peas in a pill capsule

Pea-lieve It or Not: The Rise of Pea Protein

Michelle Fox
Senior Manager, Brand Growth Solutions

There’s been plenty of news about protein over the past few years. According to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the average American male consumes 102 grams of protein per day, while the average female consumes about 70 grams. Protein consumption is reflected in retail data; in the last year, dollar sales across Natural, Specialty Gourmet, Conventional Multi-Outlet, and Convenience Channels reached $6.8 billion for all animal and plant-based protein and have grown 8% annually over the past three years.

Honing in on an up-and-coming segment within the protein space, pea protein sales reached $36.8 million in 52 weeks ending March 20, 2016 across all tracked channels. While it only comprises 0.5% of the total protein market, pea protein has grown 30% annually, nearly outpacing the total protein market four times over. At this rate of growth, we wonder if we might soon see a proliferation of pea protein products on the market.


Which key characteristics drive pea protein’s success?

  • It’s a food-based supplement, derived from soluble protein extracted from yellow split peas.
  • It’s a plant-based alternative, appealing to a range of consumers avoiding or limiting animal products.
  • By comparison to numerous other popular foods, it has a very high protein content. With 15 grams per serving of pea protein isolate, it has four times more protein than 15 almonds, two times the protein of a large egg, and two times more protein than one cup of dairy milk.
  • The absence of common allergens such as gluten, lactose, and soy make it a good choice for special diets.
  • Concerns around genetically modified organisms (GMOs) can raise questions for some consumers about soy ingredients, the heavyweight leader among plant-based proteins. Peas provide an alternative that is non-GMO.
  • In terms of resource inputs, pea protein proves to be a sustainable choice. According to a presentation from Cosucra, 3,200 liters of water are required to produce one kilogram of pea protein. To produce the same amount of protein from soy, wheat, and beef, one needs 5,882 liters, 6,923 liters, and 588,235 liters, respectively.

Who are the brands behind the growth?

Beyond Meat makes familiar favorites like burgers, chicken strips and tenders, meatballs, and taco crumbles, as well as a line of prepared single-serve meals, replacing the animal products completely with non-GMO soy and pea protein. With a vision to conserve natural resources and respect animal welfare, its highly publicized growth over the last year speaks volumes to its early success and anticipated bright future.

Daiya, known initially for its dairy free cheese and mission to produce food responsibly, has grown its offering to over 30 plant-based products. Its new Dairy Free Cheezy Mac is free of the eight most common allergens and is one of the only macaroni and cheese offerings with a plant-based protein boost from peas.

Califia Farms, one of the fastest growing natural beverage companies, reformulated its almond milk protein products last year at the request of its customers. By swapping out whey protein for a pea and sprouted rice protein blend, it pleases pro-protein vegans and omnivores alike.

A new line from the founder of Method, a brand with a proven track record in eco-friendly cleaning products, breaks into alternative milks with an innovative approach. The new dairy free drink Ripple is the first to market made from pea protein and arrives in stores in early May. Touting eight times the protein of almond milk and half the sugar of dairy milk, Ripple aims to improve upon both the nutrition and the taste of non-dairy milks. Since pea protein requires less water to produce than almond or dairy milks, the new line starts off with a sustainable edge in the space.

Pea protein lies at the intersection of many successful trends: allergy-friendly, non-GMO, plant-based, and sustainable ingredients and manufacturing to name a few. In fact, leaders in plant-based foods have coalesced to create the first trade association and lobby group to represent the interests of this growing market – a true marker of any food group’s expanding influence. The Plant Based Foods Association, led by Executive Director, Michele Simon, launched at Expo West 2016 with 23 founding brand members and full-spread coverage by the New York Times, along with other major media outlets. It plans to educate consumers, foodservice professionals, and retailers about the benefits of plant-based eating. It will also work to ensure a fair competitive marketplace by promoting policies that are conducive to the segment’s growth and removing its barriers. We can’t wait to see the association play what we’re sure will be a major role in driving the growth of pea protein and all other plant-based foods upward.

Given this segment’s attractive growth overall and the strong performance of early adopting brands, we think pea protein will become more prevalent in the months to come. Some things are just meant to pea.