The new pea in the pod: exploring the pea protein trend

The new pea in the pod: exploring the pea protein trend

By
Louise Burfitt
November 24, 2020

Unlike the avocado or the smoothie bowl, peas don’t have quite the same social media appeal of some of their other plant-based superstars. But what they do have is the protein and sustainability credentials - and that could be more than enough if the pea protein products already on the market are anything to go by. Beyond Meat, Moving Mountains and The Meatless Farm Co. are just some of the brands who’ve been using pea protein in their products for several years, but they’re far from the only ones. In 2017, the global pea protein market was worth $32m and is expected to rise to $176m by 2025, with numerous brands across several categories contributing to this growth.

What is pea protein?

Pea protein is made from yellow split peas. Yes, the kind your grandma used to use to make her famous split pea and ham soup. The protein in split peas - and there is a lot of it - is extracted, milled into a powder and mixed with water to remove starch, then milled again. This leaves behind a protein-filled powder known as pea protein isolate.

Food manufacturers are capitalising on the powder’s protein-heavy attributes and adding it to cereal bars, shakes, milks, plant-based meat products and more. The pea protein powder is also available as a stand-alone product to mix into energy drinks or smoothies.

Trend drivers: veganism, sustainability and protein

Veganism is one of the main drivers pushing pea protein to the front of the pack. With the ever-increasing demand for plant-based food, particularly among younger generations, manufacturers are having to think outside the box for more creative and nutritionally complete vegan options. Pea protein is an excellent option for food brands making meat alternatives as it provides plenty of protein and is easy to flavour - plus it’s a handy alternative to soy, which is a top nine food allergen.

The environmental credentials of pea protein are also working in its favour. In Europe, soy has increasingly borne the brunt of bad press related to its negative effect on rainforests. Peas, on the other hand, come with no such headlines attached – in fact, pea plants actually enrich the soil by adding nitrogen and do not need much fertiliser or water. Peas are also grown easily in the northern hemisphere, reducing the carbon footprint of eventual products. As those looking for plant-based meat substitutes also tend to be engaged on environmental issues, pea protein’s sustainability profile could give it the edge over other plant-based rivals.

The humble pea could also be the answer to the continuing obsession with protein. Health-conscious consumers and fitness enthusiasts are constantly seeking out the most nutritious new protein, while the world also needs to find a sustainable protein source for its growing population. The plant-based protein market, pea included, is expected to balloon to $85 billion by 2030 - which means there’s a lot of potential for the pea to tap into.

Exploring the trend: plant-based meats, protein powders and pea milk

As we’ve learnt, pea protein is hot property in the plant-based meat sector. Famous names like Moving Mountains and Beyond Meat were among the first to start using pea protein for their vegan meat substitutes a few years back. Young upstarts are also getting in on the trend: Danish startup Naturli makes veggie balls, mince and hot dogs from its own pea-based recipe. Swedish company Peas of Heaven offers its own pea-centric range, including Vegan Peacon (a bacon alternative) and Roast Peaf (a beef substitute). Both brands cite pea protein’s sustainability plus points in their messaging.

Big brands are jumping on the pea-wagon too. Cult ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s vegan options include pea protein in the ingredients, as does Unilever’s plant-based Magnum. Frozen food purveyors Birds Eye have made pea protein the star ingredient in their vegan Green Cuisine range, listing its protein content and high vitamin content as particular benefits.

The sports and fitness industry is also evangelical about the pea’s benefits. Sports nutrition brand Pulsin offers pea protein powder alongside traditional whey protein powder - and the plant-based pea product is now its best-selling powder. Pea protein’s 80% protein content and neutral flavour make it an excellent plant-based protein powder that can be mixed into sweet or savoury drinks or dishes. It’s already become a common staple on the shelves of health food stores in Europe and the US, and not just in powdered form - Nestlé has added pea protein to its YES! energy bars, with MYPROTEIN touting its Pea-Nut Squares as a post-exercise pick-me-up.

Case Studies: Mighty Pea & Huel  

Mighty Pea makes ‘pea mylk’ from a pea protein and oat blend as a dairy-free alternative to cow’s milk. Founded by a pair of lactose-intolerant brothers, the siblings settled on peas to turn their plant milk into reality due to its extraordinary protein content and sustainability stats. Already stocked in multiple UK grocery retailers, the company secured £1 million in funding from its existing investors and the UK government this summer. The startup’s plan is to scale up its UK and international distribution, with plans to be stocked in 5,000 stores across Europe and Asia by the end of the year. Recently, the brand has also launched two new flavoured pea mylk products, in banana and chocolate, as well as a frothable ‘barista’ version to rival Oatly’s own cult Barista milk.

