Flexitarian protein demands: Consumers call for affordability, health and environmental sustainability
17 May 2023 --- There is significant demand for plant-based proteins globally. So much so that 70% of global consumers seek products with good plant protein sources. A growing shift to a flexitarian diet – driven by health and environmental concerns – are two key reasons for the expansion in plant-based products.
We speak with Ingredion ahead of the company’s upcoming webinar detailing the “power of flexitarians.”
As consumers face inflation, plant-based proteins address not only affordability but nutrition and sustainability while being able to deliver on taste and texture, which consumers still expect in the foods and beverages they consume.
According to the company, taste, texture and optimization will remain highly relevant in 2023 and beyond. Still, the industry will see the plant-based sector unlock a new narrative prioritizing plants and food for the senses.
As a result, Ingredion expects to see underused ingredients and technology-enabled new formats opening up more expansive spaces for standalone products that do not mimic meat or dairy.
In line with focusing on sensory attributes, improved texture could be a game-changer for manufacturers, according to a recent Innova Market Insights survey.
A flexitarian era
According to the Ingredion, flexitarians outnumber vegetarians and vegans across Western Europe.
“As flexitarians grow in numbers and try to reduce or limit the amount of meat they consume, they are playing a part in protecting the planet, which is becoming increasingly important to consumers in EMEA, with over a third now buying more food and beverage products with sustainability or environmental claims,” Declan Rooney, platform manager EMEA – Plant-based Proteins, tells FoodIngredientsFirst.
Moreover, 50% of European consumers are concerned about rising living costs. Despite this, consumers still want nutritious and sustainable F&B products.
Claims that credibly reflect nutritious ingredients and sustainability efforts continue to grow as the line between personal and planetary health blurs.
“Consumers will not necessarily buy a product simply because it is more sustainable – clean label claims can support a benefit to the consumer beyond acting more sustainably,” Rooney details.
For example, around 70% of EMEA consumers believe simple and recognizable ingredients and “natural” claims are essential when selecting food and beverage products.
Full traceability and knowledge of origin are highly desirable to consumers seeking product education. Clear and honest communication in this space can be a point of difference among the competition, underscores Rooney.
“Knowing that sustainability is driving demand for plant-based products, including plant-based proteins, manufacturers must embrace ‘modern transparency’ by being clear and honest with their communication of a product’s journey – from source to shelf – to support consumers’ sustainable, clean living and ethical goals.”
With studies showing that a meat-eaters diet can produce almost double the CO2 emissions of a vegan diet, it’s no surprise that eco-conscious consumers associate plant-based diets with a more sustainable lifestyle. “We can see this, for instance, in the fact that sustainability is a key selling point for meat alternatives,” adds Rooney.
Meanwhile, reaching price parity is a driver of plant-based sales, while hybrid solutions offer consumers the opportunity to help the planet while delivering more affordable solutions.
“Offering plant-based and hybrid solutions is highly important today, especially with over 50% of European consumers concerned that rising living costs will impact their health, and with 63% lacking confidence in their financial savings,” he explains.
Crucially, plant-based alternatives are a good fit for consumers wanting to reduce their spending, as showcased in recent Innova Markets Insights data, with global consumers stating that they’d consider plant-based alternatives because “the price is more appealing.”
In the same research data, consumers stated they would consider plant-based alternatives because they are “better for the planet,” “healthier,” and “taste better,” meaning – in light of inflation – plant-based alternatives are an ideal fit for today’s global consumers that want high-quality food and beverage products that taste great and support the planet.
According to Rooney, addressing taste and texture is the number one challenge in plant-based and proteins and should therefore be the key focus for manufacturers.
“That’s because consumers want their plant-based meats to be succulent – with just the right amount of chewiness – and their plant-based yogurts to be silky and smooth,” he says.
As well as a desirable sensory experience, consumers also want improved nutritional quality and a clean ingredients list. Due to formulation challenges, many plant-based products deliver a different amount of protein than animal-based products.
Rooney explains that label-reading consumers choose between products by peering at the ingredients list. “With this in mind, manufacturers should formulate using only recognizable ingredients while keeping the ingredients list to a minimum.”
“As you formulate, you will want to ensure the flavor and texture profile of the plant-based ingredient you choose aligns with your formulation. Addressing this challenge often requires working with the right ingredient solutions partner with the right expertise to deliver market-ready, consumer-preferred plant-based products,” he details.
Power of pulses
Ingredion focuses primarily on pea and fava beans. Rooney says the company continues expanding its pea protein isolate range depending on its customers’ needs.
“Our offering will continue to expand to provide customers with the right proteins with improved functionality and taste.”
Ingredion’s latest innovations in plant-based food and beverage ingredients include pea proteins, a high-quality, sustainable alternative to traditional animal-based proteins.
Pea proteins can also be used in various applications, including protein bars, shakes and meat alternatives.
For example, Ingredion’s range of Vitessence Pulse pea protein isolates are great for formulations with a balanced nutrition positioning, enabling manufacturers to create “exciting new food products that are highly nutritious,” underscores Rooney.
Ingredion has also launched Vitessence Prista, a range of pea and fava bean concentrates designed to help new product developers build the right taste, nutritional profile and consumer-preferred natural, non-soy-based products.
The concentrates have significantly reduced plant flavor, bitter taste or microbial levels, often inherent in dry-milled pulse products.
You can learn more on plant-based proteins from Ingredion in the forthcoming webinar and register here.
By Elizabeth Green
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