During the early phases of the plant-based trend, many products were not required to have nutrient content or ingredient labels. The fact that these products were plant-based was enough to make them popular, and companies during this time focused on coming up with new ways to deliver alternatives to animal-derived foods. This was possible because consumers associate plant-based foods with being healthy.
As plant-based foods become more popular, it is important to pay more attention to their nutritional content. Now that the trend for healthy eating is becoming more popular, these plant based foods and beverages are not getting a free pass on nutrition anymore.
Health and nutrition are the top two reasons consumers in the United States purchase plant-based cheese, yogurt, or ice cream, and health is ranked third for plant-based meat alternatives.
Studies are beginning to show that people who replace animal-based foods with plant-based alternatives can end up decreasing their intake of important nutrients while increasing their intake of nutrients linked to disease, such as saturated fat, sodium, and sugar.
While there has been a lot of focus on protein intake, these studies highlight the importance of considering other nutrients as well.
As more people move away from consuming animal products, the nutritional content of plant-based foods and drinks is coming under greater scrutiny. We spoke with our experts in nutrition, food science, and marketing from around the world to understand the challenges of plant-based nutrition and what will lead to success in the future.
Development Strategies for Plant-Based Products
1. Choosing the Right Protein Source
There are many factors to consider when choosing a protein source for a plant-based product from the many options that are available. Supply chain, consumer perception, taste, flexibility in formulation, sustainability, and nutrition can all be deciding factors in what protein to use.
When thinking about nutrition, it is important to consider the quantity and quality of protein. The specific amino acids that are missing in most plant proteins varies depending on the source. Plants do not contain high levels of methionine, lysine, or tryptophan, but they do contain higher levels of non-essential amino acids, such as arginine, glycine, alanine, and serine.
2. Lengthy Ingredient Declarations
It’s often necessary to use many ingredients to recreate the taste, texture, and functionality of dairy-based milk or beef patties when making plant-based alternatives. This is understandable to some extent because cow’s milk is composed of various proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and other substances when it is produced by a cow.
The taste and texture of a product are important to make it appealing and taste good, but this can be difficult to achieve with long ingredient lists that many consumers find overwhelming.
3. Salt and Sugar Content
The two key reasons why salt and sugar can be a major nutrition concern in plant-based meat alternatives or beverages are because they can cause high blood pressure and increase the risk of heart disease. A plant-based product is less appealing to consumers when it is not organic.
A plant-based yogurt should not be high in sugar if the consumer is looking for a healthy option.
The amount of sugar or salt in a product can have an impact on the product label, especially in areas where front-of-pack labeling systems exist to identify high sugar or salt levels. Sugar or salt can be used to improve the taste of plant-based foods, but you must use caution against using too much because it could harm the health benefits that are one of the reasons people choose plant-based foods.
Many countries in Latin America have warnings on foods that contain high levels of salt.
The Nutri-Score system, which rates foods based on their nutritional content, is becoming increasingly popular in Europe. This, along with other initiatives to reduce calorie intake, has led to foods with high salt and sugar content receiving poor ratings.
4. Keep Ingredient Declarations Short by Using Multi-Functional Ingredients That Offer Nutrition, Taste and Texture
You can make each ingredient in a plant-based food more effective by being careful about which ingredients you choose, which will keep the ingredient list short. Suppliers who innovate in the plant-based food area will need to take this into account for the trend’s future.
More and more, plants are being screened for their potential to be used in artificial intelligence applications. For example, by studying how dairy proteins behave, it may be possible to create more authentic plant-based cheese.
Identifying innovative methods of processing whole-plant ingredients, for example oat flour, so as to improve their utilitarian value in food and drink while still providing nutrition, can make plant-based products more attractive to both consumers and product developers.
5. Keep Sodium and Sugar Low to Avoid Package Warnings & Health
It’s important to use sugar and salt sparingly in plant-based foods, as too much of either can make the food seem less healthy.
There is no one ingredient that can be used to replace sodium chloride in foods. World Action On Salt, Sugar and Health (WASSH) is a global group with the mission to improve the health of populations throughout the world by achieving a gradual reduction in salt and sugar intakes.
Many options exist to reduce sugar. Some possible ways to make food more palatable for those who have a diminished sense of taste are to use taste modulators, low-calorie sweeteners, or intense flavors.
READ MORE: How Much Sugar Is Safe To Eat?
6. Be Clean Label
Health is a very important factor in what food consumers choose to eat. At least a third of European consumers believe that health is the top priority when it comes to choosing food products.
People are increasingly interested in food items that are “clean label” which means they do not have any artificial additives or preservatives. Cedric Verstraeten says that AB InBev has done market research using AB testing on labels. People tend to prefer labels that say “yeast protein” over those that say “methyl cellulose.”