Meal replacement company Huel have gone all in on the humble pea, with pea protein one of the main ingredients in its ‘nutritionally complete’ range of bars, beverages and powders. Though replacing conventional foods with powders and shakes isn’t to everyone’s taste, the company has experienced meteoric growth. The brand only launched in 2014, but now sells over 50 million ‘meals’ a year and reported £100 million in run-rate revenue earlier this year.

The missing pea-ce of the plant-based puzzle?

In short, peas sound pretty perfect, right? There seems to be almost no downside to this plant-based protein - good for humans, great for the soil, easy for farmers to grow. Supply may become an issue as the pea’s popularity rockets, so companies that rely on it to manufacture their products are advised to plan well in advance. In the longer term, supply is less likely to be an issue as agriculture can pivot to pea production if it becomes the more productive, lucrative option.

Interestingly, many brands – especially larger, more established companies – don’t draw too much attention to the pea content in their products. The benefit is more of a functional one at the moment as pea protein remains little known outside of a hyper-aware vegan minority. A study last year found that more than 50% of consumers had never heard of pea protein.

Nonetheless, an increasing number of consumers areinterested in the nitty-gritty of where their food comes from. The small, but growing, number of brands who are making the peas themselves the focus of their messaging shows that if awareness is built in the right way, with messaging around sustainability and nutrition targeted at the relevant demographic, there are gains to be made. So it could be high time to give peas a chance.

The 30-second pitch: pea protein

🌱 What

  • Pea protein, extracted from yellow split peas, is increasingly being used as an ingredient in plant-based meat substitutes, as well as a protein-packed component in shakes, energy bars and plant milk.


🤷‍♂️ Why

  • Unlike soya, protein derived from peas is allergen-friendly, sustainable to cultivate and scale and could provide an eco-friendly, plant-based protein source.


🍔 How

  • Pea protein powder
  • Pea protein meat substitutes
  • Pea protein plant milk
  • Pea protein snacks and energy bars
  • Pea protein plant-based products, e.g. ice cream
  • Pea protein meal replacements


👀 Who


👍 The good

  • Compared to some of its other vegan relatives, pea protein is full of vitamins and nutrients with an impressive protein content of up to 80%, so it appeals to health-conscious consumers and stands out in the plant-based pack.
  • Peas can be grown locally in Europe, improve the soil they are grown in and require relatively little water and fertiliser - making them a hit in terms of sustainability.


👎 The bad

  • A survey showed that pea protein is unknown among 50% of consumers, so brands building their mission and messaging around the ingredient may have their work cut out to raise customer awareness and attract customers outside the vegan millennial customer category.
  • Competition will also be strong from other plant-based building blocks, like soya, lab-grown meat, tempeh and other pulses – companies that focus on the pea’s marked advantages are likely to stand out.


💡 The bottom line

  • The pea protein market is expected to grow to $176 million by 2025, so the incredibly versatile yellow split pea looks like it's got a lot of mileage left in it yet. Its sustainability strengths combined with its nutritional profile, neutral flavouring and wide range of uses in both sweet and savoury products are all contributing to its popularity.

Become a FoodHack+ member to get unlimited access

  • Access premium publications
  • Get listed on our directory
  • Join a Global Community

Unlike the avocado or the smoothie bowl, peas don’t have quite the same social media appeal of some of their other plant-based superstars. But what they do have is the protein and sustainability credentials - and that could be more than enough if the pea protein products already on the market are anything to go by. Beyond Meat, Moving Mountains and The Meatless Farm Co. are just some of the brands who’ve been using pea protein in their products for several years, but they’re far from the only ones. In 2017, the global pea protein market was worth $32m and is expected to rise to $176m by 2025, with numerous brands across several categories contributing to this growth.

What is pea protein?

Pea protein is made from yellow split peas. Yes, the kind your grandma used to use to make her famous split pea and ham soup. The protein in split peas - and there is a lot of it - is extracted, milled into a powder and mixed with water to remove starch, then milled again. This leaves behind a protein-filled powder known as pea protein isolate.

