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What's the secret to powering the plant-based market?

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Examining the opportunity to create appealing meat and dairy alternatives that will attract consumer interest and help brands compete on shelf.

Consumer interest in flexitarian, vegetarian and vegan diets has never been higher, with people making more plant-based purchasing choices than ever before. This trend looks set to continue, with DSM research from 10 countries across the globe showing that 53% of consumers will be looking for more plant-based alternatives in the coming years.[1] From well-established meat and dairy alternative brands and disruptive start-ups to traditional animal protein producers—brands big and small have been quick to respond with innovative plant-based options, alongside traditional meat and dairy varieties, to cater to this growing interest. But as the plant-based market becomes ever more competitive, how can brands stand out on supermarket shelves and appeal to increasingly discerning consumers?

Overcoming taste and texture barriers

There is ample opportunity to unlock the potential of this booming market, but manufacturers must first face a range of challenges in creating appealing dairy and meat alternatives that meet consumers’ evolving expectations. It is no longer enough for products to be simply plant-based; the sensory properties of plant-based solutions are a strong influencer in consumers’ purchasing decisions too. Developing dairy and meat alternatives with a great taste, texture and mouthfeel is, therefore, now essential for manufacturers to keep abreast of the competition.

When developing dairy alternative drinks, for example, manufacturers must factor in additional steps in the production process to overcome barriers in solubility and unlock the natural sweetness of raw materials, such as rice and oats, to meet regional variations in preferences over sweetness levels. Northern Europeans, for instance, look for dairy alternatives with less sweetness and more of a focus on cereal flavours compared to their southern European counterparts. And when it comes to meat alternatives, manufacturers have long been faced with the challenge of creating products that offer an enjoyable and authentic eating experience, resembling the ‘umami’ and maillard flavours and chewy, juicy mouthfeel of grilled and fried meat products. Indeed, DSM’s research found that 62% of people would eat more meat alternatives if they had a ‘better’ taste, while 28% of people reported that dissatisfaction with the plant-based food currently available has led them to consume fewer of these products.[2] Meat alternatives also often rely on sodium to achieve the desired flavours and mouthfeel, but as concerns are rising worldwide about high salt levels in consumers’ diets[3], the industry is facing pressure to manage the sodium content in products carefully.                                                

A nutrition boost

Alongside taste and texture considerations, there is growing pressure on manufacturers to create an appealing nutritional profile for today’s health-conscious consumers. Both dairy and meat products form a key part of a balanced diet for many people worldwide. Unfortified plant-based alternatives, however, may have a lower nutritional value than their traditional counterparts, which can present a stumbling block for producers of plant-based goods. Recent research has revealed that 85% of people who follow an elimination diet—like vegetarianism and veganism—are aware that they may not be meeting the recommended intake levels of essential vitamins and minerals.[4] As such, nutrient-rich dairy and meat alternatives, like oat milk and plant-based burger patties fortified with vitamins, are increasingly in demand and can be a valuable differentiator in gaining consumer preference.

What’s new in the ingredient space?

The latest ingredient solutions highlight the strong potential for developing great-tasting, nutritious meat and dairy alternatives, without consumers having to compromise.

  • Solutions for meat alternatives

Yeast extracts, are one way in which manufacturers can enhance the taste and texture of plant-based protein in meat alternatives, by masking flavour off-notes and delivering an intense ‘meaty’ flavour and the chewy, juicy mouthfeel that animal fat brings. DSM has developed its Maxarome® and Multirome® portfolios for developers looking to achieve this. Typically, salt is relied on to achieve these authentic sensory properties in meat alternative applications, however yeast extracts are attracting attention as an effective alternative, as they support the development of ‘salty’ tastes and deliver an authentic ‘meaty’ mouthfeel in systems, but result in lower sodium levels than when using salt. Hydrocolloids, such as DSM’s GELLANEER™, can also address texture challenges by supporting the development of the fatty mouthfeel that consumers have come to expect from meat alternative products.

  • Solutions for dairy alternatives

Enzymes, like DSM’s Delvo®Plant range, can be used to help optimise mouthfeel in line with consumer expectations by increasing the solubility of plant protein. These enzymes also help leverage the sugars naturally present in raw materials like oats and rice, allowing manufacturers to meet local preferences for the sweetness of plant-based drinks, without adding sugar. Meanwhile, hydrocolloid and taste modulation solutions are now used to deliver plant-based drinks with more body and a creamier mouthfeel, without compromising on flavor.

When it comes to boosting nutrition levels, growing numbers of manufacturers are formulating with high-quality vitamin and premix solutions. This is particularly useful when developing plant-based dairy and meat alternatives, which typically contain lower levels of calcium, protein, vitamins and other nutrients than dairy and meat products. And new innovations in this space, like vegan fish solutions and DSM’s unique, plant-based protein CanolaPRO™[5], promise brand owners further support in the development of nutrient-rich, great-tasting dairy and meat alternatives that stand out in today’s market.   

Looking forward

With the plant-based market showing no signs of slowing down, developing on-trend products that are inspired by a deep understanding of consumer needs and preferences will be key for brand owners looking to differentiate their offering. From yeast extracts, to enzymes, hydrocolloids, vitamins and premixes, manufacturers now have access to a wide range of ingredients that will help them meet the growing number of formulation challenges. Not only do these ingredients provide functional benefits, they are also helping to bridge the nutritional gap for increasingly health-aware consumers. Optimising formulations with the latest ingredient innovations will enable manufacturers to meet evolving expectations and create plant-based alternatives that keep consumers coming back for more.

Gilbert Verschelling is Director Business Development & Innovation at DSM

[1] Ibid.
[2] Ibid.
[3] World Health Organization, salt reduction , https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/salt-reduction, accessed on 07.05.2020.
[4] Ibid.
5] CanolaPRO™ will be commercialized in 2022, with product samples already available to trial today.

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