Photo of a plant-based burger patty.

MN Impact: U of M establishes first of its kind Plant Proteins Innovation Center

June 5, 2020

Issue

Plant-based proteins are more in demand than ever before. As our society becomes more health conscious and more concerned with environmental footprints, demand for plant-based protein has steadily increased. However, there is limited consumer and producer knowledge of plant proteins other than soy. 

What has been done

In November 2018, CFANS established the Plant Protein Innovation Center (PPIC) to bring researchers and industry professionals together to help shape the future of plant proteins. The first of its kind in the nation, the PPIC is working to innovate how plant proteins are developed and used across the supply chain—from the land, to the lab, to the production chain. 

Results

Thus far, the PPIC has attracted 15 industry members, with more expected to join in 2020. The members are comprised of ingredient suppliers, processors, manufacturers, CPG companies, and startups. The PPIC aims to build a diverse membership cohort that represents the entirety of the value chain, from upstream to downstream, to best address the most relevant trends and challenges in the plant proteins space. Members directly influence the PPIC's research priorities, shaping the next generation of research projects, which ultimately help to build a fundamental plant protein knowledge base that benefits the industry as a whole. Ultimately, the PPIC aims to produce functional plant proteins that can succeed in the market and satisfy increasing consumer demand for more sustainable and healthy alternatives, while keeping industry needs in mind. Through precompetitive research conducted by the Center's researcher cohort of currently 21 interdisciplinary researchers, the Center will focus on fundamental science that addresses basic needs and challenges of the industry.

The PPIC is establishing its mark in research outputs, delivery of knowledge, and connectivity. Among the PPIC's accomplishments within its inaugural year were a successful first round of RFPs that turned out the first two PPIC-funded research projects, two widely sought events, including the first "Protein Basics Short Course" and "Research Spotlight Meeting", and the acquisition of over 1.2 million dollars in funds. Some of the research successes include the optimization of protein extraction methods for yield and feasibility, as well as innovative technology involving cold plasma to enhance the functionality of pea protein.