Food manufacturers are capitalising on the powder’s protein-heavy attributes and adding it to cereal bars, shakes, milks, plant-based meat products and more. The pea protein powder is also available as a stand-alone product to mix into energy drinks or smoothies.

Trend drivers: veganism, sustainability and protein

Veganism is one of the main drivers pushing pea protein to the front of the pack. With the ever-increasing demand for plant-based food, particularly among younger generations, manufacturers are having to think outside the box for more creative and nutritionally complete vegan options. Pea protein is an excellent option for food brands making meat alternatives as it provides plenty of protein and is easy to flavour - plus it’s a handy alternative to soy, which is a top nine food allergen.

The environmental credentials of pea protein are also working in its favour. In Europe, soy has increasingly borne the brunt of bad press related to its negative effect on rainforests. Peas, on the other hand, come with no such headlines attached – in fact, pea plants actually enrich the soil by adding nitrogen and do not need much fertiliser or water. Peas are also grown easily in the northern hemisphere, reducing the carbon footprint of eventual products. As those looking for plant-based meat substitutes also tend to be engaged on environmental issues, pea protein’s sustainability profile could give it the edge over other plant-based rivals.

The humble pea could also be the answer to the continuing obsession with protein. Health-conscious consumers and fitness enthusiasts are constantly seeking out the most nutritious new protein, while the world also needs to find a sustainable protein source for its growing population. The plant-based protein market, pea included, is expected to balloon to $85 billion by 2030 - which means there’s a lot of potential for the pea to tap into.

Exploring the trend: plant-based meats, protein powders and pea milk

As we’ve learnt, pea protein is hot property in the plant-based meat sector. Famous names like Moving Mountains and Beyond Meat were among the first to start using pea protein for their vegan meat substitutes a few years back. Young upstarts are also getting in on the trend: Danish startup Naturli makes veggie balls, mince and hot dogs from its own pea-based recipe. Swedish company Peas of Heaven offers its own pea-centric range, including Vegan Peacon (a bacon alternative) and Roast Peaf (a beef substitute). Both brands cite pea protein’s sustainability plus points in their messaging.

Big brands are jumping on the pea-wagon too. Cult ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s vegan options include pea protein in the ingredients, as does Unilever’s plant-based Magnum. Frozen food purveyors Birds Eye have made pea protein the star ingredient in their vegan Green Cuisine range, listing its protein content and high vitamin content as particular benefits.

The sports and fitness industry is also evangelical about the pea’s benefits. Sports nutrition brand Pulsin offers pea protein powder alongside traditional whey protein powder - and the plant-based pea product is now its best-selling powder. Pea protein’s 80% protein content and neutral flavour make it an excellent plant-based protein powder that can be mixed into sweet or savoury drinks or dishes. It’s already become a common staple on the shelves of health food stores in Europe and the US, and not just in powdered form - Nestlé has added pea protein to its YES! energy bars, with MYPROTEIN touting its Pea-Nut Squares as a post-exercise pick-me-up.

Case Studies: Mighty Pea & Huel  

Mighty Pea makes ‘pea mylk’ from a pea protein and oat blend as a dairy-free alternative to cow’s milk. Founded by a pair of lactose-intolerant brothers, the siblings settled on peas to turn their plant milk into reality due to its extraordinary protein content and sustainability stats. Already stocked in multiple UK grocery retailers, the company secured £1 million in funding from its existing investors and the UK government this summer. The startup’s plan is to scale up its UK and international distribution, with plans to be stocked in 5,000 stores across Europe and Asia by the end of the year. Recently, the brand has also launched two new flavoured pea mylk products, in banana and chocolate, as well as a frothable ‘barista’ version to rival Oatly’s own cult Barista milk.

Meal replacement company Huel have gone all in on the humble pea, with pea protein one of the main ingredients in its ‘nutritionally complete’ range of bars, beverages and powders. Though replacing conventional foods with powders and shakes isn’t to everyone’s taste, the company has experienced meteoric growth. The brand only launched in 2014, but now sells over 50 million ‘meals’ a year and reported £100 million in run-rate revenue earlier this year.

The missing pea-ce of the plant-based puzzle?

In short, peas sound pretty perfect, right? There seems to be almost no downside to this plant-based protein - good for humans, great for the soil, easy for farmers to grow. Supply may become an issue as the pea’s popularity rockets, so companies that rely on it to manufacture their products are advised to plan well in advance. In the longer term, supply is less likely to be an issue as agriculture can pivot to pea production if it becomes the more productive, lucrative option.

