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Minnesota company betting on pea protein as next best thing in trendy eating

Mike Hughlett, Star Tribune (Minneapolis) on

Published in Business News

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Lorenzen family was into pea protein long before it became trendy.

Iowa seed salesman Jerry Lorenzen started developing strains of organic peas in the mid-1980s. Today, his family's company, Puris LLC, is the largest U.S. pea protein producer with more than $100 million in annual sales.

Just last month, agribusiness giant Cargill invested $25 million in Puris to help the company expand its production capacity, a federal securities filing indicates.

Minneapolis-based Puris mills yellow peas, the fodder for pea soup, into protein powder and nuggets that are used in products ranging from sports drinks to snack bars.

The pea protein business has taken off in recent years as consumers seek more ­protein generally, and particularly from plants. Soy protein has traditionally been the leading plant protein. But pea protein is surging as demand grows for organic and non-GMO food products.

"The pea business is absolutely driving the growth of (Puris)," said Tyler Lorenzen, Jerry's son and Puris' president.

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Puris food scientists Marguerite Yang, Alex King, Kushal Chandak and Dakota Quimby did a sensory analysis of a nondairy plant-based milk using Puris protein in their Minneapolis food lab.

Puris sells seeds to farmers and then buys their harvests. The company then disassembles peas into starch, fiber and protein, though protein commands the biggest market. In 2016, Puris moved its headquarters from Oskaloosa, Iowa -- where CEO Jerry Lorenzen lives -- to an office near International Market Square.

The company, which employs about 150, has a pea flour mill in Oskaloosa and a plant in Turtle Lake, Wis., that makes its final product, pea protein "isolate." Puris also has two small plants that clean organic and non-GMO soybeans, one each in Minnesota and Illinois.

The "Puris" moniker is new, rolled out last year to replace World Food Processing, its longtime name.

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