Innovation is what improves the products we see on the shelves of every store, from the pharmacy to the electronics store to the grocery store. Plant-based products are one industry that is quickly changing, thanks to advancing technology and consumer demand. Along with resource management and supply chain sustainability, plant-based products are predicted to be one of 2021’s biggest trends in agriculture. Innovation is focused primarily on two areas within the plant-based product industry: dairy alternatives and meat substitutes. Within these segments of the industry, innovation is evident in many ways.
Plant-based dairy and meat alternatives are cost-prohibitive for many shoppers. Lowering the costs of making these products by using less expensive ingredients is a focus right now. Spero Foods CEO Phaedra Randolph told Food Business News that this is possible with “ingredients that are already in the supply chain, that are already scaled, already available and inexpensive to transform them into products that are accessible and affordable.” Her company makes sunflower cream cheese, opting to forgo ingredients like almonds and cashews in its dairy-free spreads in order to create a less expensive product.
The industry is also moving beyond soy, which was the primary ingredient in plant-based food and drink for centuries. R&D teams are looking for nutrition, taste, and texture in new places, including microalgae, peas, beans, seeds, and grains.
In recent years, the number of dairy-free milk options on the grocery store shelves has grown, with almost half of US shoppers reaching for a plant-based alternative. Product developers are confident in the tastes and textures available in plant-based milk, so they’re moving on. Other dairy substitutes are now getting more attention from innovative companies, with a focus on meltier cheeses, more nutritious yogurts, and better taste and mouthfeel overall.
Despite interest in the potential benefits of a more plant-based diet, consumers crave the tastes and textures of animal proteins. Replicating these tastes with plants has proven a challenge, primarily because products made from nuts, seeds, and legumes tend to have “bitter or beany off-notes.” One way companies are addressing this concern is by simply hiding it. For example, Bell Flavors & Fragrances launched Plant Future, a new product line of flavors designed to balance the decidedly earthy flavors of plant proteins.
One area of plant-based product innovation that remains to be market-proven is hybrid products, or foods and beverages that combine plant and animal ingredients. These products include Live Real Farms “milk blends” made from lactose-free cow’s milk and almond drink, as well as Rebel Meat’s 50% meat, 50% plant burgers, ground meat, and sausage.
Innovative companies like these two are interested in developing these types of products further because using a small amount of animal ingredients eliminates some of the taste and texture challenges of making meat- or dairy-like products from plants alone. They may also encourage vehement meat eaters to reduce their meat consumption, leading to health and environmental benefits. However, marketing these hybrids is a challenge, as many flexitarians limit their meat consumption with dedicated meat-free days or meals.