Plant power: How can brands formulate appealing meat and dairy

alternatives that meet diverse expectations?


Gilbert Verschelling, Director Business Development & Innovation at DSM


While the traditional dairy and meat markets remain strong, plant-based alternatives are experiencing a surge in demand. Driven by the rising number of consumers adopting flexitarian, vegetarian and vegan diets, this trend looks set to reach new heights. A DSM survey of 5,000 consumers across 10 countries, for example, found that 53% of people said they will look for more plant-based products in the next three to five years.1 Indeed, 49%, 34% and 29% of respondents in Spain, the UK and Germany, respectively, reported that they will seek to consume more plant-based food and beverages.2

As the plant-based market continues to expand and becomes ever more competitive, consumer expectations for dairy and meat alternatives are naturally becoming more sophisticated. It is no longer enough for products to just be plant-based; they need to be tasty and nutritious too. So, how can manufacturers meet these increasingly complex demands and ensure brands stand out on supermarket shelves?

Overcoming taste and texture barriers

The sensory properties of plant-based solutions remain a strong influencer of consumers’ purchasing decisions, with 65% of respondents to DSM’s survey reporting that taste is their number one priority when buying food and beverages.3

In the meat alternatives segment, for instance, consumers expect an enjoyable and authentic sensory experience, resembling the ‘umami’, grilled and fried flavors and juicy, succulent mouthfeel of meat products as closely as possible.

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Indeed, DSM’s research found that 62% of people would eat more meat alternatives if they had a ‘better’ taste, with 28% reporting that dissatisfaction with the plant-based food currently available has led them to consume fewer of these products.4 This can, however, be challenging for manufacturers to overcome, as plant-based proteins can impart undesirable flavor off-notes. For instance, pea protein can bring vegetal ‘green’ notes, while soy is often associated with more ‘beany’ taste notes. It has long been commonplace to use sodium to overcome these obstacles and create the taste and texture consumers expect from these products, but as concerns are rising worldwide about high salt levels in people’s diets5, this is no longer an attractive option for brands. Emulating the desired ‘chewy’ texture of meat without the oils and fats naturally present in animal products can also make the production process even more complex.

Meanwhile, the dairy alternatives market also faces its own unique set of challenges. Dairy alternative drinks, for example, often require additional steps in the production process to overcome barriers such as solubility and achieving the desired taste and sweetness, without adding sugar.

Producers also need to consider regional variations in preferences for the sweetness of plant-based dairy alternatives and tailor their formulations accordingly. Northern Europeans, for instance, typically look for dairy alternatives with less sweetness and more of a focus on cereal flavours compared to their southern European counterparts.

Enhancing nutritional value

With consumer awareness of the role that nutrition plays in supporting overall wellbeing and trending health concerns, such as immunity, rising, more people than ever before are also turning to products with added nutrients, such as vitamins and omega-3s. In fact, DSM’s research shows that 60% of respondents will actively seek out food with more added vitamins over the next three to five years, making it clear that health appeal continues to be a key influencer of consumer purchasing.6

Rich in protein, calcium and other nutrients, meat and dairy are widely considered part of a balanced diet. Unfortified meat and dairy alternatives, however, typically have a lower nutritional value than their animal protein counterparts, which may make them less attractive for individuals looking for nutritious meals. Market research also shows that 44% of people who consume oat drinks reported that they would like vitamins to be included in the products they purchase, with the Czech Republic (66%), Sweden (61%) and the UK (57%) demonstrating particularly strong demand for options with enhanced vitamin content.7

Fortified, nutrient-rich dairy and meat alternative products are therefore increasingly in demand and can be a valuable differentiator in gaining consumer preference.

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Increasingly health-conscious consumers, alongside those that are gluten intolerant, are also driving demand for low-gluten or gluten-free plant-based products, due to their perceived health appeal. With cereal-based drinks typically high in gluten, brand owners and manufacturers are, as a result, looking for solutions that can help them reduce the gluten levels to meet the growing needs of this demographic.

Ingredient innovations

Overcoming these obstacles can be challenging, but the latest ingredient solutions show strong innovation potential for helping to formulate tasty, accessible and appealing meat and dairy alternatives. Enzymes, yeast extracts, process flavors, hydrocolloids and nutritional ingredient solutions for plant-based applications can deliver value across the production process.

DSM’s nucleotide-rich Maxarome® yeast extracts, for instance, can enhance the taste of plant-based meat alternative products by masking off-notes and delivering intense umami, meaty flavors, without adding salt. Indeed, these solutions help to create salty tastes in systems with lower sodium levels. And to develop various different ‘meaty’ tastes, brands can integrate process flavors like Maxavor® into their creations. In addition, DSM’s Multirome® yeast extracts and GELLANEER™ gellan gum hydrocolloids can support the development of a juicy, fatty mouthfeel in plant-based meat alternatives.

Meanwhile in dairy alternatives, enzymes like DSM’s Delvo®Plant range can make the starch in plant-based drinks more soluble to create the mouthfeel that consumers expect. For example, Delvo®Plant ALT is added at the liquification stage to degrade dextrin to maltose and create an appealing mouthfeel, while Delvo®Plant BGL further reduces the viscosity of cereal-based drinks and Delvo®Plant TNP increases digestibility and solubilization. These enzyme solutions can also help brands leverage the glucose (high sweetness) and maltose (low sweetness) inherently present in raw materials like rice and oats to tailor the sweetness profile of products to their target demographic, without or with limited added sugar. In addition, gellan gum hydrocolloids provide additional benefits during saccharification, as a suspension, stabilization and texturizing agent. And taste modulation solutions like DSM’s ModuMax® enhance taste by masking the off-flavors created by raw materials and sweeteners and supporting an optimum mouthfeel in premium plant-based drinks.

Beyond taste and texture, enzymes can be used to meet the rising demand for nutrient-rich dairy alternative beverages. DSM’s Delvo®Plant PHY helps unlock the minerals naturally available in oat-based drinks to improve the nutritional value, while Delvo®Plant PSP can lower the gluten content in cereal-based beverages to meet the needs of gluten-intolerant and increasingly health-conscious consumers.

When it comes to filling the nutritional gap observed in plant-based varieties, brands can utilize vitamins, minerals, proteins and fatty acids to support the development of nutrient-rich meat alternatives with improved health appeal. DSM’s Quali® vitamins and DSM Premix Solutions can, for instance, be added to formulations to boost the nutritional profile of plant-based meat and dairy alternative options.

Looking ahead

With demand for plant-based protein products unlikely to slow down any time soon, we expect to see innovations in this market to accelerate at a rapid pace. This means that, to stand out in an ever more competitive industry, brands need to monitor consumer needs and formulate on-trend products that continually meet diverse expectations. From taste and texture to nutritional value, the right ingredients can help brands develop premium plant-based meat and dairy alternative varieties. Finding an end-to-end provider with not only a broad portfolio of high-quality solutions, but also in-depth insight into consumer needs and technical expertise, can add further value and support producers every step of the way. From selecting the best-suited ingredient solutions to optimizing (re-)formulations, the right partner can help manufacturers create nutritious and tasty plant-based food and drinks that complement consumers’ favorite meals.

For more information, contact the author at Gilbert.Verschelling@dsm.com


1 DSM, Future of Food survey, 2020.
2 Ibid.
3 DSM, Future of Food survey, 2020.
4 Ibid.
5 World Health Organization, salt reduction , https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/salt-reduction, accessed on 21 January 2021.
6 Ibid.
7 Ibid.