Interestingly, many brands – especially larger, more established companies – don’t draw too much attention to the pea content in their products. The benefit is more of a functional one at the moment as pea protein remains little known outside of a hyper-aware vegan minority. A study last year found that more than 50% of consumers had never heard of pea protein.

Nonetheless, an increasing number of consumers areinterested in the nitty-gritty of where their food comes from. The small, but growing, number of brands who are making the peas themselves the focus of their messaging shows that if awareness is built in the right way, with messaging around sustainability and nutrition targeted at the relevant demographic, there are gains to be made. So it could be high time to give peas a chance.

The 30-second pitch: pea protein

🌱 What

  • Pea protein, extracted from yellow split peas, is increasingly being used as an ingredient in plant-based meat substitutes, as well as a protein-packed component in shakes, energy bars and plant milk.


🤷‍♂️ Why

  • Unlike soya, protein derived from peas is allergen-friendly, sustainable to cultivate and scale and could provide an eco-friendly, plant-based protein source.


🍔 How

  • Pea protein powder
  • Pea protein meat substitutes
  • Pea protein plant milk
  • Pea protein snacks and energy bars
  • Pea protein plant-based products, e.g. ice cream
  • Pea protein meal replacements


👀 Who


👍 The good

  • Compared to some of its other vegan relatives, pea protein is full of vitamins and nutrients with an impressive protein content of up to 80%, so it appeals to health-conscious consumers and stands out in the plant-based pack.
  • Peas can be grown locally in Europe, improve the soil they are grown in and require relatively little water and fertiliser - making them a hit in terms of sustainability.


👎 The bad

  • A survey showed that pea protein is unknown among 50% of consumers, so brands building their mission and messaging around the ingredient may have their work cut out to raise customer awareness and attract customers outside the vegan millennial customer category.
  • Competition will also be strong from other plant-based building blocks, like soya, lab-grown meat, tempeh and other pulses – companies that focus on the pea’s marked advantages are likely to stand out.


💡 The bottom line

  • The pea protein market is expected to grow to $176 million by 2025, so the incredibly versatile yellow split pea looks like it's got a lot of mileage left in it yet. Its sustainability strengths combined with its nutritional profile, neutral flavouring and wide range of uses in both sweet and savoury products are all contributing to its popularity.

Become a FoodHack+ member to get unlimited access

  • Access premium publications
  • Get listed on our directory
  • Join a Global Community

Unlike the avocado or the smoothie bowl, peas don’t have quite the same social media appeal of some of their other plant-based superstars. But what they do have is the protein and sustainability credentials - and that could be more than enough if the pea protein products already on the market are anything to go by. Beyond Meat, Moving Mountains and The Meatless Farm Co. are just some of the brands who’ve been using pea protein in their products for several years, but they’re far from the only ones. In 2017, the global pea protein market was worth $32m and is expected to rise to $176m by 2025, with numerous brands across several categories contributing to this growth.

What is pea protein?

Pea protein is made from yellow split peas. Yes, the kind your grandma used to use to make her famous split pea and ham soup. The protein in split peas - and there is a lot of it - is extracted, milled into a powder and mixed with water to remove starch, then milled again. This leaves behind a protein-filled powder known as pea protein isolate.

Food manufacturers are capitalising on the powder’s protein-heavy attributes and adding it to cereal bars, shakes, milks, plant-based meat products and more. The pea protein powder is also available as a stand-alone product to mix into energy drinks or smoothies.

Trend drivers: veganism, sustainability and protein

Veganism is one of the main drivers pushing pea protein to the front of the pack. With the ever-increasing demand for plant-based food, particularly among younger generations, manufacturers are having to think outside the box for more creative and nutritionally complete vegan options. Pea protein is an excellent option for food brands making meat alternatives as it provides plenty of protein and is easy to flavour - plus it’s a handy alternative to soy, which is a top nine food allergen.

The environmental credentials of pea protein are also working in its favour. In Europe, soy has increasingly borne the brunt of bad press related to its negative effect on rainforests. Peas, on the other hand, come with no such headlines attached – in fact, pea plants actually enrich the soil by adding nitrogen and do not need much fertiliser or water. Peas are also grown easily in the northern hemisphere, reducing the carbon footprint of eventual products. As those looking for plant-based meat substitutes also tend to be engaged on environmental issues, pea protein’s sustainability profile could give it the edge over other plant-based rivals.

