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Pandemic drives innovation

in plant-based proteins


The pandemic has accelerated the amount of people buying into the meat-free segment, as a result, there is growing demand from producers for plant-based functional ingredients that meet specific application needs. Here Olivier Chevalier, Senior Product Manager Functional Proteins at BENEO, discusses how plant-based demand has shifted, the improved taste and texture profiles manufacturers are requiring and how new textured wheat protein variants launched by BENEO are part of the solution.

COVID-19 accelerated plant-based purchasing

The pandemic has helped create a shift amongst consumers toward a new holistic view on sustainability. According to recent research: ‘The old consumer paradigm of, “I choose to eat what is good for me and also good for the planet” has now altered to a mindset of, “What is good for the planet is also good for me”.[1]’ Coinciding with this, unsurprisingly, is a spotlight on health at present, with 85% of consumers saying that promoting long-term health is an important driver to them[2].

Although plant-based products have seen immense growth over recent years, primarily driven by health and eco-conscious shoppers, the global pandemic has widened the appeal of meat-alternative products further still. As more mainstream consumers make changes to their diets to promote their long-term health and reduce their impact on the planet, there has been a recent upsurge in shoppers (20%) planning to include more plant-based foods in their diets, as a result of COVID-19[3]. If this number is added to the 25% of consumers who already have a lot of plant-based foods and beverages in their diet[4], then almost half of shoppers across the globe are now looking to buy meat-alternative products.

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Which plant-based applications are proving popular?

Consumers are choosing to increase their plant-based consumption in a variety of ways: plant-based drinks are popular with 41% of respondents, meat-replacements with 37% and plant-based meals with 25%[5]. Many consumers perceive plant proteins as natural, healthy ingredients that are more sustainable than meat in their production. These proteins also have specific benefits such as being low in cholesterol, saturated fats and sugars, making them a popular choice for a growing range of plant-based applications.


The power of plant proteins

Although there are many sources of plant protein, according to recent data, wheat is the top protein in meat substitutes, followed by soybean, pulses, pea and then potato6. In fact, the worldwide wheat protein industry is expected to reach £2.2 billion by 2026 at a CAGR of +5% from 20217 demonstrating the scale of the opportunity at hand.

The popularity of wheat protein is, in part, due to its neutral taste and the wide variety of textures it can create. However, wheat protein is also an excellent source of many amino acids (such as cysteine, methionine, phenylalanine, tyrosine and tryptophane). It is also recognised to be more neutral in taste than other protein sources, which is important, as taste is a key repeat purchasing driver for consumers. As such, wheat-based protein is one of the most promising meat substitutes for meat-free burgers, nuggets and vegetarian sausages to name but a few.

Adapting wheat protein to meet changing needs

BENEO launched a textured wheat protein ingredient – BeneoPro W-Tex – to meet growing demand for meat-alternative solutions. This has proved popular with producers as it contains at least 65% protein (on dry matter), and has a unique alveolar structure8 that allows the development of meat-like juicy texture. It also takes only 5 to 15 minutes to hydrate, eradicating the need for long soaking and making it convenient for production. As well as enabling the creation of meat-free products with a meaty texture and granular, fibrous structure, BeneoPro W-Tex can also be flavoured with a variety of tastes, herbs and spices, making it a flexible meat substitute.

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However, as the consumer palate for plant-based foods continues to evolve, a wider variety of meat alternative foods are now being created. To meet growing demand, producers are wanting even more versatility when it comes to fine- tuning their plant-based product’s organoleptic profile (its taste, sight, smell and touch) and its texture. To facilitate this process, BENEO has created a new range of BeneoPro W-Tex variants that deliver, both in terms of taste and texture, no matter the plant-based food application.

Looking specific meat-replacement characteristics?

For minced beef meat replacement recipes, BENEO has created two prototype BeneoPro W-Tex variants – with 7 mm and 5 mm as average particle sizes – that have a brown colour naturally, compared to the original textured wheat protein ingredient. By exploring different botanical sources to create compounds for new applications, BENEO will be able to provide for a range of customer and regional needs.

