How ingredient technology can spark consumer loyalty – and keep plant-based products on supermarket shelves
It’s something of a paradox that one of the regions with the highest meat consumption in the world also ranks among the global top three for veganism. According to the Vegan Society, only the UK has more vegans than Australia and New Zealand.
In Australia, a plant-based diet is now the preferred choice of some 2.5 million consumers – just over 12% of the population. That includes vegans, vegetarians and the growing number of flexitarians, who still eat meat and dairy products occasionally but prioritise plant-based food products for health and sustainability reasons.
Many food companies have already tapped into this opportunity. This much is clear from Euromonitor statistics which show the market for plant-based milk alternatives grew 5% year-on-year from 2015 to 2019. Within plant-based alternatives to meat, compound annual growth was 11 per cent in the same period.
The question is: what should brand owners do now to maintain a loyal consumer following in the future?
Michelle Lee, regional marketing director at DuPont Nutrition & Biosciences, gives her view on the developing plant-based market.
“What we have seen is that many of the plant-based launches do not attract high repeat purchases. This is partly because consumers often buy them out of curiosity alone, and partly because manufacturers are still learning about consumer likes and dislikes within this emerging mainstream category.”
Plant-based and meat-like
Within meat alternatives, one persistent challenge is to recreate the taste and texture of real meat with plant raw materials, as consumers continue to expect a meat-like flavour, succulence and bite.
This is where the newest technology within plant proteins and stabiliser systems can help brands capture consumer loyalty. Textured soy proteins, for instance, can simulate the distinctive bite of a traditional burger, chicken breast or beef jerky. They also enable the protein claim that many consumers look out for on packaging.
Beyond dairy alternatives
Compared to meat alternatives, the market situation for plant-based beverages and yoghurt-style products is somewhat different. Here, consumers are already moving beyond dairy alternatives towards a category that celebrates the novel tastes and textures plant proteins can provide. As Global Data’s 2019 survey of Australian consumers revealed, non-dairy drinks based on soy, oats, nuts and seeds are already widely accepted. Among them, oat-based product launches have the highest growth rate of all.
“Oats are a familiar cereal known for their high nutritional quality and mild, nutty flavour with no off-notes. So they satisfy consumers’ health and taste criteria easily. But, for manufacturers, there are several technical challenges to solve when producing appealing and shelf-stable oat-based products,” Lee says.
Resolving oat-based issues
Oat-based coffee creamers are one example where the difficulty lies in delivering a delicious milk-like foam without protein separation when the creamer is mixed into hot coffee. Application trials at DuPont have shown that a combination of oat, soluble fibre and carob protein is a possible solution, resulting in a stable UHT beverage with a creamy mouthfeel and light oat flavour.
In yoghurt-style oat snacks, the right selection of starter, protective and probiotic cultures can optimise texture, delay spoilage and contribute to a healthy image. Label-friendly stabiliser blends and plant proteins add extra functionality.
Textural limitations and consumer demand for ‘clean’ product labels may have restricted plant-based innovation in the past. With today’s ingredient technology, however, manufacturers have many opportunities to spark consumer interest – and keep it.