The humble pea could also be the answer to the continuing obsession with protein. Health-conscious consumers and fitness enthusiasts are constantly seeking out the most nutritious new protein, while the world also needs to find a sustainable protein source for its growing population. The plant-based protein market, pea included, is expected to balloon to $85 billion by 2030 - which means there’s a lot of potential for the pea to tap into.

Exploring the trend: plant-based meats, protein powders and pea milk

As we’ve learnt, pea protein is hot property in the plant-based meat sector. Famous names like Moving Mountains and Beyond Meat were among the first to start using pea protein for their vegan meat substitutes a few years back. Young upstarts are also getting in on the trend: Danish startup Naturli makes veggie balls, mince and hot dogs from its own pea-based recipe. Swedish company Peas of Heaven offers its own pea-centric range, including Vegan Peacon (a bacon alternative) and Roast Peaf (a beef substitute). Both brands cite pea protein’s sustainability plus points in their messaging.

Big brands are jumping on the pea-wagon too. Cult ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s vegan options include pea protein in the ingredients, as does Unilever’s plant-based Magnum. Frozen food purveyors Birds Eye have made pea protein the star ingredient in their vegan Green Cuisine range, listing its protein content and high vitamin content as particular benefits.

The sports and fitness industry is also evangelical about the pea’s benefits. Sports nutrition brand Pulsin offers pea protein powder alongside traditional whey protein powder - and the plant-based pea product is now its best-selling powder. Pea protein’s 80% protein content and neutral flavour make it an excellent plant-based protein powder that can be mixed into sweet or savoury drinks or dishes. It’s already become a common staple on the shelves of health food stores in Europe and the US, and not just in powdered form - Nestlé has added pea protein to its YES! energy bars, with MYPROTEIN touting its Pea-Nut Squares as a post-exercise pick-me-up.

Case Studies: Mighty Pea & Huel  

Mighty Pea makes ‘pea mylk’ from a pea protein and oat blend as a dairy-free alternative to cow’s milk. Founded by a pair of lactose-intolerant brothers, the siblings settled on peas to turn their plant milk into reality due to its extraordinary protein content and sustainability stats. Already stocked in multiple UK grocery retailers, the company secured £1 million in funding from its existing investors and the UK government this summer. The startup’s plan is to scale up its UK and international distribution, with plans to be stocked in 5,000 stores across Europe and Asia by the end of the year. Recently, the brand has also launched two new flavoured pea mylk products, in banana and chocolate, as well as a frothable ‘barista’ version to rival Oatly’s own cult Barista milk.

Meal replacement company Huel have gone all in on the humble pea, with pea protein one of the main ingredients in its ‘nutritionally complete’ range of bars, beverages and powders. Though replacing conventional foods with powders and shakes isn’t to everyone’s taste, the company has experienced meteoric growth. The brand only launched in 2014, but now sells over 50 million ‘meals’ a year and reported £100 million in run-rate revenue earlier this year.

The missing pea-ce of the plant-based puzzle?

In short, peas sound pretty perfect, right? There seems to be almost no downside to this plant-based protein - good for humans, great for the soil, easy for farmers to grow. Supply may become an issue as the pea’s popularity rockets, so companies that rely on it to manufacture their products are advised to plan well in advance. In the longer term, supply is less likely to be an issue as agriculture can pivot to pea production if it becomes the more productive, lucrative option.

Interestingly, many brands – especially larger, more established companies – don’t draw too much attention to the pea content in their products. The benefit is more of a functional one at the moment as pea protein remains little known outside of a hyper-aware vegan minority. A study last year found that more than 50% of consumers had never heard of pea protein.

Nonetheless, an increasing number of consumers areinterested in the nitty-gritty of where their food comes from. The small, but growing, number of brands who are making the peas themselves the focus of their messaging shows that if awareness is built in the right way, with messaging around sustainability and nutrition targeted at the relevant demographic, there are gains to be made. So it could be high time to give peas a chance.

The 30-second pitch: pea protein

🌱 What

  • Pea protein, extracted from yellow split peas, is increasingly being used as an ingredient in plant-based meat substitutes, as well as a protein-packed component in shakes, energy bars and plant milk.


🤷‍♂️ Why

  • Unlike soya, protein derived from peas is allergen-friendly, sustainable to cultivate and scale and could provide an eco-friendly, plant-based protein source.


