Over the past few years plant-based food has become more than 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 alternative to meat , even if they wouldn’t class themselves as ‘vegan’, with more people than ever labelling themselves ‘flexitarian’.
There are a number of reasons behind this. 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 well and truly been consigned to the past, and the market is constantly expanding with new innovations.
For those looking to tap 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 increasingly there is a demand for options that replicate the full sensory experience of their original alternative, with the smell and texture also central to the perceived quality of the product. The all-round sensation must match the consumer’s expectations in every sense if it is something they are going to consider. As highlighted, many of those choosing these plant-based options are not vegan and could choose an alternative with animal products, so these 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.
The plant-based category is also not exempt from the concerns about nutritional values. Health is one of the key reasons many people are choosing plant-based alternatives, meaning this is an important consideration for manufacturers. 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 fats, oils and butters without impacting taste or texture, as well as offering a lower fat content.
However, the health considerations extend far beyond fats and sugars – with Nutriscore 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 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 Nutriscore 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.
There has also been a notable shift towards products that are considered ‘clean-label’. One-third of consumers are looking to avoid food or drink that contains artificial ingredients , and we are seeing a shift towards products that are perceived as inherently ‘natural’ and include claims such as ‘no additives or preservatives’ or ‘organic’. Plant-based ingredients are therefore ideally placed to help manufacturers tap into this.
We know that taste is the number one purchase motivator for most global consumers, so we make sure our plant-based fibres and proteins have a clean taste as well as a neutral colour. By combining them with complimentary stabilisers and functional systems, they can also be easily blended into plant-based formulations to provide key functional benefits while maintaining the highest quality final product.
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 your food products, helping to improve product mouthfeel and texture profile, and can be labelled as a natural ingredient. The versatile range can act as a thickening or gelling agent, emulsifying component, or protein powder across a host of different formulations in dairy, bakery, beverage products and in soups, sauces and dressings.
We’ve worked with manufacturers on a range of innovations across different categories. We’ve helped to create Vegan Vegetable Hummus Sizzler, a high-quality vegetable patty that is not only clean-label, but is also made without texturised protein, soya or wheat, making it suitable for people with different allergies. It still provides a high quality, homogenous texture and produces a rich, vibrant taste with flavours of hummus, spinach, and Italian herbs.
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 it also 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.