Vegan and flexitarian consumers “dig deeper” when seeking plant-based products, say suppliers
11 Mar 2021 --- Global consumers are “digging deeper beyond vegan claims” in their search for plant-based produce, which has led to increased pressure for manufacturers to innovate with trusted ingredients. Still, taste and texture come out on top when it comes to meat analogs and dairy alternatives.
FoodIngredientsFirst speaks with key suppliers in the plant-based arena, who share their insights on the increasingly competitive category.
There have been some apparent shifts in the current marketplace regarding the COVID-19 pandemic, says Lindsey Clements, food applications scientist at Kalsec.
“Cooking from scratch has greatly increased to give consumers comforting home-cooked solutions during the pandemic,” she says.
Focus on plant-based
Meanwhile, new meal launches are featuring “100 percent natural” or “no artificial preservatives” front-of-pack claims alongside “vegan” labeling, flags Andrew Bingham, food applications scientist at Kalsec.
“This consumer expectation is seen in the plant-based category. Meal innovation with new protein textures and tastes has been accompanied with unfamiliar ingredients, and consumers are pushing back,” he explains.
Ultimately consumers will not buy something which they don’t think will taste good, and a great taste adventure is key to the repurchase of meals, adds Clements.
Meals kits in demand
The wish to experiment with new flavors and experiences is being met by a growing interest in meal kits and ready meals.
According to Bingham, this enables consumers to experience new and novel cuisines, introducing them to ingredients and techniques with no prior knowledge or experience required.
“The offerings are becoming more authentic, and there are fewer ‘interpretations’ of diverse cuisines. Meal kits allow consumers to challenge their taste buds and experiment with a new dish or cuisine, within the safety limits of a prepared recipe and ingredients,” he continues.
“Food boredom from lockdown has made consumers more adventurous and willing to spend more time on cooking that they didn’t have a year ago. With no travel during the pandemic, consumers are looking for the flavors of their food to take them on an adventure and a journey around the world until we can experience food internationally again.”
Flexitarian lifestyles take hold
According to ADM’s Outside Voice research, half of flexitarian consumers agree that meat alternatives need taste improvements, and more than 20 percent say texture needs to be improved.
“Our customers know that consumers expect plant-forward foods and beverages to provide a similar appearance, flavor and texture to the gold-standard product being replicated. ADM helps them achieve an authentic and enjoyable sensory experience,” says Hélène Moeller, director of global product management at ADM.
The company’s technical expertise is also critical in helping its customers develop products that tap into flexitarian demands.
“To give plant-based meat alternatives superior taste and visual appeal, we utilize important savory notes like umami and kokumi and borrow spices from regional and ethnic cuisine,” explains Moeller.
ADM also has created CulinaryCrafted vegan seafood flavors and bases for convincing flavor and aroma in plant-forward alternatives to crab cakes, fish sticks and New England clam chowder.
Additionally, ADM scientists actively develop solutions to improve the taste and mouthfeel of plant-based items, such as coffee creamers.
Some of the most promising areas include plant-forward offerings and nutrient-dense applications, Moeller observes.
As the flexitarian trend continues to trend hold, more people are exploring plant-based beverages, meats and seafood alternatives.
“To encourage consumers to continue purchasing these products, developers must deliver an eating experience that closely resembles the traditional product. We have found success with blends of plant and animal proteins, or blends of several plant proteins, to provide a neutral base with a clean flavor and authentic texture,” Moeller states.
Specifically, the company’s Arcon T textured pea proteins can enhance nutrition, balance taste and formulate the expected bite and chew of meat alternatives.
Mimicking milk and dairy flavors
ADM offers dairy-like flavors for a convincing sensory experience in cream sauces, dressings, yogurt drinks and plant-forward beverages, adds Moeller.
For Jessica Morton, sensory and consumer insights manager at Blue Pacific Flavors, the need for plant-based products is driving a lot of the cross-category innovation on the shelf today.
“There’s significant flavor creation being done to mimic traditional milk and cream flavors,” she says.
“This creates flavor challenges, since many of the plant bases have off notes coming from their source grain, nut, or legume, as well as vegetable fats and stabilizers. This is great to be involved with because these products positively impact both health and the environment.”
Meanwhile, Kevin Bangratz, a marketing researcher at Prova, flags the four most popular vegetable protein sources are soy, pea, wheat and rice.
“But there is a major issue associated with some plant-based proteins. Some have very strong and unpleasant off-notes,” he comments.
Prova’s flavorists and food technologists have worked to find ways to mask these off-notes in food applications.
“Besides off-notes, there’s another challenge to deal with regarding vegan products. Consumers want more dairy alternative products, but they want them to taste like their milk-based equivalent,” Bangratz explains.
“Thanks to flavors, it is possible to conciliate these contradictory wishes. Notably, the Prova team accompanies the development of vegan products thanks to vegan flavors including milk flavors, cream flavors and butter flavors that taste like dairy products,” he concludes.
By Elizabeth Green
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