Maximizing plant-based potential: “Green gastronomy brimming with opportunities,” flags Planteneers
24 Mar 2023 --- Innovation within the plant-based space may be slowing somewhat and facing inevitable roadblocks as it evolves ever more into the mainstream. However, the space remains ripe with growth opportunities as future food relies on sustainable alternative proteins. Plant-based diets are the key to fighting climate change, diversifying food systems, and tackling sustainability issues head-on.
Moving up a gear and rising above the initial boom of new product development is where the spotlight falls right now as the plant-based space moves beyond an influx of meat alternatives and dairy-free products hitting retailers’ shelves.
Plant-based has been gathering pace for several years, underscored by the latest interaction in Innova Market Insights data Top Ten Trends for 2023. “Plant-Based: Unlocking a New Narrative” highlights how the rapid rise of the plant-based sector has, almost inevitably, hit some roadblocks which require a refocus on consumer demands for high-quality, flavorful products.
No longer merely a mimic, green gastronomy will blossom as a standalone sector in 2023, giving brands significant opportunities to diversify and expand, the market researcher says.
As the plant trend grows and grows, a razor-sharp focus is occurring on optimizing products on the shelf and developing new ones with greater taste and texture.
In conversation with FoodIngredientsFirst, Dr. Dorotea Pein, director of food trends and innovations at Planteneers, talks about developing the plant-based value chain, improving access to regional proteins, and optimizing products in terms of taste and texture.
It’s not necessarily that the boom is waning; more developing.
“At the beginning, it was about getting your place on the shelf, and now technology is developing, the products are developing, and the quality is getting better. Also, it’s not so important to have just one product on the shelf; it’s now the target to have the best product on the shelf in terms of quality, taste, and the application; can it be used like the conventional animal product? These are the questions that customers are asking, and the industry has to react to that,” Dr. Pein explains.
“A lot has been achieved in the last few years, but more needs to be done,” she stresses.
Two essential aspects which need to be addressed, notes Dr, Pein, are a sharpened focus on taste and texture in plant-based products and improving the plant-based value supply chain overall.
“We’re on a good path, and with every new product that comes to the market, they’re getting better. We are going in the right direction, but we need to concentrate on new products and to develop the value chain. We need to have more plant-based proteins as there are not enough on the market, not just in terms of quality, but also in terms of volume,” she flags.
Often cited as the solution to global warming linked to food production and nutritionally feeding a growing population, plant-based proteins still need land to grow, lots of water, and much more to produce high yields for industrial use.
Where they are grown and how production is integrated into a company’s supply chain is crucial, Dr. Pein points out, as the need for sourcing locally increases.
For example, customers want to have regional proteins, so in Europe, they don’t want to have pea protein from Canada or something shipped around the world because that’s also a sustainability issue, notes Dr. Pein.
“Therefore, we need to develop food value chains. The animal value chain has had so many years, a century or more, to develop, and it’s perfectly organized, so we need to develop that kind of plant-based value chain,” she states.
“The farmers, the people who work with the crops in the fields, they need to be sure that they will sell it (plant-based proteins). We also need to think of the farmers who are raising animals at the moment, they also have a problem in the future, and we need to find a way to give them a chance to be part of this newly developed value chain.”
While recognizing the plethora of plant-based NPD that has hit global markets over the last few years, Dr. Pein believes more innovation is needed, citing differences between the US and Europe.
“There isn’t much innovation in the US market; you see more innovation in Europe. For instance, alternative fish innovations are popular in the EU right now. I think the US will follow, some years later, but it seems Europe is definitely the most innovative market,” she says.
“We have seen smoked salmon, tuna alternatives, and sashimi. These products are amazing because they’re ocean-friendly, and there is no need to kill fish.”
“For me, this is very logical, and we’re already developing the next generation with better nutritional values. We eat fish for certain vitamins and fatty acids, and it is here where we need to have the nutritional values and hyper nutrients in our alternatives.”
Eating is not just about putting certain nutrients into the body; it’s about feelings, events, and experiences.
“How do you feel when you eat something? Does it make you happy? Does it feel like your mother’s cooking? The sensory experience has to be good; otherwise, people cannot be convinced to eat plant-based food. If it’s only healthy and the taste isn’t good, then consumers may have it for a while but then go back to their normal diet,” Dr. Pein continues.
It’s not just about having a convenient product that is easy to make but also for the plant-based industry to think about haute cuisine concepts and improvements to foodservice dishes.
“There’s a need to get more high-quality plant-based menu offerings in restaurants and food outlets. Normally there’s one or two, but it has to reach an equal amount of good quality dishes with and without meat.”
What’s coming next?
Throughout 2023, Dr. Pein says plant-based innovators are working on improving nutritional values step by step. She points to developments in cheese alternatives, which are also being enhanced this year.
“Plant-based proteins are not soluble, and for good cheese, you need to have soluble proteins, so we need to work on that. We already have one example that has 7% protein, but it’s far away from traditional cheese.”
“Of course, more seafood alternatives are always good,” she concludes.
By Gaynor Selby
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