Feeding a population of 10 billion with a healthy diet by 2050 is a key challenge for the food sector. A recent report suggests that approximately half of people’s diets should be vegetables and fruits. Furthermore, by reducing, and not necessarily eliminating, meat from our diets, we can achieve less greenhouse gas emissions and less water usage.
“More and more people are opting for flexitarian diet, where they consciously reduce meat intake for both sustainability and health reasons,” notes Herkner. “Alternative proteins are bridging the gap – they are providing a way for individuals who enjoy the taste of meat, to not miss out.”
A key challenge lies with selecting the right protein, from the right supplier.
“When deciding what protein to use in your food product, a number of key factors should be considered,” says Grohmann. “These include supply stability – ensuring a constant supply to meet growing production requirements, and that quality is at a consistent level – price, sustainability, protein content and bioavailability / digestibility. Different suppliers have different quality proteins – at different cost levels. Lower quality source protein will require more effort for masking off-notes.”
In the past you only typically saw suppliers of soy and pea proteins. Many different sources are available now, from algae to sunflower.
“Symrise conducted a study of consumers in 2020, which showed that familiar proteins are preferred by consumers – sources such as rice, lentils, chickpeas and almonds were at the top of the list,” says Osche.
“There is also a move towards more sustainable protein sources. Food manufacturers can use this as a way to not only benefit the environment, but also stand out from the growing number of alternative protein products on the market today. Two examples of sustainable protein sources include fava bean (a.k.a. broad bean), and mycoprotein, a fermented mushroom protein.”
Promising new directions
The Symrise team identified two key directions for alternative proteins, both of which come with unique challenges. First, meat analogues - faux meat which are made using alternative protein – can serve as bridging the gap for people reducing meat. In terms of challenges, they need to get more authentic / like real meat. Taste is still a key driver behind purchases.
“Almost like new iPhone releases, we see improvements with each new version in terms of taste, smell, texture and appearance,” says Herkner. “However, they suffer from a negative image of being over processed. Consumer read the label and see long ingredient lists – a shorter and cleaner ingredient list would improve the perception of health.”
A second direction is what the Symrise team call ‘Proudly Green’ (plant-based culinary meals which do not try and imitate meat but rather put the vegetables on centre stage). Challenges involve adding extra value when compared to raw vegetables which consumers can also purchase. Manufacturers can try to add complexity and ensure adequate and desired protein content levels. Consumers also want convenience, especially younger consumers.
Applying new technologies
In terms of promising new technologies, bio-mass fermentation (used in the production of mycoprotein) was identified.
“This process involves fermenting naturally occurring fungi spores to create a biomass of protein for consumption,” says Grohmann. “This process is sustainable, requiring less water and outputting less waste. Results include in a nice texture, which is commonly associated with lighter meat types, such as chicken nuggets.”
Fortification is also being applied.
“A common concern of consumers wanting to reduce their meat intake is the large number of ammino acids and vitamins that are more easily found in animal meat,” says Osche. “Reducing meat intake will therefore prove more difficult to maintain a balanced and healthy diet. Fortifying alternative protein products is a way to alleviate this concern, leading to the transition of more consumers.”
Masking off-notes found in protein is also critical. This allows for a neutral base where then food manufacturers can begin to build their signature taste profile. Different protein types however have to be approached differently in regard to masking their off notes.
“Even the same protein but coming from different suppliers (i.e., soy from multiple suppliers) can require different masking methods, due to how the raw protein is processed,” explains Grohmann. “It is not a one-size-fits all solution.”
For this reason, Symrise has developed a new tool ‘ProtiScan®’, which enables accurate assessment and characterization of plant-based proteins. ProtiScan allows for the analysis of protein sources, off-note management, and flavour release. By analysing off-notes in the base protein, a prediction model can be applied, which recommends masking directions. This cuts down on development time, enabling a faster go-to-market, which can be very valuable for food manufacturers.
Symrise has three groups of masking solutions. The first - neutral taste natural flavour – offers masking solutions labelled as ‘Natural Flavours’ that do not add a taste to the final product (taste neutral). The second “Neutral taste food ingredient”, offers masking solutions from food labelled as a kitchen-like ingredient which do not add a taste to the final product (taste neutral). Finally, Symrise offers typified vegetable food ingredients – masking solutions from food that give a typified vegetable note in the final product and are labelled as such, for example onion or garlic.
“The consumer desire towards natural, cleaner, and shorter ingredient lists can make masking a challenge,” says Osche. “Through using natural flavours or food ingredient solutions for masking, producers can create great tasting products, with short ingredient lists, that consumers love.”
Achieving market success
Perfect examples of products that have successfully incorporated alterative proteins include the Quorn and Beyond Meat brands.
“Both companies over the years have strived for better tasting and more sustainable products,” says Herkner. “The history of Quorn, which ferment fungi to create mycoprotein, started in the 1960s. Since then, the company has improved its recipe and processes to be ever more sustainable, tastier, and healthy.”
This continuous improvement can also be seen with the Beyond Meat company, which has seen improvement in each generation of its Beyond Burger.
“You can reach the conclusion that the secret to successfully incorporating alternative proteins is continual improvement and development on recipes and processes,” adds Herkner.
Overall, developing alternative protein products can be challenging for manufacturers, especially those stepping into the category for the first time. There is a great development curve in regard to masking, enriching, typifying and perfecting appearance.
“Having an experienced partner to co-create with can save valuable time and effort with recipe and application know-how,” concludes Herkner. “Market-tested and consumer-preferred taste solutions can make a big difference to products. Decisions should be based on consumer and market understanding/knowledge, as this is what is driving the alternative protein category.”