ProPOTATO

proPOTATO: Potato proteins - Challenges and Industrial Possibilities

To achieve the sustainable development goals (SDG´s), sustainable production and consumption should become more efficient and reduce food loss and waste in the supply chain. Amongst others, this means making most efficient use of the crops that we grow, and innovating new and better ways to use by-products and side-streams which are currently wasted or used in other ways than human consumption.

One example case of this is potato production. Europe and in particular Denmark has a considerable potato starch industry. Potato protein is a side-stream or by-product of this process. Currently, most potato protein ends in animal feed due to toxic substances naturally in potato but harmful for human consumption (e.g. the ‘green’ parts of the potato). Extracting the protein so that these toxins are excluded is currently costly and complicated. The market demand for protein, however, has been rising steadily in the past decade. Given the trend of healthy and sustainable consumption, consumers are nowadays more interested in reducing their animal protein intake and adopt a more plant-based diet. In the light of this new potential consumer group and emerging market opportunity, Innovation Fund Denmark funds the project proPOTATO in order to identify how to most effectively extract and characterize potato protein functionalities, with the aim of developing new ingredients and consumer-oriented marketing strategies.

The project started in March 2016 and runs unto 2021. It is a collaboration between Aarhus University, Copenhagen University, Kartoffelmelcentralen KMC, AKV Langholt and DuPont Nutrition Biosciences ApS.

Associate Professor Jessica Aschemann-Witzel and Assistant Professor Anne Odile Peschel are representing the MAPP Centre in the project with the objective to identify relevant consumer groups and marketing possibilities of products containing potato protein.

So far, one comprehensive qualitative experimental study and three online experiments have been conducted. First analysis of the qualitative study focused on consumers’ categorization and perception of ingredients of plant-based foods as part of the ‘clean label’ trend. Findings show that potato protein is perceived favorably, understood as providing texture, and categorized jointly with the ingredients that are regarded as ‘known, natural, healthy’. Click for more information

Results from the first online experiment show that consumers prefer organic or healthier products to purely plant-based product. Regarding communication of plant-based food products as merely plant-based, local or ‘based on a by-product allowing reduction of food waste’, consumers did not show a preference for communication in healthy product categories. However, when choosing an unhealthy food, the product presented as ‘based on a by-product allowing to reduce food waste’ was preferred. Click for more information

Further analysis of the data focuses on the activation of cognitive structures in response to different framings of plant-based food products. Results show that consumers overall have positive associations with plant-based food products. Health frames are advisable for products, which are indeed perceived to be healthy by consumers. Sustainability frames or focus on the substitution ingredient are valuable alternatives. For more information see https://pure.au.dk/portal/en/publications/consumers-associative-networks-of-plantbased-food-product-communications(a4588c1a-9411-4bcf-85d0-329f92292a96).html and https://bss.au.dk/en/insights/business-1/2019/the-potato-shows-the-way/)

Additional online experiments show that consumers appear to regard the potato-based ingredient as familiar and simple. In consequence, consumers have an idea why a food producer might need to use a potato-based ingredient as well – for the sake of providing texture to the food. Known ingredients are perceived as good and harmless, which is of course favorable for a food producer who includes the ingredient in the product’s recipe, and transparently writes out where the protein comes from. Click for more information

Also, Danish consumers are yet hesitant to embrace a “potato drink”. Communicating that the use of potato protein in such a drink has the sustainability benefit of reducing food waste in the supply chain, however increases favorable attitude towards the concept. Consumers can react positively when they hear that producers make an effort to ‘upcycle’ and avoid food waste. Click for more information 

Ongoing and further studies are looking into communication of the ‘upcycling’ of currently wasted side-streams, and the value that consumers give to the industry’s efforts in reducing food waste through more resource-efficient production.