Plant-based food and beverages – Challenges and opportunities in 2024

Keywords: Plant-based food; Plant-based diet; Plant-based food and beverages; Plant-based meat

Everyone’s been talking about plant-based food and beverages, more so in 2023 because of the availability of a wider range of plant-based food and beverage options in the market. In fact, consumers were spoilt for choice in 2023, with not just plant-based meat, chicken, and fish, but also a range of plant-based milk and eggs. Milk options expanded from soy, oat and almond milk to pea and chickpea milk too.

In 2024, this popularity will continue as health and wellness, and sustainability are top of mind for consumers, but the overall intake may drop due to consumer concerns. A survey of 1400 adults by Mintel found that consumers had the following concerns about plant-based products:

  • 48% felt that taste and flavour are major concerns;
  • 35% said meat was a better source of nutrition;
  • 34% said they were too expensive; and 53% claimed inflation made them less likely to try plant-based products;
  • 24% cited texture concerns;
  • 21% felt products were too processed (including 30% of flexitarians) (1).
Photo by LikeMeat on Unsplash

When it comes to taste, flavour and texture, it is important to understand the target consumer. A flexitarian or converted vegetarian or vegan who is or has consumed animal products, may probably crave a taste, flavour and texture that is similar to animal products; but someone who is vegetarian or vegan from birth, may have completely different expectations for taste, flavour and texture. Also, with plant-based products, some protein-based ingredients have a very beany taste and you may want to work with a range of suppliers, to explore different set of ingredient samples and identifyone which delivers the best-tasting product.

In terms of meat nutrition being superior, it is true. The protein quality of meat, fish and poultry is superior to plant-based protein. This issue can be alleviated in two ways:

  1. One way is to educate consumers that as long as a grain is consumed at the same meal, the protein quality of the meal will be just as good as a meal with real meat, fish or poultry.
  2. Another way is to develop products with a combination of plant-based ingredients, such as nuts, seeds, beans, peas, lentils and some grains, which in the right combinations can deliver high quality complete protein.

A combination of whole plant-based ingredients should be considered, as it offers three advantages:

  1. Whole plant-based ingredients cost less; and you may be able to reduce overall product cost.
  2. Whole plant-based ingredients can contribute to clean labels that consumers desire; and the food will not be perceived as over processed. In fact, it will be looked upon as a wholesome food option that can be a guilt-free addition to the weekly menu. Frequent consumption implies an increase in demand, which may also contribute to a lower cost.
  3. Whole food are rich in fibre, which can help promote regularity, improve gut health and reduce blood cholesterol. In addition, whole foods contain antioxidant phytochemicals. Good quality protein, with additional nourishment and health benefits are likely to motivate flexitarians to switch from animal to plant protein.
Photo by Micheile Henderson on Unsplash

From a nutrition stand-point, plant-based beverage manufacturers need to take a closer look at plant-based milk beverages, and fortify them with protein, calcium, magnesium, vitamins B12 and D, as many consumers who have switched from dairy to plant-based milk, have given up dairy products. They are likely to fall short of the nutrients naturally present in dairy. Publicising the fact, that the plant-based milk has a nutritional profile similar to dairy, may change the perception that, “plant-based milk are not nutritious”, and contribute to an increase in product consumption.

In summary, plant-based meat, fish, poultry and milk options are definitely here to stay, as consumers seek sustainable food and beverage options. But, to survive in this highly competitive space, product innovation must address key consumer concerns – (taste, texture, flavour) and cost; deliver more nourishment and health benefits than animal products; and have a clean label with natural wholesome ingredients, to get away from the stigma of being ultra-processed. This requires plant-based food innovation with a combination of wholesome plant-based ingredients, to deliver high quality protein, fibre, more antioxidants and health benefits; and / or fortified plant-based beverages; and delivery of a great-tasting, flavourful product.

Source:

1. “Consumers abandon” plant-based meat category citing taste, nutrition, price concerns, Mintel reports (foodnavigator-usa.com)

VeVeva Nutrition Pte Ltd established in 2019, is a nutrition consultancy for the food and beverage industry, individuals and groups. We provide holistic nutrition consultancy for innovations, communications and product promotions, from concept to launch. For more information, email: yashna.harjani@vevevanutrition.com.

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