Creating a point of difference in plant-based alternatives
Over the past few years plant-based food has become more than just a trend, no longer something just for those observing a vegan diet but accessible to everyone. Research has found that around half of people in Germany, the UK and the US have tried plant-based alternatives to meat, with more people than ever labelling themselves ‘flexitarian’.
There are a number of reasons behind the increasing popularity of plant-based food. For some, animal welfare remains the primary reason, but environmental concerns are increasingly becoming a factor, while others simply want a healthier diet and see eating plant-based food as the best way to do this. And, of course, there is the simple fact that people think it tastes good. The traditional image of bland, tasteless, mushy vegetables has truly been consigned to the past, and the market is constantly expanding with new innovations.
Saquib Ramday, Head of Category Development, Europe
at Tate & Lyle, looks at some of the opportunities and
challenges in the plant-based category, and how
manufacturers can stand out from the crowd in this
increasingly crowded space.
In fact, the plant-based market is becoming increasingly crowded, with 16% of all food and drink launches in Europe during 2020 plant-based products. This demonstrates that the demand is there, and manufacturers have an opportunity to tap into this if they can create something that is unique and will stand out from the crowd.
For those looking to break into the vegetarian and vegan meat substitute market there is plenty to consider. Consumers are looking for options that closely resemble the products that they are familiar with and, as developments continue, this will only increase.
Taste remains the most important factor in many consumers’ food and drink choices, so this should undoubtedly be the foremost concern. But there is increasing demand for options that replicate the full sensory experience of their original alternative, with smell and texture also central to the perceived quality of the product.
Innovation continues to drive much development across the market, as consumers continue to look for options that closely resemble the products that they are familiar with. Indeed, 65% of UK
consumers think meat substitutes, such as plant-based mince, should resemble meat products as closely as possible. Some of the characteristics consumers have identified include, ‘Moist’, ‘Juicy’, and ‘Tender’; manufacturers should consider how they can ensure their plant-based meat substitutes have these qualities, while still maintaining the taste that consumers are craving.
The all-round eating sensation must match the consumer’s expectations in every sense if it is something they are going to consider. Many of those opting for plant-based options are not vegan and could choose a traditional animal product, so plant based alternatives are competing against their original counterparts.
This ‘battle’ has already seen much success, particularly when it comes to meat alternatives. There has been a rapid increase in developments to the point where manufacturers have been able to almost exactly replicate the taste, smell and texture of meat products using only plant-based ingredients.
Turning to another category, more than a quarter of UK bakery professionals identified plant-based as a key growth opportunity in our European bakery industry research report, which surveyed 400 senior bakery industry professionals across Germany, France, Spain and the UK. Bakery products, by their composition, are well-placed to be innately vegetarian or even vegan-friendly. But due to growing consumer interest, brands featuring dietary choices that are animal ingredient-free are increasingly stating these claims clearly on pack.
Ingredients have been developed that can be added to plant-based alternatives to provide vegan and flexitarians options that closely match some of our most loved products, like milk, eggs, or meat, including our own range of plant-based protein stabiliser systems, such as HAMULTOP® Stabiliser Systems.
Health is one of the key reasons many people are choosing plant-based alternatives, meaning this is an important consideration for manufacturers. Nutritional value is one of the key drivers behind food purchasing decisions – 41% of French consumers check nutritional content when buying cheese, while a third of UK consumers check the nutritional content labelled on food packaging when shopping. And this is no different for plant-based products, with 29% of UK consumers saying low fat claims would make them most likely to buy a meat-free food.
In many ways plant-based does naturally lend itself to healthier products, which is giving rise to more reduced-fat formulas. Further developments in vegetable-based alternatives provide the same properties as animal fats without impacting taste or texture, as well as offering a lower fat content.
However, this is not always the case. Coconut oil is often used as a substitute for animal-based fats in products, such as plant-based cheeses and dairy desserts. While this can allow manufacturers to closely replicate the texture and taste that consumers are familiar with, it is actually higher in saturated fats than some of the fats found in cows’ milk. This presents a challenge for manufacturers, who must try to balance the health credentials of their products, without comprising on the taste and texture.
