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Fava bean innovation opens new avenue for plant-based product development: ‘We are thrilled to imagine where this will lead us’

Finland’s Verso Food is the market-leading plant-based brand in its domestic market where it sells Beanit chunks and mince. The company entered the UK market in January 2020 and has a presence in Poland, Japan and Sweden, with further international expansion planned.

The Beanit brand is all about the fava bean. This ‘new old food’ holds ‘great potential’ due to its sustainability, taste and nutrition values, Verso believes.

“The Finnish fava bean is a unique ingredient that constantly amazes us with its applicability. Our country’s clean environment, pure processing water and high-quality standards are also strong assets,”​ chief executive Tomi Järvenpää said.

The company sources its fava beans from the region surrounding its production facility in Kauhava, Finland. However, processing fava beans into meat analogues has proven challenging.

“The fava bean has its limitations,”​ Järvenpää told us. “It is very difficult to find the right texture in fava bean products.”

Verso’s key innovation is the extraction of fava bean protein through a process based on wet extrusion, for which the company has just been granted a patent​.

Landscape_from_the_region_where_we_source_our_beans[1]

Verso Food sources its fava beans in the region surrounding its processing facility / Pic: Verso

The group has developed a method to manufacture a fava-based food product with a fibrous structure ‘close to’ cooked meat and chicken. The process includes mixing dehulled fava bean flour and vegetable protein flour to obtain a basic mixture. Water is then added, and the hydrated mixture is kneaded and heated in an extruder to form meat analogue products.

“Extrusion provides the meat-like, fibrous texture that our products have been praised for. We believe that meeting the consumers’ high requirements for mouthfeel is one of the crucial things on the way to success,”​ Järvenpää observed.

“In a broader sense, with wet extrusion we found a way to bring the Nordic fava bean back to people’s plates. The format is modern, great tasting and easy to use, and therefore provides a great solution to the current demand.”

Innovation opportunities and global growth

The development is significant development for the plant-based category as a whole because there are a limited number of protein-rich crops to choose from. Soy, pea, wheat and oat are among the most popular options. Verso’s method of processing fava beans therefore opens a new avenue for innovation.

Verso Food CEO_Tomi_Järvenpää[1]

Verso’s CEO comments on the rapid development of plant-based innovation / Pic: Verso Foods

“There is much more to discover. We find ourselves at the beginning of the path when applying wet extrusion with fava bean. Already at this point we have succeeded in developing products loved by a wide audience, and we are thrilled to imagine where this will lead us,”​ the chief executive enthused.

Securing the patent is an important milestone in Verso’s plan for international expansion. It covers 36 European countries, with more markets pending. “The patent is of great importance to us as we aim to establish a strong global position specifically within fava bean foods,”​ Järvenpää told us.

The branded manufacturer also wants to develop business-to-business sales, supplying its fava bean meat analogue as an ingredient, he continued.

“Answering the needs of B2B-partners has been of one of our key goals as we see a lot of business opportunities in delivering our products to be used as an ingredient. Sure enough, the food and foodservice industries have expressed great interest for our products thanks to their suitability for different production methods – [such as] warm kitchens, cold kitchens, cook and chill or cold cooking. We have ongoing negotiations with several players from the field of food industry and food service across Europe.”

Järvenpää believes that this kind of innovation around sustainable Finnish ingredients will help place the country’s food development sector at the heart of the plant-based boom in Europe.

“The plant-based food markets are still young both globally and in Finland, but we do see an exceptionally high know-how and progression in our market. I believe Finland as a country could have the position to stand out as a forerunner in this arena. It’s something we really can be proud of.”

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