Making plant-based the preferred choice
These days, plant-based alternatives to products of animal origin, such as meat or milk, are key inclusions in many consumers’ diets. And such offerings have become even more popular as a result of huge improvements in terms of texture and taste, leading to an increasing number of meat-eaters occasionally turning to substitute products, and following a more flexitarian diet. From burgers made from wheat protein, sausages made from soy or chicken nuggets made from peas, if the meat-alternative product is as sensorily appealing as the original, many consumers will find it easy to make the switch.
This year, Fi Global offers two great opportunities to connect with the plant-based industry. The purely online event “Plant-based in the Spotlight” in September is completely dedicated to alternatives to meat, dairy, eggs and fish, and offers virtual networking opportunities and over 25 dedicated content sessions. Fi Europe combined with Hi Europe, meanwhile, will take place as a hybrid event (online and in-person) in Frankfurt at the end of November, and will reflect the ever-growing, plant-based market with dedicated zones for natural and organic ingredients. One whole day of the four-day virtual Fi Conference programme will be dedicated to all aspects of plant-based products
While plant-based market figures have been continuously rising, it’s now recognised that the segment needs disruptive innovation in order to continue to grow. In fact, analysts at Mintel are already warning that the category may not be ready to turn experimental customers into regular buyers, as product ranges are still limited and often too expensive to attract anyone other than die-hard vegans and vegetarians.
In Europe, the plant-based alternative market is predicted to be worth €7.5 billion by 2025, compared to €4.4 billion in 2019. In the US, sales of
plant-based food and drink are outpacing overall food growth fivefold and SPINS retail data from March 2020 shows that sales of plant-based foods that directly replace animal products have grown 29% in the past two years to reach $5 billion. The main target group here, besides strict vegans and vegetarians, is flexitarians – consumers who forego meat from time to time for health or ethical reasons. While vegan alternatives have long been part of the premium segment, the vast majority of discounters now sell corresponding products, making the category more widely accessible. But despite the private labels, prohibitive pricing still remains an issue: Meat alternatives can cost twice as much as meat, while plant-based milk can cost more than four times as much as dairy milk. Furthermore, younger generations care about sustainability, environmental and climate protection issues, and take such concerns into consideration when making purchasing decisions – far more so than older generations.
Segments and their potential
Meat alternatives: The food industry has made immense progress in mimicking animal protein using plant protein. However, there is still room for improvement, particularly in terms of fibrous texture, taste and off-notes, as well as juiciness. In many cases, this has been addressed by switching from a single vegetable protein (often textured wheat or soy) to a combination of different vegetable protein sources in order to achieve an appealing fibrous structure, and the use of encapsulated vegetable fats for juiciness. Still difficult, however, are whole-cut meats: High-moisture, twin-screw extrusion processes are tipped to be a game-changer when it comes to delivering such products, particularly for chicken and fish analogues, while some companies are using 3D printing to create complex, layered textures. Austrian start-up Legendary Vish, Spain’s NOVAMEAT and Israel’s Redefine Meat are all active in the 3D printing space. Other companies, meanwhile, are taking a single-ingredient and minimal processing approach by fermenting mycelium, the root-like structure of fungi, as a wholefood meat analogue.
Fish & Seafood Alternatives: Although analysts predict that demand for fish will outpace the ability of the world to supply it, there is still plenty of untapped market potential for plant-based alternatives to fish and seafood in comparison to beef, chicken and pork. Up till now, corresponding alternatives have concentrated mainly on soy, peas and algae, for example, for vegan prawns (New Wave Foods) or sushi tuna (Ocean Hugger Foods). But fermentation also plays a major role when it comes to mycoprotein-based alternatives. The major challenge when it comes to fish is that, unlike meat, it has segmented muscle tissue and a very different mouthfeel. Moreover, many consumers eat fish instead of meat because they consider it to be healthier. Therefore, manufacturers should pay special attention to the nutritional profile of their fish alternatives, and consider enriching them with vitamins and omega-3.
Dairy Alternatives: Be it soy, almond, oat, cashew, rice or quinoa, plant-based milk has long since shed its niche image and now appeals to both conscious consumers and those with allergies and intolerances. Analysts from Euromonitor International even refer to a ‘post-dairy era’.
