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What’s missing on the plant-based shelf? [Interview]

Following their recent consumer survey, ProVeg International has found that enormous potential exists for developing and launching new plant-based products in multiple food categories. We caught up with Dr Kai-Brit Bechtold, Senior Consumer Research Scientist at ProVeg, to find out more about how consumers’ experiences of purchasing and consuming plant-based products can help identify future opportunities within the plant-based food space.
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Can you briefly tell us about the survey – what was the main focus and which countries  participated?

“ProVeg International recently conducted a survey of 6,221 consumers, across nine European countries (UK, Germany, Austria, France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Denmark, and the Czech Republic) in order to identify priorities for product improvement and development, based on consumers’ experience of purchasing and consuming plant-based products. The survey report can be downloaded on the ProVeg website.”

Who are the consumers of plant-based products in Europe?

“In general, we know from other studies that around 90% of plant-based products are bought by consumers that also buy animal products. Furthermore, depending on the source and country, we also know that 30-60% of people are flexitarians and this number is expected to increase due to a fundamental shift in food consumption in the direction of sustainable, healthy, plant-based food.”

What are some of the regional differences that you have discovered regarding consumer preferences?

“Generally, the consumption of plant-based products varies widely across European nations, and as such, we highly recommend to take national preferences into account. For example, consumption rates of plant-based cheese is the highest in the UK and Belgium with 67%, and the lowest in France with 42% – due probably to the devotion of French people to dairy-based cheese, and the fact that plant-based cheeses seldom live up to their animal-based counterparts.”

“Danish and UK consumers purchase the most plant-based butter (80% in both countries), while the Danes consume the least plant-based yoghurt (56%). The consumption of meat alternatives is quite high in all countries already, while Austria and Switzerland consume the most plant-based chocolates and baked goods, with 75% and 72% respectively.”

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What are consumers lacking on the plant-based shelf?

“Plant-based cheese, ready meals, seafood, and alternatives to eggs are among the biggest opportunities in the plant-based sector. Apart from these categories, there are not enough plant-based options available in retail locations in almost every food category. The results also reveal that consumers want to see more variety in terms of product types, raw materials, textures, and flavours.”

What did you find most surprising from the survey results?

“As experts in the plant-based sector we anticipated these kinds of results. One key take-away is that there are massive opportunities in every category.”

What are your predictions for the plant-based market over the next 3-5 years?

“New ingredients will be deployed that are functional, healthy and sustainable. Currently, the number of raw materials being used is very limited. Furthermore, there will be highly innovative alternative products mimicking their animal-based counterparts, such as whole cuts of meat (e.g. steaks or fillet). In terms of sustainability, there will be more usage of side streams of food production to eliminate waste, moving towards a more circular economy model.”

What are your predictions for the F&B industry over the next 3-5 years?

“Our predictions for the F&B industry over the next 3-5 years are strongly driven by the global outbreak of COVID-19, since the pandemic accelerates the fundamental shift in food consumption. Successful companies will be those that produce food and beverages which improve the health of the planet and its population. For instance, cellular and fermentation technologies will offer not only the opportunity to create animal products without the animals; they will also allow for hybrid or fusion products, uniting the best of both worlds (e.g. the genuine taste of chicken infused into a tofu-based chicken wing).”

For more insights into the future opportunities of plant-based products, join us for Dr Kai-Brit Bechtold’s presentation ‘European consumer survey on plant-based foods’ during Fi Europe CONNECT 2020.

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