Vice-President for Pea and New Proteins at Roquette
Expanding Horizons: An Interview with Roquette’s Jean-Philippe Azoulay
The company’s vice president for pea and new proteins talks pulses in the age of plant-based foods.
The market for plant-based foods has taken off. Estimated at $4.5 billion in 2018, it is forecast to hit $85 billion by 2030. In large part, the fuel behind this explosive growth has been the humble yellow pea, the darling of alt-meat big hitters like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods. These two companies have seen consumer demand for their plant-based food products grow so rapidly that they have both run up against supply chain issues.
That’s where Roquette, based in Lestrem France, steps in. Founded in 1933, the family-owned company has been in the plant-based ingredients business since its inception and has expanded to become one of the world’s largest pea processors and plant protein suppliers.
“The plant protein sector is like a startup, in that there are fewer players, less historical data and booming demand,” says Jean-Philippe Azoulay, Roquette’s vice president for pea and new proteins. “A more collaborative supplier-customer relationship is needed, and that requires investment in new partnership models. Roquette is investing large amounts to ensure that the supply is absolutely secure, safe and sustainable.”
In total, Roquette is investing half a billion euros to meet the increasing global demand for high-quality pea protein. An important part of that investment is Roquette’s new plant in Portage la Prairie, Canada, scheduled to come online end of 2020. Combined with the company’s Vic-sur-Aisne facility, it will give Roquette unparalleled annual processing capacity.
But to maintain its leadership position in the rapidly evolving plant-protein market, Roquette is looking to expand its horizons in other ways, as well.
“We are already looking beyond peas,” said Jean-Philippe in an interview at the Future Food-Tech Summit in London this past October.
Just two months after he joined Roquette as its vice president for pea and new proteins, Jean Philippe shared his thoughts with us about pulses and the future of food.
GPC: Congratulations on your new position! For starters, could you tell us a bit about your background and how it is you came to be Roquette’s new vice president for pea and new proteins?
Jean-Philippe: I have worked in the field of plant protection and food production for almost 20 years. I was the Global Director of DuPont’s Nutrition Business and, just prior to joining Roquette, I served as the Director General of the European Crop Protection Association. Over the course of my career, I developed a passion for food production and for how companies can innovate to make production systems more sustainable.
My connection with Roquette dates back about four years ago. I was with DuPont’s Nutrition Division at the time. Roquette contacted me again a couple of months ago and told me about their work with pea protein. I found the opportunity to contribute to a high-growth business and to participate in the global shift in food production too attractive to pass up. And so I joined Roquette back in July.
GPC: What have been the biggest challenges and rewards of the new position thus far?
Jean-Philippe: The biggest challenge so far has been staying focused on executing the many necessary actions, as there are a lot of stimulating developments and activities in the plant protein sector. Currently, the supply is tight, and it is very rewarding to be able to live up to our commitment to serve customers in this situation.
GPC: The Portage plant is generating a lot of excitement in the pulse industry. What can you tell us about Roquette’s plans in North America?
Jean-Philippe: The pea protein market is a strategic pillar for Roquette. This investment in North America will contribute to the Group’s global growth as a leader in Food, Nutrition and Health markets, and create value for all stakeholders while, at the same time, establishing Roquette as a prime, long-term partner for its worldwide customers. The Portage plant will significantly reinforce the Group’s leadership in plant protein.
GPC: In several interviews, you mentioned that Roquette is looking beyond peas. Why is that and what other pulse crops is Roquette considering?
Jean-Philippe: There is growing consumer demand for sensory diversity and sustainable nutritional improvement. We need to adapt a forward-looking approach to be able to respond to this massive movement. At Roquette, we have more than 40 years of experience in plant protein R&D and have always been a pioneer in the plant-based specialty proteins sector for the Food, Nutrition and Health markets. Diversifying our sources of sustainable proteins is essential. Roquette has worked for several years to study the next generation of plant-based proteins, so that we can identify the most effective and sustainable sources that are also aligned with the needs of food producers.
The fava bean is one of them. It is a valuable crop and is a rich source of protein and fiber. Its characteristics will leverage strong food innovation opportunities.
GPC: At GPC, we strongly advocate for sustainability in food production. Could you tell us about Roquette’s sustainable development approach to the market?
Jean-Philippe: The creation of a sustainable sector is a priority for Roquette and the basis of our procurement strategy. In collaboration with our pea suppliers, we have defined innovative agronomic practices, based on varietal selection, optimized farming practices and controlled management of plant protection products, all in compliance with the various regulations and with the aim of reducing their environmental impact.
We have also established dedicated logistics, procedures to ensure traceability from upstream agriculture to downstream production. Following the successful launch of this traceability initiative in France, a global development is underway. We support an approach of progressing toward responsible agronomic specifications, the adoption of modern technologies and digitalization for the intelligent monitoring of crops.
GPC: What do you see as the next frontier in plant-based food innovation?
Jean-Philippe: When it comes to our plant-based products, Roquette is not just looking to cater to vegans or vegetarians, but to everyone interested in increasing the veg they eat. We want people to eat a variety of things in order to have a balanced diet. In that sense, it’s about providing consumers with choices and opportunities to add more plants in their diets.
In that respect, the next big challenges will be to enhance and improve taste and texture in order to diversify alternative meat production and move beyond the burger.