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PLANTANEERS: Plant-based meat is far from plateauing, say pioneers

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Demand has been somewhat satisfied in certain plant-based categories, and now there is a greater emphasis on diversification and optimization, like plant-based cheese and fish.

GAYNOR SELBY: Cleaning up the plant-based label, strengthening sustainability, sharpening regional sourcing of materials and optimizing products on the shelf for more diverse offerings – these are just some of the focus areas of the plant-based space, according to Planteneers. Brian Walker, global commercial director, examines future opportunities for plant-based, delving into how industry is poised to take products to the next level regarding clean label, nutrition and environmental impact.

Planteneers, which helps companies develop plant-based solutions, recently showcased several products at IFT, Chicago, including plant-based smoked salmon and salmon filets as well as plant-based pepperoni… Walker explains how that demand has been somewhat satisfied in certain categories, and now there is a greater emphasis on diversification and optimization.

“The trends now are things like plant-based cheese, where consumers are giving us feedback that there’s not enough selection of specialty cheeses, there’s not enough variety, some of the products on the market aren’t meeting their expectations,” Walker continues. “Same with plant-based fish. So we’re doing a lot of work on fruit, fish and seafood, but also optimizing some of the things that are on the shelves. There’s always product improvement as we learn better technologies,” he explains.

Consumers are also specifically becoming increasingly aware and concerned about the clean label credentials of plant-based products, which up until now haven’t necessarily received the same level of scrutiny as non-plant-based products…

While Millennials push demand for sustainability and climate-related drivers for better products, animal welfare doesn’t seem to be attached to a certain demographic, “it’s just how people feel,” says Walker… “Slowly but surely, we’re seeing that’s going to happen in the future as one of the pillars of the plant-based trend is sustainability”…

On the other hand, nutrition is extremely important for older consumers who tend to think more about health conditions and consider cutting meat (while still 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 mindful. Walker notes that anyone who is nutritionally savvy and conscious of what they’re consuming is considering more plant-based options in day-to-day life…

Data backs up that personal health and global sustainability are proving to be strong drivers of consumer choice, pushing plant-based R&D to refocused from mimicking meat, fish and dairy to optimizing and diversifying options…

The market researcher says that consumers consider plant-based alternatives to be healthier and better for the planet. And, the desire for diet variation, is further boosting interest in plant-based beyond the traditional vegan and vegetarian sectors, leading to a 59% increase in launches of new plant-based products in the year to August 2021.

While the plant-based space is clearly constantly evolving, there is a sentiment that it may have plateaued somewhat. However, Walker stresses that there are significant growth opportunities out there. “Growth has slowed down certainly in the last few months, and here’s a couple of reasons for that. Globally, everyone’s feeling the economic pinch and Plant-based typically at the moment is sold at a premium through supermarket chains and retail. So it’s considered a bit more of discretionary spending than a must-have by some consumers.

Another key reason why consumers may move away from plant-based is that they may not be fully satisfied with the taste experience. “A lot of consumers are trying plant-based foods for the first time. If they try a product that doesn’t meet their expectation, they are then saying that, for instance, a plant-based yogurt it’s not for them or plant-based pepperonis is not for me.”

“But if you try a new brand of yogurt and don’t like it, you don’t stop buying yogurt. You just stop buying that one. But with the plant-based at the moment, these first impressions can influence thinking. People may think, ‘well, I didn’t like that; therefore, I won’t like any of them.’ That’s a bit of a challenge”…

Looking to a future world where the population will increase to just under 10 billion by 2050, accelerating the need for alternative proteins, Walker expects technology to evolve and research and funding to be injected into fermentation techniques. There is also the burgeoning cell-based space to consider. “We’ve got to keep an eye on what’s happening in all of those areas and how we can be relevant to them should the need arise,” Walker says. SOURCE…

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