The plant is far from reaching a ceiling, say the pioneers

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August 03, 2022 — Cleaning up the plant label, boosting sustainability, refining regional material sourcing, and optimizing on-shelf products for more diverse offerings – these are just a few of the priority areas for plant space , according to The Planters.

Brian Walker, Global Commercial Director, looks at future opportunities for plant-based products, exploring how the industry is poised to take products to the next level when it comes to clean labeling, nutrition and impact environmental.

Planteneers, which helps companies develop plant-based solutions, recently showcased several products at IFT Chicago, including plant-based smoked salmon and salmon fillets as well as plant-based pepperoni.

FoodIngredientsFirst was on the show floor for an in-depth interview with Walker.

“There’s a bit of focus on seafood because it’s one of the next categories that’s getting a lot of interest in the market,” he says. “When the plant-based trend started, there were no real rules about it. People just wanted to put products on the market; they wanted to have them on the shelves, in restaurants, on menus, etc

Walker explains how this demand has been somewhat met in some categories, and now there is more emphasis on diversification and optimization.

“Current trends are things like plant-based cheese, where consumers are telling us that there aren’t enough specialty cheese choices, that there isn’t enough variety, that some products on the market do not meet their expectations,” continues Walker.

“Same with plant-based fish. So we’re working a lot on fruit, fish and seafood, but we’re also optimizing some of the things that are on the shelves. There’s always an improvement in products as we learn better technologies,” he explains.

Consumers are also increasingly aware of and concerned about clean label credentials of herbal products, which so far have not necessarily received the same level of scrutiny as non-herbal products.

While millennials push the demand for sustainability and climate-related drivers for better products, animal welfare doesn’t seem to be tied to a certain demographic.

While the clean label movement has been around for 15 years or more in general food formulation, applying it to the relatively new plant-based space is now much more relevant. The same goes for durability.

“Before, there were no real rules and big ingredient labels that read like a few paragraphs on the side of the product, but now we’re seeing retailers, food service operators, etc., say that consumers are a bit more concerned about this. Can we have cleaner labels? Can we have more transparency?

“Slowly but surely we see this happening in the future as one of the pillars of the plant-based trend is sustainability.”

One example is how consumers are beginning to care about the botanical sources of their plant proteins and their geographical sources; ask questions like “where are they from?” and “what kind of carbon footprint do they have?”

“We see a bit more upside now and a bit of a marketing strategy in regional sourcing products.”

An example is that in the past, beans grown in Canada were shipped to China for protein isolation. Then that protein isolate was shipped to Planteneers in Germany to be included in some of their solutions, which may well then be shipped back to Canada as an ingredient for a food company to bring a product to market.

It’s not a particularly favorable carbon footprint, and sustainability is a crucial element underpinning the plant-based trend.

Meanwhile, animal welfare and nutrition are also driving plant-based innovation.

As millennials push the demand for sustainability and climate-related drivers for better products, animal welfare doesn’t seem to be tied to a certain demographic, “it’s just how people feel,” explains Walker.

On the other hand, nutrition is extremely important for older consumers who tend to think more about their health and consider cutting out meat (while keeping it in their diet) and eating more of a plant-based diet for a healthier lifestyle. Of course, it’s not just baby boomers who are paying attention. Walker notes that anyone who is nutritionally savvy and aware of what they eat is considering more plant-based options in everyday life.

Looking for an alternative to clean the label
Looking at increased regional sourcing and cleaning up the label in more detail, Walker explains how the company puts together its vegetable and functional blends to be mindful of these two key factors.

“We are looking at solutions to eliminate some of the numbers on the labels, some of the other things that might not be considered as clean as others and open up transparency. Can we replace some of the hydrocolloids with things like fiber and protein? Or can we replace the modified starch with native starch, that sort of thing, and we incorporate that into our solutions,” adds Walker.

Also, from a regional perspective, what kind of proteins do we use in our functional blends? Where do they come from ? We try to align with these trends to help our clients take advantage of these trends in terms of presenting products that consumers are really looking for.

“Plant-Based: The canvas for innovation” is Innova Market Insights‘ second trend for 2022, highlighting Walkers’ points.

The data confirms that personal health and global sustainability are proving to be strong drivers of consumer choice, pushing plant-based R&D to refocus from imitation meat, fish and dairy to optimization and diversification of options.Innova Market Insight indicates that consumers consider plant-based alternatives to be healthier and better for the planet.

Market research claims that consumers consider plant-based alternatives to be healthier and better for the planet. And, the desire for dietary variation is further driving interest in plant-based products beyond the traditional vegan and vegetarian sectors, leading to a 59% increase in new plant-based product launches over the past year. year until August 2021.

While the plant space is clearly constantly changing, there is a sense that it may have somewhat plateaued.

However, Walker points out that there are significant opportunities for growth.

“Growth has certainly slowed over the past few months, and here are a few reasons why. Globally, everyone is feeling the economic pinch and herbal products are usually priced high in supermarket chains and retail. It is therefore considered more of a discretionary expense than a must-have by some consumers.

Another key reason consumers may shy away from plant-based products is that they may not be completely satisfied with the taste experience.

“Many consumers are trying plant-based foods for the first time. If they try a product that doesn’t meet their expectations, they tell themselves that, for example, plant-based yogurt isn’t for them or plant-based pepperoni isn’t for me.

“But if you try a new brand of yogurt and you don’t like it, you keep buying it. Just stop buying that one. But with the vegetal at the moment, these first impressions can influence the reflection. People may think, ‘well, I didn’t like that; therefore, I will not like any of them. It’s a bit of a challenge.

While the plant space is clearly constantly changing, there is a sense that it may have somewhat plateaued.

Repeat purchases are not where food companies would like them to be, and more work is needed to optimize products already in the market while offering more, more authentic products to meet consumer expectations.

“Flexitarians are the hard core of plant-based food consumers. And if they try new plant-based foods that come on the market and they don’t like them, it’s really hard to win them back because they lose faith in the category, not this particular product.

Room for everyone?
Looking to a future world where the population will grow to just under 10 billion by 2050, accelerating the need for alternative proteins, Walker expects technology to evolve and research and funding to flow into the fermentation techniques.

There’s also the burgeoning cellular space to consider.

“We need to keep tabs on what’s happening in all of these areas and how we can be relevant to them when needed,” Walker says.

Planteeners does not necessarily advocate for people to go vegan, but rather promotes a conscious approach to food which is an efficient and healthier way to feed the growing population.

“The world’s meat and dairy farmers are doing a fabulous job of becoming more sustainable and becoming more efficient and effective at what they do. But the thing is, it will never be as effective as eating plant-based foods directly. But it’s not for everyone. And, everyone wants variety in their food.

“So this growing midair area of ​​being a flexitarian, I believe, will continue to grow. I haven’t seen the latest hard numbers, but the share of plant-based foods in the overall US market is probably less than 2%. So it still has a lot of reach,” Walker concludes.

By Gaynor Selby

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