Brazil's Milhão moves into plant proteins: 'Today, there is no local producer of pea protein isolate'

By Niamh Michail contact

- Last updated on GMT

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Related tags: Plant-based foods, vegetarian, Pea protein, Corn, plant-based protein

Corn giant Milhão wants to bolster Brazil's plant protein space with the launch of pea, chickpea and lentil flours and a 90% pea protein isolate in its R&D pipeline.

Founded in 2002, Milhão supplies corn-based ingredients to some of the biggest global food companies as customers, including Nestle, PepsiCo, General Mills, Kellogg, Danone, BRF, JBS, and Marfrig.

However, at FiSA in São Paolo this week, it was showcasing its new line of pulse flours made from ground lentil, chickpea, and pea with a protein content ranging from between 20 and 26%.

“If you look around, worldwide the search for healthy products began many years ago and now consumption in Brazil is getting higher too. That’s why we decided to start producing the pulses too,” ​said Roberta Burneiko, export supervisor.

An emerging but growing market

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Milhao launched high-protein pulse flours at FISA this week.

Milhão is, therefore, betting big on plant proteins, particularly for applications such as vegetarian meat alternatives. While the pulse flours can be used in plant-based meat alternatives, many manufacturers are looking for higher protein levels.

For this reason, Milhão’s R&D team is in the process of developing pea protein concentrate and isolate.

“Next year, we would like to be here presenting pea protein isolate […] which contains 90% protein,” ​Alexsander Costa, the company’s R&D manager, told FoodNavigator-LATAM.

“In Brazil today, there is no-one producing isolate from pea protein so it’s an emerging market in the country."

The company believes that being a local producer of pea protein isolate could be an advantage.

Milhão is currently working on around eight products in its R&D center, one of which is protein concentrate made with peas sourced from Argentina and Canada.

Burneiko said: “Customers were asking us if we had some [products] with more protein. Pulses are a really growing market in Brazil, and that’s why we wanted to start with this.”

Brazil’s Battle of the (veggie) Burger

Despite being a nation of meat-lovers, Brazil has seen a spate of vegetarian burger launches this year.

Meat giant Marfrig ​recently announced the launch of a vegetarian burger made with soy protein.

Superbom​ makes a soy-free and gluten-free vegetarian burger patty made with pea protein concentrate, pea protein isolate and textured pea protein.

JBS also announced a vegetarian addition to its Seara brand, made from soy and wheat protein.

Meanwhile, Brazilian start-up Fazenda Futuro ​launched its Futuro Burger made from a blend of pea protein, soy protein isolate, and chickpea protein isolate.

Milhão works with non-GMO flint corn, a hard variety of maize with a reddish color, that it processes into derivatives such as flour, grit, meal, and hominy. It also offers whole white corn, yellow corn, popcorn, soy, and sorghum. All of its products are certified non-GMO and some are certified organic.

The company owns some agricultural land but most of its flint corn comes from producers, together which cover around 35,000 hectares of land, and it processes around 18,000 tons each month. According to Burneiko, it works closely with the growers and traces its corn “from seed to factory”.

Most (80%) of its products are sold for the domestic Brazilian market with the remaining 20% shipped around Latin America, the US, Europe, Africa, and Asia. Around 70% of its products are destined for the food industry with the remaining 30% going to animal feed.

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