🍔 How

  • Pea protein powder
  • Pea protein meat substitutes
  • Pea protein plant milk
  • Pea protein snacks and energy bars
  • Pea protein plant-based products, e.g. ice cream
  • Pea protein meal replacements


👀 Who


👍 The good

  • Compared to some of its other vegan relatives, pea protein is full of vitamins and nutrients with an impressive protein content of up to 80%, so it appeals to health-conscious consumers and stands out in the plant-based pack.
  • Peas can be grown locally in Europe, improve the soil they are grown in and require relatively little water and fertiliser - making them a hit in terms of sustainability.


👎 The bad

  • A survey showed that pea protein is unknown among 50% of consumers, so brands building their mission and messaging around the ingredient may have their work cut out to raise customer awareness and attract customers outside the vegan millennial customer category.
  • Competition will also be strong from other plant-based building blocks, like soya, lab-grown meat, tempeh and other pulses – companies that focus on the pea’s marked advantages are likely to stand out.


💡 The bottom line

  • The pea protein market is expected to grow to $176 million by 2025, so the incredibly versatile yellow split pea looks like it's got a lot of mileage left in it yet. Its sustainability strengths combined with its nutritional profile, neutral flavouring and wide range of uses in both sweet and savoury products are all contributing to its popularity.

Unlike the avocado or the smoothie bowl, peas don’t have quite the same social media appeal of some of their other plant-based superstars. But what they do have is the protein and sustainability credentials - and that could be more than enough if the pea protein products already on the market are anything to go by. Beyond Meat, Moving Mountains and The Meatless Farm Co. are just some of the brands who’ve been using pea protein in their products for several years, but they’re far from the only ones. In 2017, the global pea protein market was worth $32m and is expected to rise to $176m by 2025, with numerous brands across several categories contributing to this growth.

What is pea protein?

Pea protein is made from yellow split peas. Yes, the kind your grandma used to use to make her famous split pea and ham soup. The protein in split peas - and there is a lot of it - is extracted, milled into a powder and mixed with water to remove starch, then milled again. This leaves behind a protein-filled powder known as pea protein isolate.

Food manufacturers are capitalising on the powder’s protein-heavy attributes and adding it to cereal bars, shakes, milks, plant-based meat products and more. The pea protein powder is also available as a stand-alone product to mix into energy drinks or smoothies.

Trend drivers: veganism, sustainability and protein

Veganism is one of the main drivers pushing pea protein to the front of the pack. With the ever-increasing demand for plant-based food, particularly among younger generations, manufacturers are having to think outside the box for more creative and nutritionally complete vegan options. Pea protein is an excellent option for food brands making meat alternatives as it provides plenty of protein and is easy to flavour - plus it’s a handy alternative to soy, which is a top nine food allergen.

The environmental credentials of pea protein are also working in its favour. In Europe, soy has increasingly borne the brunt of bad press related to its negative effect on rainforests. Peas, on the other hand, come with no such headlines attached – in fact, pea plants actually enrich the soil by adding nitrogen and do not need much fertiliser or water. Peas are also grown easily in the northern hemisphere, reducing the carbon footprint of eventual products. As those looking for plant-based meat substitutes also tend to be engaged on environmental issues, pea protein’s sustainability profile could give it the edge over other plant-based rivals.

The humble pea could also be the answer to the continuing obsession with protein. Health-conscious consumers and fitness enthusiasts are constantly seeking out the most nutritious new protein, while the world also needs to find a sustainable protein source for its growing population. The plant-based protein market, pea included, is expected to balloon to $85 billion by 2030 - which means there’s a lot of potential for the pea to tap into.

Exploring the trend: plant-based meats, protein powders and pea milk

As we’ve learnt, pea protein is hot property in the plant-based meat sector. Famous names like Moving Mountains and Beyond Meat were among the first to start using pea protein for their vegan meat substitutes a few years back. Young upstarts are also getting in on the trend: Danish startup Naturli makes veggie balls, mince and hot dogs from its own pea-based recipe. Swedish company Peas of Heaven offers its own pea-centric range, including Vegan Peacon (a bacon alternative) and Roast Peaf (a beef substitute). Both brands cite pea protein’s sustainability plus points in their messaging.

Big brands are jumping on the pea-wagon too. Cult ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s vegan options include pea protein in the ingredients, as does Unilever’s plant-based Magnum. Frozen food purveyors Birds Eye have made pea protein the star ingredient in their vegan Green Cuisine range, listing its protein content and high vitamin content as particular benefits.

