As the CEO of PURIS Holdings, Nicole Atchison is spearheading the acceleration of the plant-based food industry through top-notch R&D and a commitment to sustainable growing practices. Nicole joined the family-owned company as CTO in 2017 after spending years as an engineer in the medical device industry. Nicole holds a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from the University of Minnesota and a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from Iowa State University. She sits on the Board of Directors for the Non-GMO Project.
Our mission at PURIS is centered squarely on creating a sustainable food system for the global good. We’re the linchpin between what the farmers grow and what the public eats. PURIS is a vertically integrated, non-GMO, and organic plant-based food leader committed to changing how the world farms, manufacturers, and eats on a global scale.
We couldn’t have predicted the pandemic, and how dramatically it changed the way people eat. Before COVID-19 hit, PURIS already saw a steady increase in demand for healthier products, with plant-based foods becoming increasingly mainstream, and that continued through March and beyond. After the initial “stock-up” phase, buying dipped, but plant-based food sales sustained a higher year-over-year increase compared to animal-based counterparts. More people are interested in plant-based options than ever before, given the rise of people cooking at home and questions about the health and safety of animal protein supply chains. In fact, according to the Plant Based Foods Association, plant-based foods are up 11.4% across all categories.
While some companies dabble in this space, PURIS has been perfecting it for 35 years. My dad, Jerry Lorenzen, launched our family business in 1985, set on breeding plants to make them taste great to ultimately feed and nourish people. I grew up alongside my brother Tyler (now CEO of PURIS Proteins) in the fields of Iowa, observing our dad’s forward-thinking approach to feeding the planet. Today, we’re continuing his vision of positively impacting the world and soil from the seed up.
PURIS has been an evolution in ag-tech. Multiple layers of technology underpin our vision for PURIS. Notably, our technology efforts influence two main areas: our sustainable, closed-loop farming model and the development of innovative products.
SUSTAINABLE FARMING MODEL
Our proprietary seed genetics and regenerative farming approach are at the crux of what we do and what enables us to turn crops into finished foods. We develop high-yield, scalable seed varieties that will build soil health for PURIS farmers. Our yellow field peas, for example, are an excellent addition to a farmer’s standard rotation in the Midwest. Peas take nitrogen from the air and fix it through the soil to leave nitrogen behind, ultimately reducing the amount of synthetic nitrogen needed and providing nutritional benefits for the next crop. Each day, we work closely with our network of growers to create a seamless transition to sustainable organic farming, using regenerative methods.
As the plant-based industry scales, we’re adapting existing technology to meet our needs. For example, our first pea protein plant in Turtle Lake, Wisconsin, was retrofitted from a defunct dairy processing plant. We purchased the plant, upgraded the technology and processing mechanisms, and turned it into one of the world’s largest protein processing plants. It’s the same story in Dawson, Minnesota, where we’re currently converting a former dairy processing plant into our pea processing facility.
Today, PURIS is the only vertically integrated, U.S.-based, closed-loop food system out there. We develop seeds for our growers and offer them a full production contract to buy back everything they grow. It’s a win-win—farmers get a high performing crop variety with a guaranteed market to sell. In turn, we take those crops and develop innovative products that taste great and are good for the planet.
INNOVATIVE PRODUCT DEVELOPMENT
In the history of seed development, crops have been primarily developed to feed livestock. In our company’s mission to make seeds taste good to humans (or “neutral” as we call it), we’ve pioneered the development of breeding and processing technology that does just that. We strongly believe that it starts with the non-GMO, food-grade seeds developed by our R&D team, which we process with
a focus on flavor and nutrition.
Harnessing ingredients made from PURIS peas, soy, pulses, lentils, and other non-GMO plants, we help CPG brands spanning a wide range of industries—from sports drinks to baked goods and meat alternatives—find innovative uses for plant-strong ingredients.
One of our flagship products is PURIS pea protein, which powers the largest plant-based burger companies on the planet and is on your favorite grocery store shelves right now. It’s made from a first-of-its-kind, high-protein pea, with up to 2-3 times the protein per acre of a standard pea crop. In Q4, we are launching a new organic pea syrup product to serve as an alternative to the GMO-heavy corn syrup and brown rice or tapioca syrups, which are often imported. We’re also launching a Sweet Lupin Flour, a keto-friendly ingredient option high in protein and fiber but low in carbohydrates, giving “better-for-you” bakers additional options. Innovation is at the forefront of PURIS day in and day out, as we strive to make plant-based foods more accessible to eaters everywhere.
Growth & The Future
PURIS will continue to stay the course in our work to build sustainable food systems. We are developing partnerships with all sorts of organizations – CPG companies, farmers, NGOs, research institutions – to help move the system forward. Our job is to serve as a foundational element in improving the entire food production system. It’s a refreshing focus in my career to help the community be healthier and love what they eat.