“Plant-based has become a buzz term,” says Gay. “We’ve seen this in the meat-free market, where products have moved from providing vegan options towards promoting the health benefits of plant-based food. This is because a growing proportion of the population wants a significant proportion of their diet to be plant-based.”
A second key growth category for plant-based ingredients has been the popularity of alternatives to dairy milk. Gay notes that both mainstream and niche brands have capitalised on the plant-based movement, while integrating the perceived benefits of dairy milk by fortifying their products with calcium. Other beverage sectors have also gotten in on the game.
“You now have plant-based products in the protein drinks segment,” he notes. “Instead of whey or dairy proteins, consumers have the choice of plant-based protein drinks.”
In fact, plant-based ingredients are migrating into almost all beverage categories. Staying with nutritional drinks, Gay notes that energy beverages have typically been associated with synthetic ingredients. Now however, many brands are taking a natural approach with flavourings and sweeteners that tie into a plant-based diet. Natural caffeine sources, such as green coffee, are also increasingly being tapped. Major energy drinks brands have launched natural ingredient versions of their products.
Another interesting development, which is very much on-trend, is the emergence of natural-based products designed to boost immunity. The Covid19 epidemic, which has been with us for most of 2020, has concentrated people’s minds on wellbeing and maintaining health.
“We have seen brands position themselves with products offering targeted immunity benefits,” says Gay. “In the beverage sector, this includes formulating with plant ingredients high in vitamin C, such as acerola cherry, elderberry and super fruits such as goji berries.”
A number of health brands have also launched small-format 60ml shots. These products, with natural vitamin content, are again positioned around immunity.
Natural fruit juices, particularly products targeted at kids, are also proving popular. Parents are increasingly looking for natural formulations, and anything offering plant-based benefits get the ‘thumbs up’.
“For example, we currently offer a formulation based on marine algae, which is a source of calcium,” explains Gay. “Seaweed-based calcium fortification is a natural, clear and soluble plant-based alternative to calcium carbonate.”
What makes consumers tick
Gay believes that consumer demand for plant-based ingredients in the beverage sector is being driven by a number of factors. Firstly, consumers are increasingly concerned about the environment, and are choosing plant-based options for environmental and sustainability reasons.
Another key factor is growing consumer awareness about the health benefits of a plant-based diet. This ties into the pursuit of active, healthy and enlightened lifestyles. Many people are looking to achieve some kind of balance in their life, says Gay.
“This can include wanting to reduce your consumption of animal protein, for the reasons already mentioned.”
Finally, consumers are actively looking for natural products, and this is having a clear impact on what they drink.
“Plant-based ingredients go hand-in-hand with consumer demand for natural ingredients,” says Gay. “This is a key reason why plant-based is coming on trend in this segment.”