Preparing for the Plant-based Food Boom

Plant Protein Wings

In Europe and beyond, the plant-based food market is set to grow as consumers focus on sustainability and the origin of their food

Traditionally, plant-based products were made specifically for vegans or vegetarians, often by compromising on taste and texture. But in recent years, we’ve watched the trend accelerate and grow as people following all eating styles become more health conscious and interested in sustainability and as the quality of plant-based products improves.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, interest around plant-based products has increased in Europe and other regions, due in part to environmental concerns and general health worries. Data from Kerry Trendspotter, our proprietary artificial intelligence social listening tool, reflects this, showing consumers are talking more on social media about plant-based foods, from DIY protein bowls to the environmental impact of a plant-based diet.

In addition to quick consumer adoption, the rapid pace of innovation in plant-based products sets this space apart from more traditional categories. As more new products and formats enter the market, there are no signs this will slow anytime soon. We look at four plant-based trends in Europe that can be leveraged as opportunities by brands in or entering the plant-based space.

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People and planet—sustainability as a driver

There is a strong correlation between the rise of the flexitarian and vegan consumer and the drive to act more sustainably. Consumers are keen to reduce their carbon footprint and accept their role in combating climate change. This, in turn, impacts their purchasing behaviours.

For example, from Kerry’s proprietary research, we know that 57% of European consumers have reduced their meat intake due to environmental concerns. Sourcing is also a driver for these consumers: according to Kerry ConsumerFirst data, 67% of Europeans say understanding where food comes from is important to them.

These consumers want to know more about the ingredients in plant-based products in an attempt to ensure items are ethically sourced and have limited environmental impact. Brands are turning to storytelling and marketing to help share such information as well as on-pack callouts and messaging.

For example, the sustainable offerings under Kerry’s Radicle portfolio of plant-based products and ingredients give brands transparent solutions for eco-conscious consumers. Our clean smoke technology delivers traditional smoke flavour with an 80% reduction in CO2 emissions when compared to traditional smoking processing, a 90% reduction in water usage and a 70% reduction in the use of volatile chemicals such as PAHs. 

The emergence of flexitarians

In recent years, the rise of the flexitarian consumer has exponentially increased the demand for plant-based products. These people are looking to diversify their protein intake for a variety of reasons, including ethical concerns, perceived health benefits, animal rights, novel formats and reducing their carbon footprint.

Compared to vegans and vegetarians, flexitarians demand more from plant-based offerings since they can switch in and out of eating meat when they like. This means that plant-based products need to hold their own in terms of taste, texture and nutrition. As flexitarians are not tied to the idea of a completely meat-free diet, they will seek products that drive joy and offer new experiences as they experiment with plant-based products and meat substitutes.

Sensorial playground

Research shows that consumers are generally unwilling to compromise on taste, which is one of the main challenges in plant-based foods. Whereas meat has its own flavour profile and succulence, plant proteins have a number of key taste challenges, such as a bitter aftertaste.

Although flavour masking can be accomplished through the use of taste modulation ingredients, plant-protein producers must also understand how to create a desirable flavour profile. For example, umami and kokumi ingredients allow customers to create a balanced and succulent taste profile.

Some innovators in the meat alternative space will want to use meat as the benchmark in terms of taste and texture while others may turn to plants for inspiration, since a segment of consumers would rather have products that don’t try to mimic meat.

To drive repeat purchases, products must deliver on taste in a way that meets the expectations of the consumer. Adding chefs, flavourists and sensory scientists to your innovation process can help create products that deliver strong consumer appeal.

360 Health

Kerry ConsumerFirst data shows that more than half of UK of consumers now check nutritional facts on their products. This can pose a challenge in the plant-based space, as some products have lengthy ingredient declarations or lack nutritional benefits.

plant-growth-2020-quotes-1plant protein skewers

Although the plant-based space has a general ‘health halo’, consumers are increasingly nutritionally astute and expect plant-based products to be clean label, deliver a quality source of protein and nutrition and not have a high salt content. Fat content is also a concern, since fat is often used in plant-based products to deliver succulence and taste.

Currently, we’re seeing renovation in the marketplace with customers in the plant-based market acting to clean up their labels and improve product functionality. For innovators in this space, it is important to stay informed of consumer and nutritional trends that are shaping the protein category and how these trends are expected to evolve over time. 

For example, we know protein is a recurring consumer insight and nutrition call-out, and we are now seeing consumers become increasingly aware of the quality of the protein they consume. Because plant-based products often include added protein, brands should assess the amino acid profile of their protein source as well as its quality and bioavailability.

Tomorrow begins Today at Kerry. Our insight-led innovation is designed to help you succeed faster. Visit our European website to find out more about partnering on future projects. To learn more about how COVID-19 is affecting the food and beverage industry, including changes in consumer preferences and purchasing behaviors, visit Kerry’s COVID-19 resource page.

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