3 Plant-Based Taste Challenges (and Solutions)

woman enjoying plant-based food

Expert insights on improving the taste of plant-based foods, including masking off-notes and creating authentic “meaty” flavour

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KerryDigest Fast Facts:

  • The plant-based category continues to experience significant growth as more flexitarians purchase meat alternatives.
  • Taste is the key driver for consumers, with 41% saying it’s their top concern.
  • This highlights the need for brands to address inherent issues with plant-based proteins such as off-notes as well as the demand for more authentic “meaty” flavours.
  • The below highlights from the recent “Plant-Based Taste Mastered” webinar address common plant-based taste challenges and solutions.

KerryDigest Full Scoop:

As the audience for plant-based products continues to grow and change, more consumers—especially flexitarians—are looking for direct replications of the animal-based products they’re used to, including plant-based products with a “meaty” taste. This poses new challenges for a market once saturated with consumers that wanted to avoid animal products altogether.

In the recent “Plant-Based Taste Mastered” webinar, Edmond Scanlon, CEO and Executive Director of Kerry Group, addressed the new industry mark of excellence: Creating plant-based products that are completely indistinguishable from animal-based products in both taste and texture. Once consistently achieved, the plant-based category is expected to be unstoppable.

For the past few years, plant-based meat companies have actively worked to better neutralise the inherent flavours of plant proteins, which is helping the market for meat alternatives progress and grow.couple enjoying plant-based meat pasta

For brands working toward this goal, Scanlon and experts from market research firm FlavorWiki and plant-based brand Eat the Change discussed why some products fall short, identifying in the webinar the following plant-based challenges and solutions.

Plant-based taste challenge 1: Masking off-notes

Kerry proprietary insights show taste is the number one driver for 41% of consumers in plant-based meats, highlighting the importance of finding the right flavour. However, some of the most common terms used to describe the off-notes that often accompany plant-based proteins are “beany”, “bitter”, “cardboard-like” and “earthy”. Before adding meaty flavours to a plant-based protein base, it is important to address and mask off-notes so there is a clean slate for further flavouring.

Over the past few years, plant-based meat companies have actively worked to better neutralise the inherent flavours of plant proteins, which is helping the market for meat alternatives progress and grow. Still, Kerry research found that taste is the top reason non-users haven’t tried a plant-based food or beverage. Our panel of experts agree that once the consumer taste demands are regularly met, the plant-based world will appeal to an even greater consumer segment.

Plant-based taste challenge 2: Over-seasoning or over-flavouring

While it may seem like adding more authentic flavours and seasonings to plant-based products would only help replicate the experience of eating meat, there is a limit. Daniel Protz, founder and CEO of FlavorWiki, found that when the company surveyed more 900 people about their least favourite plant-based product, the one with the worst ratings was commonly described as being “over-flavoured”.

This highlights an increasingly common occurrence: as their quality improves, flavours meant to replicate chicken, beef or other meat products are being used in too high a dose, creating a negative consumer taste experience. In addition to providing a stronger than typical taste, when these flavours are used in high doses, they can bring out the bitter notes of plant proteins. Once a blank slate is achieved by masking off-notes, flavouring solutions should be carefully measured out.

Plant-based taste challenge 3: Unauthentic flavours and experience

One final challenge faced by producers of plant-based meat alternatives is the need to create an eating experience that feels authentic to consumers. Often, plant-based products taste bitter and salty to consumers because high levels of sodium have been added to enhance flavour. “Bringing taste to plant-based analogues is not an easy task and you need to keep in mind that bringing better nutritional position to your concepts is key”, says Omar Lechuga, Kerry RD&A Director of Taste. “Rigorous testing and fine-tuning is necessary to create products with convincing taste profiles”.

plant-based burgerRigorous testing and fine-tuning is necessary to create products with convincing taste profiles.

In addition to delivering authentic taste, addressing texture and mouthfeel challenges in plant-based products can help to create an authentic experience, such as replicating the juiciness of meat.

Because many consumers are already partial to plant-based products due to sustainability reasons, Seth Goldman, co-founder and CEO of PLNT Burger, says they’ll be won over for good when plant-based producers can deliver on the flavour and culinary expectations that consumers have for a good meal.

With consumers demanding more from plant-based products, Kerry’s plant-based solutions can help. To learn more, view our recent Plant-Based Taste Mastered webinar or contact us.

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