BELOIT, Wis. – Kerry, after completing proprietary consumer research this year, has identified five key issues that food companies should address when formulating plant-based meat alternatives. They are taste, nutrition, clean label, protein source and variety.
Kerry’s research found 62 percent of respondents who said they eat plant-based meat alternatives also said they eat meat. Plant-based meat alternatives for a vegan or vegetarian will need different taste, ingredient and nutritional attributes than plant-based meat alternatives for a carnivore, according to Kerry, which has a US office in Beloit.
Plant-based meat alternatives are becoming more sophisticated and taking on meat-specific attributes, according to Kerry. Taste, texture, aroma and appearance should be formulated to mimic meat. Protein levels and composition should be comparable to meat. The meat alternatives should be a 1:1 replacement of items like beef, pork, poultry and seafood.
About 73 percent of the 538 Americans in the Kerry survey said meat alternatives should mimic the taste of meat. Companies wanting to manage off-notes have options: taste-modulating ingredients, marinades, rubs, glazes, seasonings, meat flavors, smoke and grill flavors, and yeast-based systems and non-yeast-based systems that enhance savory flavors.
Kerry’s survey found 83 percent of respondents said they believed plant-based meat alternatives are healthier than meat, but the plant-based items may have a high salt content. Nutrition at 46 percent and health at 44 percent were the top drivers for consumption of plant-based meat alternatives. Formulators may fortify the alternatives with protein and fiber and find a way to maintain taste when salt, fat or sugar are replaced.
Ingredients perceived as clean label are factors, too, as 48 percent of those surveyed said they perceive plant-based meat alternatives to be more processed than meat. Formulators should consider natural flavors and extracts, natural preservatives, and seasonings perceived as a clean label, according to Kerry.
The survey found 41 percent of respondents said high protein was the most important attribute in plant-based meat alternatives. Other top answers were natural at 30 percent, organic at 25 percent, no artificial preservatives at 25 percent, antibiotic-free at 22 percent, no artificial flavors at 22 percent, non-GMO at 21 percent, high fiber at 21 percent, hormone-free at 21 percent and low sodium at 20 percent.
The protein base affects the taste, consistency and stability of plant-based meat alternatives as well as how they cook, according to Kerry. The most preferred sources of plant protein were beans/legumes at 62 percent and nuts at 55 percent, according to the survey. Other preferred sources were mushrooms at 48 percent, lentils at 46 percent, potatoes at 46 percent, rice at 46 percent, quinoa at 45 percent, tofu at 42 percent, a blend of sources at 41 percent and seeds at 40 percent.
People would like to see more plant-based options, including formats for sausage, strips and nuggets as well as crumbles that may be used in tacos, burritos, breakfast items and pizza toppings.
About 87 percent of plant-based consumers in the survey said more restaurants should offer plant-based based meat alternatives. Burgers were the most popular plant-based meat alternatives on menus, followed by tacos, burritos, breakfast items, pizza toppings, chicken nuggets/tenders, Asian stir-fry, chicken breasts, deli meats for sandwiches/wraps, and hot dogs. Patties were the most popular at retail, followed by sausages, strips, nuggets, ground, slices, chunks/cubes, shreds and crumbles.
Kerry offers Radicle, a portfolio of ingredient systems designed to meet the taste, texture, nutrition and functionality needed in plant-based products.