Maija Itkonen
Maija Itkonen
Plant-based product development has seen particularly strong momentum across snack and baking—both in Europe and the U.S. Some of this momentum behind plant-based eating relates directly to a consumer desire for a nutritionally improved diet. The intersection of plant-based and better-for-you holds great potential for innovation and development.

In order to learn more about these combined trends, we reached out to Maija Itkonen, co-founder and chief innovation officer, Gold&Green Foods, Helsinki, for some perspectives on better-for-you snack and bakery product development and the broader use of plant-based protein in America.


Douglas J. Peckenpaugh: What are some of the top trends in better-for-you snack and bakery product development today?

Maija Itkonen: Customers want to snack with a purpose, so snacks and bakery products have become increasingly health and wellness focused, especially those that are plant based, high in protein, and are all around well balanced nutritionally. Consumers are paying more attention to the label—they want to know what they are eating and where it was sourced.


DJP: How does Pulled Oats factor into these consumer patters?

MI: When the idea of Pulled Oats was conceived, I was determined to make a product that adhered to very specific criteria. It had to of course taste good, but it also had to be made of simple, familiar ingredients, it had to be nutritious and filling, it had to be sustainable, and it had to have a clean label with no additives. My “a-ha” moment came when I started thinking about the amazing nutritional attributes of our local Nordic oats in Finland and the fact that oats are one of the most-sustainable crops grown today.

It took a lot of trial and error, but we were determined to stick to the formulations guidelines we had put in place. The patented mechanical process we developed allows the ingredient list to remain short and familiar without using chemicals or additives. There are only five ingredients in Pulled Oats: Nordic oats, fava beans, yellow peas, oil, and salt. The result is a protein-rich, plant-based crumble with a meaty “pulled” texture.

We launched Pulled Oats in foodservice in the U.S. in 2020 and just recently started introducing it to American manufacturers, so it’s still very new as an industrial ingredient. We’ve had great success throughout Europe, and we know the demand for high-quality plant-based protein is only going to keep growing.


DJP: What are the ingredients available to food product developers?

MI: We just launched two new products, Protein Granules and Flakes, which are ideal industrial ingredients, especially in the snack and bakery category. They are made with just three ingredients: oat bran, pea, and fava bean protein. The Protein Granules and Flakes have a neutral flavor profile and texture that can be manipulated to adapt to any application, making them a versatile ingredient for both sweet and savory snack applications.

The Protein Granules and Flakes are shelf-stable, so they are ideal for dry snacks such as crackers, cookies, bars, trail mixes, and granola, but work equally well in plant-based alternatives to dairy, meat, and seafood products. The texture and form of the Granules and Flakes depend on the rehydration level and time. The protein ingredients can be fully broken down into liquid, if needed, or ground into a powder to use in place of flour for applications like cookies and crackers.

We believe our new high-protein Granules and Flakes are a game-changer in manufacturing. Not only are the Protein Flakes and Granules a sustainable, high-quality source of plant protein, but they are also packed with fiber, potassium, and iron. 


DJP: In addition to the addition of protein and other nutrients, how can these ingredients help snack and bakery formulators with other variables related to better-for-you product development, such as reducing sodium?

MI: Consumers demand flavor, so when it comes to manufacturing, salt is both inexpensive and drives taste. It also contributes to shelf life and overall product stability. But too much salt is health-adverse, leading to high blood pressure, heart disease, and other medical concerns.

A growing awareness around these health issues has led consumers to demand better-for-you snacks with reduced sodium. Our Protein Flakes and Granules are made from just three naturally nutritious ingredients: oat bran, pea and fava bean protein. We don’t use any salt, genetically modified ingredients, preservatives, fillers, or other additives in manufacturing of the products. Its sodium content is exclusively due to the presence of naturally occurring sodium in the oats and legumes. The Protein Flakes and Granules allow operators to easily elevate the nutritional profile without adding unnecessary ingredients like extra salt or sugar or additives.

The toolbox available to developers today is vast and full of sustainable, healthy alternatives compared to the formulation strategies of old. A proper combination and sweet, spice, acidity, and texture can go a long way in replacing sodium and providing a product that consumers both crave and is lower in sodium.