Q&A with Jeff Casper, Director of Research & Applications

Jeff has worked in product and ingredient development and commercialization for 25 years. His experience has spanned from grain-based food and beverage to sweeteners, fats, oils, and dairy. As the Director of Research and Applications at Merit Functional Foods, Jeff helps formulators overcome common application challenges using Merit’s highly functional line of non-GMO Puratein® canola proteins and Peazac® and Peazazz® pea proteins.

Q – What would you say sets Merit’s pea and canola protein apart from other plant proteins?

Merit’s plant proteins are unlike anything currently on the market!

Our non-GMO pea protein is produced using a patented process that results in high purity, low flavour intensity, and smooth texture due to its high solubility – these are claims that don’t apply to other pea proteins currently available to manufacturers. Our pea protein ingredients have unique compositions resulting in equally unique functional properties that make a noticeable difference in the mouthfeel of plant-based applications like dairy alternatives, ready-to-mix powders, and protein bars. The high purity of our Peazazz® pea protein for example allows formulators to boost the protein content of their plant-based products when their formulation demands fewer protein ingredients to achieve their protein goals, as is often the case with protein bars and ready-to-mix powders.

Our line-up of non-GMO Puratein® canola protein also has unique functionality, and in particular, offers improved solubility and mouthfeel for ready-to-mix protein powders and softening of protein bars throughout shelf life – while simultaneously improving the nutritional profile of the products. Our proprietary canola protein extraction process is hexane-free and starts with cold-pressed non-GMO canola seeds. Through proprietary technology, impurities are removed, so you are left with high quality canola protein with improved taste and texture

I believe the product improvements achieved by using Merit’s functional plant proteins will help drive purchases in the plant-based space, which is important at a time when trial is high but repeat buying is not – because consumers are having a hard time finding products that don’t require them to sacrifice their eating experience.

Q – How does Merit’s experienced R&D team collaborate with food & beverage brands to help them overcome innovation challenges?

Our priority is to understand the functionality of our ingredients and their behavior within the context of formula and process as deeply as possible so we can best advise our customers which of Merit’s novel proteins are the right fit for their products and to help them overcome any challenges they are facing.

A wide range of needs come up in our discussions with customers, like nutritional goals, replacing other sources of protein, and enhancing or modifying functionality for better processing and improved sensory. Our team, which has decades of product development and ingredient application experience, does everything from advising on customer challenges and co-development, to joining in on the bench work to discover how to best utilize our proteins in formulations or processes.

The innovation of our team along with our capabilities can help accelerate the development of finished formulas that work well in process and deliver the attributes consumers want in the final product. We can work virtually with customers or on site at their facility to collaborate in person.

Q – What challenge(s) are you currently most excited to help brands solve?

Many plant-based products continue to struggle to achieve appealing flavor, texture, and appearance, especially in the dairy and meat alternative categories. Helping customers develop plant-based products that consumers love and can’t tell the difference between their traditional counterparts is fun work!

Additionally, with some of the different proteins coming on the market like Merit’s novel non-GMO Puratein® canola protein, there are many new untapped opportunities to innovate foods that don’t try to emulate anything already in existence!

There are also unique proteins in nature that remain to be elusive as far as matching functional properties using plants – like casein for example. Taking plant proteins and increasing the functionality of those tools is a challenge that we are determined to take on through both material and process. That’s why Merit’s proprietary extraction process is so exciting because we can actually make proteins that are more functional, with lower flavor intensity than other plant proteins.

I would say one of my favorites to date has been our plant protein bar concept. We’ve found that our Puratein® C canola protein in combination with our Peazazz® pea protein helps to keep bars softer throughout shelf life – up to 12 months, which is exciting news for sports nutrition companies! We also recently collaborated on a pea and canola protein fortified vegan chocolate compound for enrobing and inclusions in plant-based bars, adding even more options to formulator’s toolkits.

I’m also an ice cream fanatic, and I have found that the use of our Puratein® C and HS canola proteins have been great for modifying the texture of plant-based frozen dessert- both hard pack and soft-serve. Many products currently on the market have a very dense and icy texture, and lack a mouth feel that is like traditional ice cream. The concept we’ve developed at Merit offers the sensory experience you would expect from a premium dairy-based ice cream.

On the pea protein side, our yogurt concept made with Peazazz® is exciting. I find that most of the plant-based yogurts currently on market have off flavors and poor texture, even at protein levels lower than their dairy counterparts. Many of these products rely heavily on hydrocolloids to hide the grainy texture of plant proteins at acidic pH. Merit’s yogurt concept offers a creamy, dairy-like texture and taste even at equal to dairy protein levels and after fermentation.

Q – What’s on deck for the R&D team at Merit? Are there any new innovations or research findings that you want to share?

Our applications portfolio is always growing!

We recently showcased a plant-based Cookie Dough bar enrobed in protein fortified vegan chocolate with 20g of protein per serving at Natural Products Expo West. We have also been developing some other exciting concepts including a pea protein tofu, methylcellulose free burger, high-protein vegan pancake mix, and egg free cookie concepts, with more innovative applications in the works!

Visit our applications pages for information about all the concepts developed by our R&D team, then get in touch for samples!

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