Solanic is the natural choice

Solanic BV is an innovative new company that produces natural high-performance proteins sourced from non-genetically modified potatoes, which have been carefully extracted to provide unique benefits as ingredients in consumer products.

They have optimally balanced amino acid composition and offer superior digestibility to animal proteins. Solanic is a wholly owned subsidiary of the world’s largest potato starch producer AVEBE and production commences in October 2007 once Solanic’s first manufacturing facility, situated in Holland, is ready.

AVEBE has developed and patented new process capabilities to extract protein from potatoes for human consumption so that Solanic can market the proteins to the food and pharmaceutical industries. This pioneering technology allows a vegetable based protein with the properties of animal protein to be used in a variety of applications where a nourishing, natural ingredient is favoured. The company has responded to a growing consumer preference for natural vegetable proteins without compromising on quality or functionality.

“AVEBE is a large farmer owned co-operative and its strategy has been to increase the value of the potato, which contains about 18 per cent starch, 80 per cent water and 1.2 per cent protein,” explains Solanic’s commercial director Frank Goovaerts. “We have known for years that potato protein has good nutritional value and excellent properties but, until now, nobody has been able to extract it at a quality sufficient for human consumption. AVEBE formed Solanic at the beginning of 2007 to focus solely on this, choosing this name because Solanum is Latin for ‘potato’ and ic stands for ‘derived from’. The intention is to retrieve all kinds of products from the potato such as enzymes, peptides and amino acids but the first step in creating our vision is the extraction of proteins. We are producing three structures of different proteins from the potato, which no other company is able to extract at this quality. Construction of our new plant is underway next to one of AVEBE’s large starch factories in Holland.”

The extracted proteins have many high-grade properties and functions that allow them to be used in a diverse range of applications. “Of the many proteins sold on the market, there are basically two big groups,” says Frank. “One is animal based proteins and the other is vegetable based proteins. When we talk about vegetable, the biggest volumes today are in soy protein concentrates, soy protein isolates and gluten, though there are proteins on the market derived from peas, beans and rice. In the area of animal proteins there are eggs, egg whites, gelatine, whey and caseine, and the majority of protein in the Western diet is animal based. However, as a result of growing concerns for health and food safety in light of scares such as BSE and avian flu, there has been a shift towards plant-based protein. Issues related to food allergens such as lactose intolerance have also encouraged a switch to soy based vegetable proteins, though functionality is weak. The unique factor about the potato protein is that it is vegetable based with properties similar to animal protein. It has applications in baking where it can replace egg white due to its high foam stability and it actually generates a larger foam volume at the same concentration as whipped egg white.

“We’re also looking at dairy applications and replacing whey proteins in yoghurt with potato proteins, achieving extremely good results. Our potato proteins have better emulsifying properties than dairy and egg proteins, as well as high solubility, and we’re now working with potential customers in meat formulation and confectionary. A completely separate application area is in the pharmaceutical industry as one of the protein fractions we produce has unique properties in preventing skin irritation such as bedsores, dermatitis and nappy rash.” Frank views the company’s investment in R&D as an ongoing process that will uncover new applications using Solanic’s unique proteins. “Today we manufacture three different protein fractions leading to roughly eight different products but through R&D we will encounter new products and most applications with potential customers are in the area of new product development. For example, one of our protein fractions contains satiety agents so we’re conducting research into quantifying that to develop a new product for the weight-loss market.”

Solanic’s customers operate in different areas throughout the food, beverage and pharmaceutical industries and, with the discovery of new uses for its proteins, its client base will expand further. “We’ve had a great reaction with about 150 customers in the pipeline already, mostly in Europe – this is our initial focus – but we’re also receiving requests from the US,” says Frank. “Most of our customers are in food manufacturing, such as suppliers to the baking industry that produce pre-mixes and in the dairy industry where we’re developing yoghurt drinks. We’re researching beverages, particularly sports drinks, and carrying out developmental research in the meat and confectionary industries, as well as in different kinds of food processing with ready meals and frozen foods.”

Frank has already recognised a potential challenge, though it is one that is ultimately positive: “Our first difficulty is actually quite exciting. We’ve had such a large response that we’re concerned our factory won’t be able to supply the demand but luckily we have a productionm design we can easily upscale. The current factory might not have enough capacity to meet demand, which is obviously a very exciting position for us to be in as we’re facing selling out in our first year.”

The future looks good for Solanic as the demand for high-performance natural proteins continues to rise. “I think the market has been growing significantly and, according to our research, about 1.5 million tonnes of protein are sold around the world in food,” comments Frank. “Much of the growth relates to an overall consumer trend towards health and wellbeing and if you look at the big growth in dairy whey proteins, you will see that their popularity is due to certain health claims. We want to take advantage of that trend and our overall intention is to become a niche player in the high-value protein ingredient market where we will create significant value for our customers, shareholders and stakeholders, which should allow us to develop and create new innovations in other areas.”

Products: High-performance proteins
Sites: Holland
Employees: 15