“Promise of parity” will truly move plant-based mainstream, flag industry experts
03 Feb 2023 --- As the plant-based food sector continues to mature and gain traction, consumers are becoming increasingly demanding regarding the sensory aspects of these products. With a growing number of options available on the market, consumers are looking for plant-based foods that not only match the nutritional profile of their animal-based counterparts, but also offer similar sensory experiences in terms of taste, texture and appearance.
Without winning over meat eaters, dairy lovers and flexitarians, the plant-based space could be held back, as flagged by Innova Market Insights’ Top Ten Trend for 2023 “Plant-Based: Unlocking a New Narrative”. This trend underscores how the rapid rise of the plant-based sector has, almost inevitably, hit some roadblocks, necessitating a refocusing on consumer demands for high quality, flavorsome products.
Consumers still want to see improvements in taste and texture, but there is a huge appetite for culinary creativity and worldwide flavor profiles.
“Plant popularity shows no signs of ebbing,” Karin Jenniskens, marketing manager for enrichment at Cargill, tells FoodIngredientsFirst.
“Many consumers perceive plant-based products as healthier – both for themselves and the planet. Mainstream experimentation, the continuing protein halo, the growing connection to sustainability and an influx of new and improved plant-based products will likely keep this trend alive for years to come,” she continues.
“As plant-based demand becomes mainstream, product appearance becomes increasingly important to meet expectations. Whether they’re buying plant-based meat, cheese, or ice cream, most consumers want products to look like the real thing,” adds Steven Taylor, head of sales at GNT UK.
Taylor flags that perceived health benefits are another key factor, highlighting how brands must clean up their ingredients list to maximize product appeal.
Flexitarians inflexible expectations
Jenniskens explains that around 30% of consumers now describe their diet as flexitarian. Most of them reduce their animal protein intake by including more plant-based alternatives in their diet, therefore purchasing more in the category.
However, despite this target group’s growing appeal, some consumer hurdles exist around their full mainstream adoption.
“These consumers can be tough to satisfy – they’ve grown up loving meat and dairy, and they have specific expectations in mind about what a burger, for example, should look and taste like, and these sensory issues have proven to be key barriers.”
“Widespread adoption will only be possible by overcoming the innovation challenge of achieving ‘the promise of parity,’ whereby alternative proteins mimic animal protein in taste, texture, and price. Furthermore, considerations around what is on the label and the nutritional balance of the product are expected to grow in importance to consumers,” she notes.
Cleaning up the label
Cargill market data from 2021 shows that 72% of European consumers are likely to check the ingredient list of plant-based meat alternative products.
Peter Sijtsema, business development manager at Corbion for the EMEA region, flags that consumers are relying more on apps that allow them to quickly make decisions rather than spending time reading ingredient lists.
“This is in line with the consumption behaviors and habits of this particular segment and with their demographic profile, as younger generations are relying more on technology and want to make more conscious and ethical decisions when purchasing food,” he continues.
Similarly, Taylor says that “perceived health benefits are another key factor.”
“Brands, therefore, need to take steps to clean up their ingredient lists if they are to maximize their products’ appeal,” he highlights.
As an example, he puts GNT’s clean-label replacement for carmine, an inedible cochineal insect widely used in confectionery, beverages, baked goods and dairy.
“The plant-based trend is now influencing the whole food and drink industry, with manufacturers increasingly taking steps to remove animal-derived ingredients such as gelatin and carmine,” Taylor explains.
Different lines of innovation
Taylor details that GNT has focused recently on plant-based seafood products, including salmon steaks, smoked salmon, tuna steaks, tinned tuna, sushi and caviar.
“We can even replicate the coral stripes on cooked shrimp using new processing technologies that mean our plant-based colors can be used on the product exterior as well as in the mix.”
“One of our most exciting new innovations is the EXBERRY Compound Red range. It allows plant-based products such as burgers and sausages to imitate the color of raw meat before appearing to become rare, medium or well-done when heated. It’s made from carrots and utilizes a natural encapsulation solution that melts when the temperature increases to release the color concentrate,” he explains.
Sijtsema reveals that Corbion is tackling the challenge of extending products shelf life. As plant-based protein products grow in popularity and the category matures, providing adequate shelf life and quality has become a greater challenge for products.
Plant-based protein sources typically have higher pH values than meat protein, making finished products more susceptible to microbial outgrowth and pathogenic threats.
“Solving preservation challenges is crucial for even long-established consumer brands, but for plant-based protein products – about which many consumers’ minds are not made up – getting freshness right in terms of safety, taste, texture, aroma and appearance is a make-or-break proposition,” he flags.
Furthermore, solutions developed for meat applications are also proving to be similarly efficacious in plant-based protein products.
Jenniskens brings attention to Cargill’s recently released TEX PW80 M, a unique textured protein blend of pea and wheat protein which mimics ground meat-like texture.
Cargill is also working on a range of specialty cocoa powders for plant-based beverages based on oat and almond “coming soon” to market. The company’s Gerkens Sweety cocoa powder was named Sensory Innovation Award winner at last December’s Fi Europe 2022 expo.
By Marc Cervera
To contact our editorial team please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Subscribe now to receive the latest news directly into your inbox.