Sector News

Terviva partners with Danone to scale pongamia oil and plant protein as alternative to palm and soy

May 23, 2021
Food & Drink

Terviva has raised US$54 million in equity capital to commercialize its “golden-colored, buttery” culinary oil and highly soluble plant protein made from pongamia seeds, a regenerative crop that captures 115 metric tons of carbon per acre over 30 years. The finance comes as the agri-food player begins a collaboration with Danone to develop new food products that utilize pongamia oil and plant protein.

Terviva plans to open a facility in the US in 2022 to produce pongamia-based foods using natural, proprietary food processing methods.

In an in-depth interview with FoodIngredientsFirst, Chris Quevedo, commercialization team manager at Terviva, explains how pongamia oil is a highly sustainable alternative to soy and palm.

“We’re excited to introduce a new climate-friendly, regenerative food source that will expand the basket of crops to feed the world’s rising population and help meet this urgent need in our food systems,” details Quevedo.

“Given the broad range of potential applications for pongamia and the size and reach of Danone, the potential consumer reach and environmental impact of this collaboration is significant. Our collaboration with Danone marks the first commercial engagement that will bring our tasty, nutritious and sustainable foods to store shelves,” he remarks.

“We look forward to having an expansive reach along with the opening of a facility in the US next year to process pongamia beans and to deliver regenerative, plant-based culinary oil and protein to the world’s leading food producers and sustainability focused brands.”

Terviva expects to close an additional US$24 million in equity and debt capital this quarter, for a total of US$78 million in capital to drive its expansion.

“Sustainably and responsibly sourced pongamia plant protein is available for a variety of in-demand products such as high-protein beverages, baked goods, plant-based meats, dairy alternatives, pastas and dips and spreads,” details Quevedo.

Balanced nutritional profile
Pongamia culinary oil is a mid-oleic oil with a high smoke point and balanced nutritional profile. It also offers a unique blend of saturated fats for an indulgent mouthfeel.

“Chefs say that pongamia culinary oil tastes like ghee with the finish of extra virgin olive oil,” details Quevedo. “The oil’s smoke point of 437°F makes it excellent for frying and sauteing.”

“A unique feature of pongamia culinary oil is that it is solid at refrigerated temperatures and has a slow melt curve to liquid at room temperature,” he notes. “Pongamia culinary oil can be used to improve the texture and mouthfeel of buttery spreads, mayonnaise, sauces, plant-based milks and creamers or dressings.”

Meanwhile, Terviva’s low-allergen protein flour is deemed highly nutritious and can be made into concentrates and isolates for a diverse range of food applications. “The protein concentrate contains all nine essential amino acids and has a high water-holding capacity,” says Quevedo.

Pongamia protein is highly soluble with low viscosity and a high Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS) of 0.85, which is greater than pea, rice and comparable to soy protein.

Sequestering large volumes of carbon
Pongamia seeds are pegged by the partnership as more sustainable than other oilseed crops commonly used today, such as palm and soy, whose conventional cultivation generates a net release of greenhouse gases.

Farmers around the world are beginning to grow and harvest pongamia trees to restore productivity of farmland and help avoid deforestation, notes Quevedo.

“Pongamia trees are resilient, require low inputs and yield up to five times the beans per acre as US soy. These abundant yields broaden access to healthy and climate-friendly foods for the world’s growing population,” he explains.

Terviva works with farmers to plant pongamia trees on idle agricultural land that is often difficult to farm due to poor soil or water stress.

On this type of land, an orchard of pongamia trees captures 115 metric tons of carbon per acre over 30 years, ranking pongamia among the the most sustainable commercial sources of edible oil and plant protein.

“Our global pongamia bean supply chains increase economic productivity of land and agricultural communities while improving soil health, supporting biodiversity, and creating greater climate resilience in our food systems,” says Quevedo.

“We partner with growers to cultivate pongamia tree plantings in Florida and Hawaii, where we have more than 1,000 acres of pongamia planted, and we wild harvest fair-trade beans from smallholders in India. We buy back the harvest of protein- and oil-packed beans to produce diverse, high-value oil and protein food products.”

Prioritizing alt-protein science
The Good Food Institute (GFI) and more than 60 key players and stakeholders in the alternative protein space recently called on the US federal government to make investing in the science and technology of alt-proteins a “national priority” in the fiscal year 2022 budget.

“We need environmentally friendly approaches to feed the world’s rising population,” says new Terviva board member Brace Young. “We can work with nature to reduce carbon emissions and produce more nutritious food, and Terviva is a prime example of such an opportunity.”

The US plant-based food market was recently revealed in GFI research to have grown almost twice as fast as the total retail food market, which increased 15 percent in 2020 during the first year of COVID-19.

Last March, Boston Consulting Group and Blue Horizon Corporation published a report stipulating that plant-based alternative proteins may achieve cost parity with conventional meats by 2023.

“Terviva’s pongamia-based food ingredients broaden access to healthy and environmentally sustainable foods that directly combat climate change,” says Naveen Sikka, founder and CEO of Terviva.

“With our food ingredients, we can feed the planet and heal it at the same time.”

By Benjamin Ferrer, with additional reporting from Gaynor Selby


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