CP Kelco makes plant-based a priority with Shiru partnership and new ingredients line


Dive Brief:

  • Ingredient company CP Kelco is partnering with food tech startup Shiru to develop and scale up next-generation plant proteins as more sustainable solutions for several common ingredients. A promising candidate to begin the partnership includes a more natural replacement for the emulsifier methylcellulose, the companies said in a release.
  • Separately, CP Kelco has also introduced a new line of ingredients specifically designed for plant-based meat alternatives. These ingredients — which come from the company’s existing portfolio of gellan gum, pectin, carrageenan and citrus fiber — include a gellan gum-based methylcellulose alternative, a pectin-based juiciness enhancer, a carrageenan and methylcellulose-based texturizer, and a fiber enhancer made from citrus peels. 
  • While plant-based meat has a health halo with consumers, there is concern among some people and advocacy groups about processed, chemical-based ingredients commonly used in the segment. Many plant-based meat companies are seeking more natural options.

Dive Insight:

It’s been difficult for plant-based meat to develop to the point that it’s natural, desirable and like animal-derived meat. Finding non-meat ingredients that perform the same way consumers are used to in meat has always been a challenge. While several companies have worked first on products’ taste before transforming the focus to becoming clean-label, CP Kelco’s partnership with Shiru and the new ingredient options could help companies come up with cleaner-label products from the beginning.

In a statement about the partnership with Shiru, Robert Dunn, senior marketing director and alternative proteins program lead at CP Kelco, said the company has embarked on a strategic initiative dealing with alternative proteins and innovation. The partnership and the plant-based meat product line can provide more and better options to manufacturers who are trying to take more chemistry-dependent products out of their food. 

Methylcellulose, an emulsifier and binding ingredient in plant-based meat products, is a common target for people looking for cleaner labels. It’s not a naturally occurring ingredient, and is made by chemically treating the cellulose in plants. Methylcellulose has had generally recognized as safe status from the FDA for years. However, it is also the same chemical that in much higher doses is a key ingredient in over-the-counter laxatives.

The Center for Consumer Freedom, a group led by well-known antagonist lobbyist Richard Berman, targeted some of the more chemical-sounding ingredients common in plant-based meat in high-profile ads in late 2019 and early 2020. While many commentators questioned the group’s motivations, the ads could lead average consumers to reconsider the safety of using these ingredients in plant-based meat products.

While CP Kelco is a longtime player in the ingredients space, partnering with a startup like Shiru is a smart move. Shiru uses several scientific disciplines through a platform called Flourish to discover which proteins in animal products create certain functions, finds plant-based proteins that can do similar things, and uses precision fermentation to recreate the proteins on their own to put them to the test.

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