BeneoPro W-Tex’s existing formulation has been recreated in a smaller particle size of average 5 mm, instead of the standard 7 mm, for producers looking for finer textures in ground meat replacement products, as well as plant-based sausages. For those producers looking to replace the texture of chicken, in imitation chicken nuggets or strips, a variant has been created that has a slightly lower protein content of a minimum 60% (on dry matter). It has a higher water holding capacity and as a consequence creates softer, juicier, more chicken-like textures.

Finally, a variant that contains only wheat protein (with a higher percentage of protein > 75% on dry matter) completes the range. It has a closer structure and firmer texture than BENEO’s other textured wheat protein ingredients, and is able to resist tougher processing conditions and freezing, making it ideal for applications such as a replacement for minced meat in frozen vegan ready meals.

Recipe potential

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Thanks to BENEO’s new portfolio of textured wheat protein ingredients, a wide range of meat-alternative recipes are now possible,

including the following vegetarian chicken and sausage recipes:

Vegetarian chicken imitation pieces

This recipe offers producers the opportunity to create clean label, high protein, vegetarian products.


INGREDIENTS (% w/w)       Test recipe

Water                                                  51

Vegetable oil                                       20

Textured wheat proteins (5mm)          15

Egg white powder                                 8

Rice starch                                            4

Minor ingredients (e.g. flavour, salt)   q.s.


Vegetarian merguez sausage

With demand for plant-based products growing at an impressive rate, as more and more consumers look to promote their long-term health and make sustainable purchasing choices, there is a wealth of opportunity for producers looking to capitalise on the trend. It is now possible for producers to meet these increasing demands, with new and exciting meat-alternative recipes, thanks to the product development work of functional ingredient’s providers such as BENEO.


INGREDIENTS (% w/w)       Test recipe

Ice water                                           52

Textured wheat  proteins

(7mm or 5mm)                                  15

Vegetable oil                                       9

Minor ingredients
(e.g. thickener, spices, salt)             q.s.


1 Sustainability: A Better World for Better Health,, April 2021
2 Health Focus International, Global Trends Study, Europe includes FR, GE,SP, UK, RU – 2020 * base = respondents who choose plant-based foods/beverages
3 FMCG Gurus, COVID19 – 18 countries surveys July 2020
4 FMCG Gurus, COVID19 – 18 countries surveys July 2020
5 FMCG Gurus, COVID19 – 18 countries surveys July 2020
6 Mintel 2021
7 The “Wheat Protein Market by Product (Wheat Gluten, Wheat Protein Isolate, Textured Wheat Protein, Hydrolyzed Wheat Protein), Application (Bakery, Pet Food, Nutritional Bars, Processed Meat, Meat Analogs), Form (Dry, Liquid), and Region – Global Forecast to 2026”,, 19 March 2021
8 A structure composed of many very small cavities more or less ordered, like honeycomb








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INGREDIENTS (% w/w)       Test recipe

Ice water         52



Textured wheat proteins

(7mm or 5mm)            15



Vegetable oil   9



Minor ingredients

(e.g. thickener, spices, salt)     q.s.



BENEO has long-term experience in developing and

producing ingredients from natural sources for food, feed and pharmaceutical products. These plant-based functional ingredients help improve the nutritional and technical properties of a wide variety of products, by supporting health and optimising taste and texture. The company’s portfolio includes functional carbohydrates from sugar beet, prebiotic chicory root fibre, plant-based proteins and speciality ingredients from rice. Through a unique chain of expertise, including the BENEO-Institute that provides decisive insights into nutrition science and legislation, and the BENEO-Technology Center that

consults in application technology, BENEO supports

customers by providing ingredients that promote a healthy lifestyle in a holistic way.

Formed in 2007, BENEO is active in over 80 countries, employs more than 1000 people and has five state-of-the-art production sites in Belgium, Chile, Germany and Italy.