based protein products is trending upward.

Not only are consumers choosing more plant-based options, they’re also comfortable paying a bit more for them. In fact, Ingredion’s recent proprietary ATLAS study revealed that 68% of consumers are willing to pay between 5% and 30% more for products made with plant-based ingredients.1

Simply stated, the demise of plant-based proteins has been greatly exaggerated.

Ingredion’s Mike Natale, Global Lead of the company’s plant-based protein platform, recently sat down with Protein Production Technology International to offer his expertise on the state of the industry, Ingredion’s continued development in the space and the considerable growth potential manufacturers can take advantage of by offering more plant-based protein products.

The following are some of Natale’s thoughts he shared in the interview.


On the current state of the plant-based market:

“We place a strong emphasis on data analysis and closely monitor consumer trends,” [Natale] responds. “Over the past five years, we’ve witnessed remarkable growth, with estimates from the Plant Based Foods Association valuing it at over US$8 billion. This translates to a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of approximately 12-13%, indicating a rapid ascent in this technological shift within the food industry. While some may doubt the speed of this exponential growth, we didn’t initially anticipate such a trajectory. Our initial expectations were for a growth rate exceeding 10% CAGR a year, and it’s currently stabilizing at around 6-8%, which is still highly promising.”

At the consumer’s table, research conducted over the past two years reveals that more than 50% of households have been embracing plant-based protein offerings, signaling a strong desire to explore these products. 

However, even those in the industry accept that not all plant-based products are created equal, and some early incumbents have not lived up to expectations. “That’s what motivates us to redouble our efforts in developing third- and fourth-generation products to enhance the overall experience, especially for flexitarians who seek a complete experience in terms of flavor, functionality, and nutrition, similar to what they enjoy with their everyday products.”

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On Ingredion’s commitment to being a leader and valued partner in the plant-based protein arena:

“Our primary focus has been on innovation, recognizing that we are in the early stages of the plant-based protein movement, where innovation holds the key to delivering an exceptional consumer experience,” he says.

Ingredion’s innovation strategy revolves around three critical aspects: the flavor, functionality, and the nutrition of its proteins. “These three facets guide our day-to-day operations and the collaborative efforts with our R&D teams worldwide,” Natale says. “In the startup world, it’s common knowledge that the path from point A to point B is rarely a straightforward one. Instead, it’s characterized by constant adaptation and course correction. We navigate this dynamic journey through a series of zigzags, working closely with our suppliers, customers, and consumers to achieve success. This process demands tremendous dedication and effort from our team, but it’s an exciting endeavor, representing a startup within a multinational corporation.”


On sustainability and meeting consumer demand:

“In today’s landscape, consumers are increasingly aware of the environmental impact of their choices, and they’re actively seeking products and brands that align with their values,” believes Natale. However, he stresses that sustainability alone is not sufficient. “While a sustainable product may attract initial interest and support, its long-term success hinges on its ability to deliver a positive overall experience. This experience extends beyond taste to encompass various aspects, such as functionality, convenience, and even the emotional connection consumers have with the product.”

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On Ingredion’s advancements in sports nutrition

A key market for Ingredion that is also seeing an upward trend – not only in consumer interest but in R&D – is sports nutrition. “It’s not limited to professional athletes but has become accessible and appealing to a broader range of consumers who are focused on health, wellness, and performance, whether that’s in sports or simply in everyday life,” Natale says. And the diversity of sports nutrition products extends beyond traditional supplements to include bars, snacks, and even meal replacements. “This wide array of options allows consumers to tailor their nutrition to their specific needs, whether it’s pre- or post-workout recovery, muscle building, weight management, or general health and wellness.”

Ingredion offers a pea and rice protein isolate blend that boasts a PDCAAS score of 1. “That indicates that the protein source provides an excellent quality of protein with high digestibility and amino acid profile, making it an ideal choice for the sports nutrition industry and other applications where protein quality is crucial,” Natale confirms.


On the growth opportunity for manufacturers that embrace plant-based products:

“Ultimately, I anticipate a consistent growth trajectory of around 6-8% over the next five years in the fortified protein market,” Natale predicts. “However, there’s potential for even higher growth rates, especially in categories where novel innovations create unique and enjoyable experiences for consumers. Just as the energy beverage category evolved from a niche market, I believe we will see similar developments in the fortified protein sector, including sports nutrition. The ingredients we have at our disposal offer substantial value propositions, and we are genuinely excited about the future of this industry.”

Read the full article and see Mike Natale’s video interview with Protein Production Technology International.


Mike Natale

Mike Natale has been a transformation leader in the food and beverage ingredients industry for the last 20 years. He currently serves as the Global Platform Leader for Plant-Based Proteins at Ingredion. Mike sits on the Board of Directors for The Every Company, which is a precision fermentation protein company focused on animal-free egg proteins. He has also been a member of the Board of Directors for the Flavor Extract Manufacturing Association and Food Chamber Board for the state of Jalisco (CIAJ).

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1 ATLAS, Ingredion Proprietary Consumer Research, 2023