Technical breakthroughs and evolving consumer priorities have helped to shift plant-based alternatives from being niche products to viable mainstream choices. This evolution is inextricably linked with the emergence of ‘flexitarianism’, where consumers consciously look for plant-based alternatives in order to reduce their meat intake.
“Plant-based options for non-vegans are often connected to environmental decisions,” notes Gay. “Consumers are increasingly conscious of the carbon footprint of raising cattle, for instance. They want to make choices that are better for the environment, and so they are increasingly choosing plant-based options.”
Consumers are also increasingly health conscious, a trend that has continued during lockdown.
“The Covid pandemic has in many ways raised awareness of health and wellbeing,” says Gay. “Many people have become more considerate about what they eat. The connection between strong immunity and a healthy diet has been key.”
Delivering lifestyle needs
At the same time of course, consumers want products that taste good. This is something they are generally not prepared to compromise on. In this respect, technological developments have been critical to enabling manufacturers to meet these exacting demands.
“This is a question not only of replacing animal-based proteins with plant-based proteins, but of ensuring that the taste of, say, an alternative shake, is almost like a dairy shake,” says Gay. “There are still some slightly negative taste connotations surrounding plant-based proteins, but there are ways around this. Manufacturers can combine protein sources, or use natural flavours to mask the taste of some plant-sourced proteins. We have seen for example, vegan dairy-like creamers coming onto the market.”
Gay notes that consumers are increasingly being won around to the taste of plant-based ingredients through social media and product reviews, and through being exposed to good products. Millennials in particular are very conscious about the social and environment impact of their product choices, and are keen to share their lifestyles with their peers.
Another interesting growth sector for plant-based ingredients is meal replacements. These are increasingly not just for athletes or sportspeople, but for busy people on the go, who might not want to stop for lunch but are keen to supply their body with the nutrition they need. Again, taste is critically important for this target group.
“Gaming and e-sports have also rapidly increased during lockdown,” notes Gay. “Here again, meal replacements can fill in a need. Gamers can spend many intense hours a day playing online and as a result can forget to prepare and consume healthy and nutritious meals. As a result, we are seeing a lot more meal replacement brands coming into this space. It is still somewhat niche, but sales numbers are very healthy.”
Meeting the taste challenge
There remain of course challenges to successfully integrating plant-based ingredients into products that appeal to mainstream consumers.
“Gelling capabilities, texture, taste … these are all considerations,” says Gay. “More traditional plant protein products can still tend to be kind of grainy, although this problem can increasingly be overcome with non-dairy creamers. These suspend the protein much better in a solution and provide that dairy mouthfeel.”
This is where Prinova can help, says Gay. The company can deliver solutions for manufacturers looking for value-added solutions, as well as for manufacturers looking for raw ingredients.
“Over the past ten years or so we have moved further down the value chain, to be able to help manufacturers get their formulations right and ensure that they are taking all considerations into account,” he says.
“Being vertically integrated means that we have strong supplier-manufacturer relationships, providing the associated cost benefits, it also means that we can deliver solutions further down the line as well. E.g. a customer interested in integrating pea protein into a powdered shake for example might need help with flavour masking and mouthfeel. This is where we can help.”
Be sure to catch Tony Gay at the Company Case Study titled 'How the plant-based movement is going beyond veganism and shaping the future of new product development' at the Fi Global CONNECT - Plant-based ingredients in the Spotlight virtual event on Monday 13th September at 11am.