GLOBAL What’s next in plant-based meat alternatives? January 2021
How ingredient innovations can help create stand-out appeal
With growing interest in flexitarian, vegetarian and vegan diets, the global market for plant-based meat alternatives is set to continue to grow at a rapid pace, alongside the popular traditional meat sector. The trend is gaining momentum in APAC, in particular, where the COVID-19 pandemic has boosted consumers’ desire to live healthier lifestyles. In fact, recent research shows that before the pandemic, 82% of Chinese consumers considered traditional meat to be essential for a balanced diet and only 0.5% of those surveyed had tried plant-based alternatives. Consumer behavior shifted a few months into the crisis, with more than 50% of Chinese consumers reporting that they had already changed their attitudes towards plant-based protein products. Similar figures have also been observed across India (77%), Thailand (63%) and Singapore (41%).
As a rising number of people in APAC become more receptive to trying plant-based foods, there is significant untapped potential in the meat alternatives space as consumers increasingly recognize the benefits. But what are the challenges producers face in developing meat alternatives that meet discerning consumer expectations for taste, texture, nutritional value and price, and how can they be overcome?
The taste challenge
Today’s consumers are increasingly unwilling to compromise on a product’s sensory profile and expect an authentic and appealing taste from meat alternatives. However, the distinctive ‘umami’ and maillard flavors of grilled and fried meat products are often difficult to replicate in plant-based products. Producers also face additional challenges in formulation, as plant-based proteins can create undesirable flavor off-notes that can adversely impact the consumer eating experience. Indeed, in a recent DSM survey examining current and emerging consumer trends, 43% of Chinese shoppers reported that they would consume more meat alternative products if they had a ‘better’ taste. Pea protein, for example, can cause a vegetal ‘green’ flavor profile, while soy can lead to a ‘beany’ taste, requiring masking in formulation.
Recreating the ‘juicy’ texture
Similarly, emulating the desired ‘chewy’ mouthfeel of meat without the oils and fats naturally present in animal products can pose challenges. The fibrous texture of muscle is difficult to mimic with plant-based raw materials, which has a notably different composition to meat. Plus, the fat in meat is released in a different way to the oils and fats in plant-based protein during consumption, which can make it difficult for meat alternative producers to achieve the juicy textures that consumers have come to love.
Managing sodium levels
Meat alternative producers generally rely on salt to achieve an authentic umami, meaty flavor and chewy, juicy mouthfeel. Many meat alternatives also often contain a certain level of sodium, due to the way they are produced. However, with rising global concerns about high salt levels in consumers’ diets, manufacturers must find ways to mask off-notes and create appealing ‘meaty’ flavors while also managing sodium levels.
A boost for health
In addition to the taste and texture challenges facing meat alternative producers, improving the nutritional value of products is important, but can be complex. For this reason, plant-based products have historically proven less popular with consumers in Asia, with people often citing low nutritional value as one of the key reasons for not incorporating them into their diets. With more people looking to make lifestyle changes to positively impact their health and wellbeing, meat alternatives that offer a high-quality nutritional profile are increasingly in demand.
Looking beyond formulation challenges, producers must also address changing consumer cost expectations in Asia. It is widely regarded that the price point of plant-based meat alternatives should be lower than that of meat products, due to historic product positioning across the region. For instance, texturized (TVP) and hydrolyzed (HVP) plant-based protein sources like defatted soy, a side-product of producing soybean oil, have typically been used to develop processed meat solutions cost-effectively.
Meat prices have also tended to be higher, as most countries in Asia do not produce meat and therefore rely on imported products – creating a perception that meat protein is more of a premium product than plant protein. There is therefore an opportunity for the industry to raise awareness of the wider benefits of today’s high-quality, plant-based meat alternatives.
Innovating with ingredients
The meat alternatives space can be a complex landscape to navigate, but the latest ingredient solutions allow producers to meet changing consumer expectations and develop appealing, nutritious meat alternatives with great taste and texture. Yeast extracts, for instance, are gaining traction for their ability to optimize taste by supporting authentic umami, ‘salty’ flavors with lower sodium levels. And DSM’s Maxarome® and Multirome® yeast extract portfolios can enhance the taste of plant-based protein in meat alternatives, by masking flavor off-notes and providing an intense ‘meaty’ flavor.
Similarly, hydrocolloids play an important role in addressing common texture challenges, by helping to create a more tenable texture and mouthfeel. DSM’s GELLANEER™ hydrocolloids, for example, improve a product’s water binding capacity, while also building an authentic meaty composition and bite – for a juicy, fatty mouthfeel.
Plus, for manufacturers looking to fill the nutritional gap in many plant-based products, high-quality vitamin and premix solutions can be a viable option. For example, DSM’s Quali® vitamins and DSM Premix Solutions, as well as life’sDHA® and life’s™OMEGA vegetarian omega-3s, can be added to improve the nutritional value of plant-based alternatives and boost consumer health appeal.
Full of potential
With more ingredient solutions available to manufacturers than ever before, there is an opportunity to develop on-trend meat alternative products that demonstrate a deep understanding of consumer needs – both in APAC and globally. Not only can the latest innovations solve diverse formulation challenges, but they can help brand owners further differentiate their products on retail shelves, through the development of products with a great taste, texture and health appeal.
With in-depth market, technical, scientific and regulatory expertise, DSM is well placed to help manufacturers navigate the complexities of bringing on-trend meat alternatives to market fast. As a ‘one-stop-shop’, end-to-end provider, DSM supports producers throughout the entire value chain, from concept to consumer.
 Mintel, The future of meat in Asia: animal, plant-based or cell-based?, Base: China: 3,000 internet users aged 20-49; Thailand: 1,383 internet users aged 18+ who have plant-based proteins as their main sources of
protein; South Korea: 1,000 internet users aged 18+, Source: KuRunData/Mintel; Dynata/Mintel.
 DSM, ‘Future of Food’ survey, 2020 (5,000 consumers across 10 countries).
 Mintel GNP, The future of meat in Asia: animal, plant-based or cell-based?.
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