What are some common consumer conceptions surrounding plant-based alternative products, and how can brands manage these? We asked Emma Schofield, associate director of global food science, Mintel. Emma will be taking part in the Plant-based Deep Dive Day on 14 June, part of the free-to-attend Fi Webinar Series. Click here to sign up.
What are some of the most common consumer perceptions of plant-based alternative products?
“Plant-based alternatives, from cheese to chocolate to fish, are more commonly popping up in food retail and service, and many consumers are intrigued to test out these ‘new’ products, which for a large amount of whom, are unfamiliar territory.
“Plant-based alternatives are often cited as being more sustainable than their conventional counterparts of animal ingredients or proteins. The (usually) positive link between plant-based foods and the environment can influence consumers into switching from animal- to plant-based products.
“However, plant-based foods often fail to meet expectations on fundamental attributes like taste and price, which are often more important to a higher percentage of consumers than attributes linked to sustainability.”
When it comes to consumer demands, what common challenges does the plant-based alternative market face?
“Plant-based alternatives often carry a functional rather than indulgent image and may be less likely to resonate with consumers as foods for special occasions, or for treats.
“The taste and texture of plant-based meat alternatives are often considered barriers to consumer loyalty, with many consumers agreeing they would eat a greater amount of meat substitutes if they tasted more like real meat.”
Many consumers are sceptical about the healthiness of meat and dairy alternatives, often due to the way in which they are processed or the ingredients they contain. Given these perceptions, what can plant-based alternative brands do to clean up their product labels?
“Attributes linked to naturalness are very important to consumers, and in some cases, can be more important to consumers than attributes linked to nutrition. Often, consumers believe plant-based alternative products are more processed than their conventional counterparts. Forty-five percent of French consumers agree that dairy alternatives are too processed, and 39% of German consumers agree that meat substitutes are too processed.
“However, many processed conventional meat products carry long ingredients lists, and contain additives like sodium nitrite that do not align to the typical definition of a ‘clean’ ingredients list.
“Demand for processed conventional meat (regardless of the use of ‘unclean’ ingredients) highlights that health and naturalness are not always the most important attributes to consumers when buying meat products or their alternatives.
“However, when targeting the health-conscious consumer, producers should be very proactive in educating consumers about the ingredients used in plant-based alternatives, including why a less familiar ingredient is in a product, and where it has been sourced from. Focusing on naturalness is especially important for plant-based products that are likely to be compared to unprocessed whole-cuts of conventional counterparts.”
What can manufacturers do to ensure their plant-based products are viewed as healthy alternatives by consumers?
“In addition to focusing on attributes linked naturalness such as clean label, producers can focus on attributes linked to health and nutrition that are relevant in the conventional meat and dairy equivalent products.
“Saturated fat is key, especially as many plant-based products use coconut fats that are typically high in saturated fat.
“The rising popularity of plant-based diets may draw new attention towards protein quality from a nutrition perspective.
“Finally, many plant-based ingredients are natural sources of fibre, and producers of plant-based foods should take advantage of this.”