PepsiCo has experimented with mealworm powder for its snacks and drinks
PepsiCo — the food company that makes snacks like Doritos, Cheetos, and Quaker Oats cereal — is looking for alternative protein sources for its products.
On the open innovation site NineSights, PepsiCo recently posted a request for "new and novel protein sources for usage in their snacks and beverages."
These non-traditional proteins could include plant-based protein, mycoprotein (a protein made from mushrooms), or insect protein.
The request also mentioned that PepsiCo has already done extensive work with soy, moringa (a protein powder made from dried leaves), duckweed, cricket powder, pea protein, dairy, single cell protein, and mealworm powder (generally made from roasted and milled mealworms).
PepsiCo declined to comment on any specific plans, but spokesperson Andrea Foote said the company's R&D team is working on the project, which is not tied to any one brand.
Other food giants are also experimenting with novel types of proteins, often made from plants. In 2016, Campbell Soup Co. started selling a line of non-dairy, plant-based milk with 10 grams of pea protein per serving. Later that year, Tyson Foods, one of the world's largest meat producers, launched a venture capital fund worth $150 million that invests in startups developing meat alternatives. The VC arm of General Mills, 301 Inc., has also invested in the plant-based protein startups Beyond Meat and Kite Hill, which makes non-dairy cheeses, milks, and yogurts.
PepsiCo's request may reflect a growing consumer shift away from non-traditional protein sources. US sales of foods with alternative proteins totaled $4.9 billion in 2016, according to the Plant-Based Foods Association. The research firm Markets and Markets predicts that the meat substitutes industry will be worth $5.96 billion by 2022.
"Consumers the world over have embraced a variety of high-protein foods, such as Greek-style yogurt and beef jerky style meat products," PepsiCo's request reads. "Unfortunately, that increased level of protein in the product can negatively impact consumer perceptions by adversely impacting texture, taste, color, etc."
Ideally, PepsiCo said it would like to find a high-protein source that has a pleasant taste. Additionally, the company said the protein should be non-GMO, have "a good sustainability story," and have an "easy to pronounce and common" name that avoids "chemical-sounding ingredients."
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