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Insights Reveal Ripe Opportunity Areas For Plant Proteins

Sept. 30, 2021
Here to talk more in-depth about plant proteins and the opportunities food and beverage processors have in the plant-based protein category are Yadu Dar and Carolyn Phillips of Ingredion.

What’s satiating, healthy, earth-friendly and becoming more popular with consumers with each passing day? If you guessed plant proteins, you’d be right.

In this special bonus episode, Ingredion’s Yadu Dar and Carolyn Phillips are talking about what’s new in plant-based proteins, why consumers are so interested in plant-based food and what Ingredion has found in its proprietary studies that food and beverage manufacturers can use to help differentiate their brands.

Transcript

Food Processing: Let’s start by talking about what's new in the plant-based food and beverage space.

Yadu: There's a lot that's going on in the plant-based food and beverage space. Innovation in plant-based food and beverages is evolving rapidly. The pace of change is exciting, and manufacturers are accelerating their development of next-generation products. Today's consumer is more demanding in what they expect, and food and beverage manufacturers are rising to meet the challenge. Today, plant-based meat and dairy products are tastier and more nutritious than early offerings in the space. And there is greater variety of plant-based products for consumers to choose from. However, there are new ways to create values for consumers that are available for manufacturers than there were many years ago.

Food Processing: Why are consumers seeking more plant-based foods?

Carolyn: Even predating the pandemic, consuming specific food and beverages to support health was an important focus for many consumers. Now that we are coming out of the pandemic, preventative health is even more important. Consumers are taking a holistic approach to their well-being and they are including food as a principal way to ensure health and wellness. According to our research, plant-based foods are perceived by consumers as having a health halo. It makes sense that consumers want to add more plant-based foods to their diet. Generally, the health halo effect of plant-based food is especially true among the boomer generation. And Gen Y and younger millennials are a bit more motivated to choose plant-based foods for animal welfare and concern for the planet.

Food Processing: What are you seeing is the consumer perspective around plant-based proteins?

Carolyn: Consumers perceive plant-based foods and plant-based proteins as healthy. They are also considering these proteins as a good source of protein, better for animal welfare, and better for the planet. There are certain standouts depending on the benefit. In the U.S., for example, among consumers aware, lentils are seen as a good source of fiber and gluten-free and quinoa scores well on gluten-free as well as sustainable. In Canada, quinoa is perceived very strongly. Consumers perceive it highly on contributing to protein needs, being a good source of fibers, excuse me, and meeting sustainability preferences. The challenge for some plant-based proteins, specifically pulses is around perception of taste and texture. It's important for brands to select the pulse which most naturally aligns with consumer acceptance for a particular category. And it's imperative that brands ensure a positive sensory experience for consumers pivot awareness and trial convert to repeat usage.

Food Processing: Have you seen specific consumer groups that find plant-based protein more appealing?

Carolyn: We've seen interest in plant-based foods and plant-based protein across generations. Interest is generally skewed a bit higher among younger people. And data suggests that the younger generation, Gen Z, and younger millennials are more likely to adopt milk alternatives and meat alternatives.

About Ingredion

Ingredion is a global ingredients solutions company. Based in Westchester, Illinois, they make sweeteners, starches, nutrition ingredients and biomaterials that are used by customers in everyday products from foods and beverages to paper and pharmaceuticals. Learn more at ingredion.com

Food Processing: Are there specific food and beverage categories for which plant-based proteins, such as pulses are strong alternatives to more traditional proteins?

Carolyn: Looking at new product introductions, we see growth in plant-based product launches across categories, even beyond those we would expect such as plant-based dairy and plant-based meat. We know there is huge growth in plant-based ready meals, sauces, dressings, butters, cookies, and savory snacks. Generally speaking, there is openness to pulses and other plant-based proteins across categories. But it underscored in Ingredion’s proprietary research, acceptance varies by category. For example, quinoa seems to be an especially strong contender in dairy products, while lentil would be very well received in plant-based meat.

Food Processing: Talk to me about actionable insights Ingredion has found with its proprietary studies that manufacturers can use to help differentiate their brands.

Carolyn: Thinking more broadly than plant-based proteins, our proprietary research indicates that consumers are seeking functional benefits that address core areas of health and wellness such as digestive health, immunity, and the desire for protein. Our secondary information sources suggest that consumers are no longer relying solely on vitamins and supplements for these benefits, but are also looking to their food and beverages to support their health. 

Consumers strongly associate clean and natural with healthy. Manufacturers offering strong reasons to believe that their products are perceived as cleaner and more natural, will more effortlessly create a health halo for their brand. These reasons to believe can be included on front of pack callouts. To reinforce the health halo, and further differentiate a brand, manufacturers of plant-based brands can leverage their website and other mediums to amplify available messaging around l origins, environmentally friendlier sourcing of ingredients, and planet conscious processing.

Food Processing: What are the opportunity areas? What needs can help to be solved?

Yadu: We have seen a lot of progress that has been made in the last five years in plant-based foods. However, we are just at the beginning of the plant-based movement. Of the many opportunities or whitespaces areas that manufacturers can innovate in, there are at least three that we believe that consumers are primed for. The first one is to expand beyond existing plant-based products. Innovation and new food formats are applications and categories. For example, we see a lot today going on in plant-based burgers and milk. We believe that going beyond plant-based burgers and milks and other limited options that are available today. There's a lot to do in seafood or cheese or other varieties of food and even beverages that consumers are typically accustomed to in the non-plant-based world that there's adequate space for in the plant-based area. The second area for innovation and opportunity is in addressing taste challenges that remain with some plant-based food categories.

For example, in alternative dairy, there's is still alternative dairy products out there, a lot of them that have taste challenges. And with new processing advances such as Ingredion has a new line of products coming out called the pre-start to flavored pulse proteins of flours. These can really help address taste challenges with new plant-based foods. A third area, which is really important is around nutrition, particularly affordable nutrition. Providing much more balanced nutrition from plant-based food products at greater affordability than what is available in today's food products.

Food Processing: What can be done to help create that moment of truth so consumers buy and come back to the product?

Yadu: For many consumers, plant-based food choices today are still areas of experimental novelty. And this is due to many factors. It could be due to cost or it could still be due to shortcomings and flavor or differences in individual preferences, or it could be due to other issues. The opportunity that we have today is to continue to innovate and create foods with greater mainstream acceptability. Plant-based brands become the primary choice for more and more consumers. This choice would be driven by a combination of taste, affordability, and nutrition that would drive the return purchase intent.

Food Processing: What's next? How can or where should manufacturers go for more details or help?

Yadu: There are a lot of resources that are available for help. The question, though, is how do you separate what is the reliable resource and how to ensure that you're using the best available information out there to accelerate your plant-based vision into reality.

Ingredion has spent a significant amount of time and effort to develop an extensive knowledge library. This library includes ready to use formulations in categories such as alternative meats, alternative dairy, plant-based snacks, beverages, even pet food, and a whole lot of other areas with supporting data on texture, flavors, stability, and a whole bunch of relevant attributes that support and accelerate product development and commercialization efforts. These resources help our customers save time and money in product development while using our in-demand plant-based ingredients. We also have expertise in plant-based proteins of supporting ingredients that improve texture and mouthfeel. These brands can learn more on our plant protein page at www.ingredion.com. They could also connect with our solution gurus via chat, or call 1-800-713-0208 to connect directly on the phone.

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