ANAHEIM, CALIF. — Plants are becoming a bigger priority for the Campbell Soup Co., which is "literally scouring the earth" for new sources of protein, said Carlos Barroso, senior vice-president, Global Research and Development and Quality.
"We’re focused on plant proteins, but there’s more to the plant than just the protein," Mr. Barroso said during a panel discussion at Natural Products Expo West, held March 8-11 in Anaheim. "At Campbell’s, we already produce 15 billion servings of vegetables every year."
The company's new Bolthouse Farms Plant Protein Milk contains 10 grams of protein from peas, which compares with 1 gram of protein in almond milk. Flavors include original, chocolate, unsweetened and vanilla.
"Making our product taste good with 10 grams of plant-based protein is a challenge, and fortunately we have some great scientists and chefs that work together and bring the culinary part with the science, and when you do that right, and I’m sure my colleagues will attest to this, you build layers of protectable advantage," Mr. Barroso said. "In R.&D. that’s really our lifeblood in how we provide value to our shareholders is making sure when we deliver the right product to our consumers we’re doing it in a way that is superior and hopefully can’t be readily copied."
Innovating with plants is an important part of Campbell's journey to becoming the leading health and wellbeing company, he said. While plant-based diets once were largely driven by ethical concerns, today consumers are choosing more dairy and meat alternatives for health and sustainability reasons, as well as an improvement in the quality of products available on the market.
"We’re focused on plant proteins, but there’s more to the plant than just the protein." — Carlos Barroso, the Campbell Soup Co.
"Even if you can’t get a perfect match, what’s important in the food industry is to understand the cues," Mr. Barroso said. "If the taste, texture and key cues are there, as well as the cooking experience, then that can go a long way. You might have a dead ringer for a hamburger, but if it doesn’t have that same sensory experience, even the sizzle, there may be something missing, and you may not even be able to articulate it, so that’s really important, I think. Beyond Meat has done a fantastic job with that. It looks like a hamburger, sounds like a hamburger.
"Same thing is important with plant-based milks. The viscosity is critical."
An added challenge in plant-based product development is achieving the desired taste, texture and eating experience while using few, recognizable ingredients.
"Today some products get a pass with a longer ingredient label because they’re providing some benefit that’s important to consumers, but I think there’s a limit to how long they’re going to get that pass," Mr. Barroso said. "We definitely see clean label continuing to grow, and consumers want to know what’s in their product; they want transparency. We’ve been working very hard to provide that transparency."
Last year, Campbell Soup introduced Well Yes! soups made with simple ingredients and no added flavors. The product line was developed to draw new and lapsed consumers to the brand.
"We don’t even add natural flavors; everything in that soup is coming from natural ingredients," Mr. Barroso said. "We have things like quinoa and black rice. At Expo West, those ingredients may seem par for the course, but for the mass market — and we are a mass market company — this is what we call a safe adventure. Getting away from the normal grains and legumes to something a little bit more exciting. And it’s paying off big time."
To more quickly respond to evolving consumer demands, Campbell Soup pursues multiple paths to innovation, including new product development, acquisitions and investments in food start-ups through its venture capital fund, Acre Venture Partners. Recently, the company acquired organic soup maker Pacific Foods and is near completion of its acquisition of Snyder's-Lance.
"It is hard to be agile when you’re a large company and have this corporate overhead, but that doesn’t mean we don’t try," Mr. Barroso said."...We really look for the stimulation and new creative thinking that comes from working with the start-ups.
"Before I was at Campbell's I was a consultant, and I worked with a lot of pre-revenue and early-stage companies, and I saw how we could do things in a week that sometimes takes months to do in the corporate world, so I’m constantly challenging me and our team… maybe we can’t do it in a week because we have a few more regulatory hurdles to get over, but how about a month instead of six months?"