We have worked in our Global Innovation Center to create dairy alternative desserts using oils that are low in saturated fats using our plant-based,
clean-label texturizing solutions, without using coconut fats. This can be applied across a host of different desserts with a range of textures, including toppings and custard-style desserts.
Sugar and fat reduction is becoming a growing focus in the plant-based space, and manufacturers must find a way to meet this growing demand without impacting on the quality of the final product. At Tate & Lyle we offer a wide range of ingredients to support this, such as CLARIA® clean-label starch, which can be added to recipes to maintain mouthfeel when ingredients are removed, without affecting taste. It can be simply labelled as ‘corn starch’, appealing to those looking for ingredients from natural sources.
For those seeking sweetener alternatives derived from natural sources, we offer a wide profile of stevia solutions suitable for a range of applications. Stevia sweeteners are plant-based sugar alternatives, and have now overtaken aspartame as Europe’s third most popular sweetener, accounting for more than a quarter of all sweetener launches in Europe. As a plant-based sugar alternative, stevia delivers on the plant-based trend while making great-tasting, healthier food and beverages.
Health considerations extend far beyond fats and sugars. With Nutri-score and traffic light food labelling ratings taking into consideration a host of different factors, interest in the overall nutritional value of foods has become even more important. Including what’s taken out, consumers are more conscious about the functional ingredients that are used in their product choices. For manufacturers, using the right mix of ingredients to fortify products not only caters to consumer demand for better nutrition, it can also improve their Nutri-score ratings.
Protein remains a key consideration for consumers, with a growing focus on the type and quality of the protein used. Using proteins from a combination of plant-based sources – such as combining grains and pulses – can enhance the nutritional profile of a product and enable them to have certain nutritional claims, as well as helping to maintain texture for a satisfying overall experience.
Fibre is another area of focus for consumers – we know that almost a third (31%) of European consumers plan to consume more fibre in the next 12 months. There are a number of plant-based fibres available, such as our PROMITOR® Soluble Fibre, which can be labelled as ‘soluble corn fibre’*, helping manufacturers to provide the additional gut health claims** that can increase appeal to health-conscious consumers. Our research has found that almost two fifths (39%) of European consumers would be likely or very likely to purchase a dairy product that contains soluble corn fibre.
With taste the number one purchase motivator for most global consumers, we make sure our plant-based fibres and functional protein solutions as part of our stabiliser systems have a clean taste as well as a neutral colour. They can also be easily blended into plant-based formulations to provide key functional benefits while maintaining the highest quality final product.
There has also been a notable shift towards products that are considered ‘clean-label’. There isn’t one accepted definition of clean-label, and the meaning of the term is evolving in line with consumers’ increasingly complex expectations. Roughly one-third of consumers are looking to avoid food or drink that contains artificial ingredients, and a big driver of the clean-label trend is catering to this growing market.
Aligned to this, we are seeing a notable shift towards products that are perceived as inherently ‘natural’ and include claims such as ‘no additives or preservatives’ or ‘organic’. Plant-based ingredients are ideally placed to help manufacturers tap into this.
But the notion of clean-label is continuing to evolve further to encompass much more than the label and the ingredient list, with a focus on the product as a whole, including sourcing, production, ingredients and packaging. In particular, the environmental impact of the products they choose is a key focus for plant-based consumers, with almost half (49%) of consumers globally reducing or eliminating eating meat to lead a more sustainable lifestyle.
By committing to making products as sustainable as possible, manufacturers can ensure they are doing their bit for the planet, and appeal to a more
eco-conscious consumer base. It also increases the scope for manufacturers to achieve a more premium position in the market, as we know of 81% of consumers would pay more for products or services that support environmental protection.
Consumers perceive dairy farming as having a negative impact on the environment, and plant-based alternatives are one of the ways the dairy industry is looking to address these concerns. As a result, there has been a surge in the number of people turning to plant-based alternatives such as oat, coconut or almond milk, which have all overtaken soy in terms of popularity.
This is helping to drive innovations in dairy alternatives for products such as yoghurts, drinks and desserts. Across Europe, the number of dairy alternative products grew by 18% between 2014 and 2018, with almost 1,000 new product innovations being launched. Within this, we have seen a 10% increase in the use of ‘environmentally-friendly product’ claims on dairy alternative launches during the past five years.