According to Innova Market Insights, global sales of dairy alternative drinks rose 60% and spoonable, non-dairy yoghurts doubled between 2015 and 2019. Still challenging, though, is the nutritional value of certain milk alternatives. Besides soy and pea, most plant protein sources cannot compete with the protein content of cow’s milk. Therefore, consumers shunning dairy products could be attracted by either protein-fortified dairy alternatives or other nutritional benefits such as fibre or probiotic enrichment. Probiotics may help with protein digestibility and absorption, and Innova has identified the combination of plant proteins and probiotic cultures as ‘an ingredient synergy trend’ .
Cheese Alternatives: While plant-based milk has really taken off in recent years, cheese alternatives still tend to languish at the lower end of the scale. Mostly, it’s compromises in texture and taste that put flexitarians off these products.
According to Mintel, 49% of consumers surveyed said it is difficult to find cheese alternatives with good texture6. And another issue producers must address is the amount of ingredients that are currently used to mimic a cheese-like texture. The average plant-based cheese has 11 ingredients – such as coconut oil, modified starches, gums and other texturising agents – compared to just four in a traditional dairy cheese7. The result is an end product often high in saturated fat and low in protein – both of which are off-putting for health-conscious consumers.
Must-haves for a promising, plant-based future: Clean label and environmentally friendly
Sustainability is a key issue for consumers today but this does not apply equally to all foods: Especially plant-based alternatives, which are often bought for conscientious reasons, tend to be highly scrutinised. And with good reason. If a consumer buys such a product for animal welfare reasons, for example, and pays what may be a significantly higher price, they must be convinced of its environmental credentials.
However, not all ingredients used in these recipes manage to meet such consumer demands. Soy is a major driver of deforestation and habitat loss in South America, while intensive, pesticide-dependent cultivation of almonds in California, where around 80% of the world’s supply is grown, is linked to the collapse of bee colonies.
A recent European survey found that more than half of consumers (57%) want sustainability information to be compulsory on food labels8. Manufacturers can therefore score points with their products if they already comply with these requirements without legal obligation: Oatly and Quorn have added
front-of-pack carbon footprint labels to their products, while discounter Lidl has pledged to offset the carbon emissions it generates during production and transportation of its Next Level vegan range.
An additional milestone in the development of plant-based alternatives to meat and fish will only be reached when complex processing methods can be replaced, where possible, by naturalness, and a large list of ingredients can be replaced by a clean label. From highly processed protein isolates to ingredients and additives for stability, texture and taste, many manufacturers currently still rely on these inclusions in order stay as close as possible to the original meat product. However, analysts warn that an over-reliance on technology, intensive processing methods and ingredients coming from a laboratory rather than from the kitchen cupboard could provoke a consumer backlash9. That being the case, flexitarians in particular may then choose the naturalness of meat and milk over the long ingredient lists of the alternatives – especially if these come from responsible animal husbandry.
3 Verena Wiederkehr, Head of food industry & retail, ProVeg International, Plant-based products: taking retailers to new sales highs, Fi Europe CONNECT 2020
5 Myrthe de Beukelaar, Market Analyst, Innova Market Insights, Plant protein trends amid the plant-based revolution, Fi Europe CONNECT 2020
6 Emma Schofield, Senior Analyst, Global food science, Mintel, Delivering taste and texture in plant-based foods, Fi Europe CONNECT 2020
Fi Europe combined with Hi Europe
22 November to 2 December, online event – 30 November to 2 December, Messe Frankfurt
After a purely virtual Fi Europe in 2020 as a result of the pandemic, Informa Markets will once again open the doors of Messe Frankfurt for an in-person show. It will be accompanied by an online event, catering for attendees who are unable to visit the venue due to travel restrictions or time constraints. The Fi Europe team expects the new hybrid format to attract more than 23,000 attendees and 1,200 exhibitors. The 10-point compliance plan of the “AllSecure Health & Safety Standard” will ensure that attendees can enjoy business and networking opportunities in optimal conditions at the show. Alongside exhibitors such as ADM, Chr. Hansen and Avebe, the Fi Europe Conference, the Fi Europe Innovation Challenge and the Startup Innovation Challenge will highlight all the latest industry breakthroughs.
More information: https://www.fieurope.com