But producing clean label products comes at a risk. If your food products become contaminated with other substances, it can ruin your reputation as a producer of quality items. This is according to Heather Mills, who is the founder of VBites. She had an experience where she found that her friend’s supposedly plant-based products contained traces of dairy. The machine was contaminated with animal products from the previous batch, causing the new batch to be contaminated as well. The brand was so damaged that the business had to close.
The best solution? A dedicated facility for clean-label vegan products. The downside: substantial capital expenditure is needed. Many manufacturers use a single factory for both types of product, which brings a different kind of cost.
For example, a prominent Swiss retailer told us about their private label meat-free sausage production. They are avoiding high capital expenditure on an emerging range by using their existing factories, which predominantly handle animal-based products.
This means the equipment needs to be cleaned thoroughly between products to prevent contamination. The meat-free sausage production for the entire week has to be completed in one day on Saturdays.
The output capacity of plant-based products is limited by this system, and the increased costs of double-cleaning are a significant drawback. This cycle forces consumers to pay higher prices, which then leads to lower demand for the product – trapping the company in a low-production, high-cost model.
The other option is to spend money in the beginning on properly customized factories that use plants. ABP and Ponnath, two of Europe’s biggest animal-meat producers, recently switched to plant-based meat. Miguel Serrano, Head of Alternative Proteins at Ponnath, said that they transformed the factory to being fully vegan, because they knew it would improve economies of scale.
7. Focus on Upscaling
If we want something to be successful, we need to plan for it from the beginning said Frank Giezen, Co-Founder of Ojah, in an interview with ProVeg. Brands should focus more on improving their products and services rather than on marketing and advertising.
If you can’t afford to invest in your own production facilities, partner with a manufacturer who can produce your recipe at a high level and in large quantities.
As you develop your product, also work on building relationships. These relationships should be well-established by the time you launch. If you want to sell your food to retailers, you need to be able to produce large quantities.
8. Have a Price-Parity Strategy
There seems to be a consensus among consumers that plant-based products are overpriced. Approximately 50% of consumers state that high prices are a significant deterrent to choosing alternatives. Many manufacturers, retailers, and brands we’ve spoken to agree that customers aren’t the only ones struggling with clothing waste.
The reason new companies have been able to succeed where older companies have failed is because they don’t have the same legacy issues to deal with. But the other part is down to attitude.
Plant-based is cheap. per kilogram. If you can no longer afford to buy cheap animal meats, you can easily buy plant-based alternatives for around £1.50/€2 per kilogram.
One plant-based food expert from ABP Eat Well said that you can feed a family for a relatively small amount. So why isn’t this being talked about? Retailers are not interested in portraying plant-based options as being inexpensive because they do not want to reduce their own profit margins.
How high are these margins? Plant-based products typically have a markup of 40%-50%, which is significantly higher than the 7%-8% markup on animal-based product equivalents.
Some retailers are taking steps to change this by providing case studies below. This will allow the flexitarian mass market to grow.
But what can brands do? When thinking about your product, it is important to consider who your target audience is. Brands and retailers can still make a profit by selling to mainstream consumers, even if they have to lower their margins to increase stock turnover and overall revenue.
9. Texture Over Taste
When designing a product, it is important to try to imitate the textures of conventional meat products. As the founder of Oumph!, Ankan Linden, states, the taste is not what draws people to meat- it is the added flavors that give it appeal. People like meat for the texture.
Although texture is a major area of concern for plant-based consumers, it is still a key area of focus. Regular shoppers of plant-based alternatives are looking for better texture 28% of the time. The majority of people prefer textures that are familiar and trustworthy. Most people (93%) want familiar textures in their food, so if your product has new and unusual textures, it probably won’t be appealing to most people.
Despite the health benefits of plant-based burgers, many people are still turned off by the taste and texture. This presents an opportunity for new products to enter the market. New food technologies that improve textures and nutrition will have a large impact on consumers who care about taste.
The texture of the protein cannot be changed, but consumers can add sauces and spices to enhance the flavour. If plant-based analogues are going to be successful in appealing to flexitarians, they need to make sure that they get it right.
Opportunities for Improving Nutrition of when Formulating Plant-Based Foods and Beverages
When looking for meat and dairy alternatives, take into account the nutritional value of the food you are replacing it with.
Dairy is a key source of nutrients for many people across the globe, so plant-based dairy alternatives should strive to match those nutrient contributions. You can however, still market alternative milks as healthy even if they do not have the same nutritional value as milk from cows. For example, a plant-based milk alternative made from oat might offer a healthier choice for those looking for a serving of whole grains and some fiber.
The majority of people residing in developed countries do not consume the daily-recommended amount of whole grains or fiber
When consuming more plant-based foods, there are many nutrients that are harder to get enough of. When creating plant-based meat alternatives, it is important to consider nutrients such as iron, zinc, and B vitamins, in addition to protein. The other possibility is to present a new health advantage instead of imitating the one that comes from animal-based food.