However, it is not as straightforward as equating dairy alternatives to clean-label – indeed, 47% of German consumers associate dairy spoonable yoghurts with naturalness vs 33% only for coconut-based yoghurts. As with other dairy products, it remains important for manufacturers to keep their ingredients lists as short as possible, with ingredients that are familiar to consumers in their plant-based formulations, to capitalise on both the growing flexitarian and clean-label trends.
Removing animal products from recipes can cause a number of functional challenges. Despite a growing range of plant-based replacements for ingredients like milk and eggs being readily available, many of these do not function in the same way during the manufacturing process, which risks negatively impacting the taste, texture and mouthfeel of products.
Our HAMULSION® Stabiliser Systems are customised to meet the specific needs of customers’ food products, helping to improve product mouthfeel and texture profile, including clean label options. The versatile range can act as a thickening or gelling agent, emulsifying component, or functional proteins across a host of different formulations in dairy, bakery, beverage products and in soups, sauces and dressings.
We recently created a Vegan Vegetable Hummus Sizzler concept, using our HAMULSION® Stabiliser System, with delivering a delicious taste, clean-label credentials and overall nutritional value firmly in mind. The concept comprises a vibrant vegetable patty with new innovative tastes including hummus, spinach, and Italian herbs. Not only is the recipe designed without animal products, it’s also free of texturised protein, soya or wheat, making it suitable for people looking for ‘free-from’ options. It still provides a high quality, homogenous texture and produces a rich, vibrant taste.
We’ve also helped with the development of different convenience products involving several elements of ingredient replacement, such as a Vegan ‘Salami’ Pizza. This incorporates a host of plant-based alternatives, from formulating a vegan cheese alternative to achieving the much-loved taste and texture of salami, as well as creating a dough without using egg. Not only have we been able to achieve a plant-based option that comes close to the original product, but the recipe contains 50% less fat than a standard salami pizza, appealing to those switching to plant-based alternatives for health reasons.
There is a sense that we are only beginning to scratch the surface of the opportunities in the plant-based category, with much more innovation still to come. With demand showing no sign of stopping, it’s an opportunity that manufacturers should be looking to sink their teeth into.
* labelling subject to regulatory confirmation in market
** product claims subject to regulatory confirmation in market
2 Mintel GNPD; launches with one or more of the following claims: Vegan/No Animal Ingredients; Plant Based
3 Lightspeed/Mintel 2020
4 T&L Global Consumer Ingredient Perception Research, 14 countries, 2020;
5 Lightspeed/Mintel 2020
6 Lightspeed/Mintel 2020
7 Mintel, Global New Products Database (GNPD) Aug 2020
8 Directive 2008/100/EC, Annex II published 29 October 2008, The Code of Federal Regulations, 21 CFR 101.9(c)(6)(i) Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition, UK 2015 Carbohydrates and Health Dahl & Stewart. J Acad Nutr Diet 2015;115(11):1861-70. Gray, J. ILSI Europe Dietary Fibre Concise Monograph Series. 2006. Cho SS and M Dreher (eds.). Handbook of Dietary Fibre. 2001.Clemens, R. et al. J Nutr 2012;142:1390S-401S; Murphy N et al. PLoS One. 2012;7:e39361. King, D.E. et al. JAND 2012;112(5):642-648
9 Tate & Lyle, ‘European Dairy Buyers – Fibre Awareness and Purchase Impact’, Base: UK/France/Germany aggregate, purchases Dairy aggregate, Jan/Feb 2020
10 Lightspeed/Mintel, Base: 2,000 internet users aged 16+ in each country
11 FMCG Gurus, January 2021, Global
12 GlobalData 2020 Market Pulse Survey, Asia Pacific and Latin American, September 2020
13 Mintel Lightspeed – July 2019 – 2000 internet users aged 16+
14Mintel GNPD 2015 – 2019
15 Mintel GNPD 2015 – 2019
16 Mintel GNPD, dairy alternative drinks, yogurt and ice cream
17 Mintel Lightspeed – Nov 2018