The sports and fitness industry is also evangelical about the pea’s benefits. Sports nutrition brand Pulsin offers pea protein powder alongside traditional whey protein powder - and the plant-based pea product is now its best-selling powder. Pea protein’s 80% protein content and neutral flavour make it an excellent plant-based protein powder that can be mixed into sweet or savoury drinks or dishes. It’s already become a common staple on the shelves of health food stores in Europe and the US, and not just in powdered form - Nestlé has added pea protein to its YES! energy bars, with MYPROTEIN touting its Pea-Nut Squares as a post-exercise pick-me-up.

Case Studies: Mighty Pea & Huel  

Mighty Pea makes ‘pea mylk’ from a pea protein and oat blend as a dairy-free alternative to cow’s milk. Founded by a pair of lactose-intolerant brothers, the siblings settled on peas to turn their plant milk into reality due to its extraordinary protein content and sustainability stats. Already stocked in multiple UK grocery retailers, the company secured £1 million in funding from its existing investors and the UK government this summer. The startup’s plan is to scale up its UK and international distribution, with plans to be stocked in 5,000 stores across Europe and Asia by the end of the year. Recently, the brand has also launched two new flavoured pea mylk products, in banana and chocolate, as well as a frothable ‘barista’ version to rival Oatly’s own cult Barista milk.

Meal replacement company Huel have gone all in on the humble pea, with pea protein one of the main ingredients in its ‘nutritionally complete’ range of bars, beverages and powders. Though replacing conventional foods with powders and shakes isn’t to everyone’s taste, the company has experienced meteoric growth. The brand only launched in 2014, but now sells over 50 million ‘meals’ a year and reported £100 million in run-rate revenue earlier this year.

The missing pea-ce of the plant-based puzzle?

In short, peas sound pretty perfect, right? There seems to be almost no downside to this plant-based protein - good for humans, great for the soil, easy for farmers to grow. Supply may become an issue as the pea’s popularity rockets, so companies that rely on it to manufacture their products are advised to plan well in advance. In the longer term, supply is less likely to be an issue as agriculture can pivot to pea production if it becomes the more productive, lucrative option.

Interestingly, many brands – especially larger, more established companies – don’t draw too much attention to the pea content in their products. The benefit is more of a functional one at the moment as pea protein remains little known outside of a hyper-aware vegan minority. A study last year found that more than 50% of consumers had never heard of pea protein.

Nonetheless, an increasing number of consumers areinterested in the nitty-gritty of where their food comes from. The small, but growing, number of brands who are making the peas themselves the focus of their messaging shows that if awareness is built in the right way, with messaging around sustainability and nutrition targeted at the relevant demographic, there are gains to be made. So it could be high time to give peas a chance.

The 30-second pitch: pea protein

🌱 What

  • Pea protein, extracted from yellow split peas, is increasingly being used as an ingredient in plant-based meat substitutes, as well as a protein-packed component in shakes, energy bars and plant milk.


🤷‍♂️ Why

  • Unlike soya, protein derived from peas is allergen-friendly, sustainable to cultivate and scale and could provide an eco-friendly, plant-based protein source.


🍔 How

  • Pea protein powder
  • Pea protein meat substitutes
  • Pea protein plant milk
  • Pea protein snacks and energy bars
  • Pea protein plant-based products, e.g. ice cream
  • Pea protein meal replacements


👀 Who


👍 The good

  • Compared to some of its other vegan relatives, pea protein is full of vitamins and nutrients with an impressive protein content of up to 80%, so it appeals to health-conscious consumers and stands out in the plant-based pack.
  • Peas can be grown locally in Europe, improve the soil they are grown in and require relatively little water and fertiliser - making them a hit in terms of sustainability.


👎 The bad

  • A survey showed that pea protein is unknown among 50% of consumers, so brands building their mission and messaging around the ingredient may have their work cut out to raise customer awareness and attract customers outside the vegan millennial customer category.
  • Competition will also be strong from other plant-based building blocks, like soya, lab-grown meat, tempeh and other pulses – companies that focus on the pea’s marked advantages are likely to stand out.


💡 The bottom line

  • The pea protein market is expected to grow to $176 million by 2025, so the incredibly versatile yellow split pea looks like it's got a lot of mileage left in it yet. Its sustainability strengths combined with its nutritional profile, neutral flavouring and wide range of uses in both sweet and savoury products are all contributing to its popularity.