MONTREAL — A global Pulse Innovation Platform (P.I.P.) designed to increase production and consumption of pulses such as chickpeas, peas, beans and lentils launched March 10 at McGill University in Montreal. The P.I.P. brings together partners in academia, private and public sectors as well as partners in farm, food and health sectors, both in emerging and developed economies.
PepsiCo, Inc., Purchase, N.Y., and Firmenich, Geneva, are two of the sponsors, said Chris Lannon, Ph.D., managing director for the McGill Centre for the Convergence of Health and Economics, and chair and moderator for the March 10 meeting.
“We’ve got a number of partners confirmed at the global level,” he said. “We certainly would welcome some more.”
Businesses from along the pulse value chain are represented as well as research and development organizations. The Pulse Innovation Platform launched during the United Nations’ “International Year of Pulses.”
“We really wanted to capture that momentum and awareness created by the year and leverage that to launch the platform during 2016,” Dr. Lannon said. “Certainly the efforts go well beyond 2016.”
Besides packing such health attributes as plant protein, pulses may offer sustainability benefits as well.
“From a nutrition story, it’s a fantastic story due to the health benefits of pulses,” Dr. Lannon said. “It’s a great story from an environmental perspective: How good growing pulses is for the soil. They fix nitrogen. It’s a great crop from a sustainability perspective.”
The P.I.P. will examine how pulses may play roles in battling such issues as food insecurity and non-communicable diseases. For example, pulses do not need as much irrigation as some other crops. They traditionally are grown by small holder farmers in such places as India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh where irrigation is not prominent, Dr. Lannon said.
The P.I.P. plans to set up an innovation platform in India and possibly one in Ethiopia. The regions historically consume large amounts of pulses, and the P.I.P. already has an existing network of partners, growers, food manufacturers and researchers in the two areas, Dr. Lannon said.
Consumers in more developed countries are becoming aware of such sustainability issues.
“That plays a big part in the food choices, or it’s becoming a bigger part in the food choices that people are making in North America,” Dr. Lannon said. “I’m not sure it’s yet a mainstream motivator of choice, but it’s certainly becoming more important. People are starting to get a little bit of a better connection with how and where and why their food is grown.”
Pulse consumption could improve in North America.
“The trouble is, certainly in the Western markets, there seems to be a problem with consumer acceptance,” Dr. Lannon said. “We certainly don’t consume pulses to the extent that we could.”
He noted the need to improve flavor. Ping Zhong, vice-president of innovation, global flavors for Firmenich, spoke on that issue at the March 10 event.
“We certainly recognize that this off-taste with pulses is something that needs to be overcome in order to get mainstream acceptance of pulses,” Dr. Lannon said.
The P.I.P. will seek to find the “sweet spot” for pulses, and it involves more than just flavor. The “sweet spot” involves an intersection of five areas, Dr. Lannon said.
First, it should be food that people need, as in having nutrition benefits. Second, it should be food that people are willing and able to pay for. Third, it should be food that people want, which brings in the taste component.
For the fourth area, the farmers and others on the value chain should be willing and able to produce it.
“So the farmer needs to be economically incentivized,” Dr. Lannon said.
Finally, it should be sustainable long term.