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Customising new protein foods to target fast-growing niches of the plant-based market

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Customising new protein foods to target fast-growing niches of the plant-based market

Finding a niche is key to success in new protein foods. After years of rapid growth, the market now consists of many subpopulations of buyers, from people who want to see old favourites replicated in plant-based forms, to consumers who are seeking out novel taste and texture sensations that are far removed from mainstream burgers. No single ingredient or technology can cater to all the consumer demands. Customisation is critical. The market plays to the strengths of NEXTERA by Solina.

The rapid growth of the market for new protein foods is now widely known but the numbers remain remarkable despite their familiarity. In Western Europe and the United Kingdom, the market for plant-based meat alternatives has grown 39% over the last year.1

Those growth figures reflect the fact there are now many millions of Europeans who are interested in new protein foods. Surveys suggest 42% of people have already eliminated or reduced their red meat consumption.2​ A further 20% plan to cut down their consumption of red meat in the future. More than one-third of people are willing to replace meat with a plant-based alternative.

How growth is creating targeted opportunities

The size of the market is creating opportunities to specialise. In the early years of meat replacers, brands had to target the entire category to access enough potential consumers to drive meaningful sales. The category itself was niche, so products needed broad appeal. In that environment, standard plant-based burgers, a crowd-pleasing food enjoyed by most people, proliferated. 

Today, the environment is different. With many millions of Europeans seeking out new protein foods, there are now large, quickly growing groups of consumers interested in subcategories of plant-based products. The subcategories are large enough to support new product launches and brands need to differentiate to succeed in an increasingly competitive market.

Some consumers want novelty. A survey of more than 6,000 plant-based eaters and meat reducers, the buyers that drove early growth in new protein foods, found consumers want variety in “product types, raw materials, textures, and flavours.”3​ These consumers have tried many of the products that are already on the market and now want new taste and texture sensations. The authors of the study found a “significant increase” in R&D is needed to meet the demands of these consumers.

Bringing new sensory experiences to the plant-based market will attract adventurous consumers who are tired of the established options, and bring in new customers who previously perceived low-meat diets to be monotonous and boring. Not everyone wants novelty, though. In today’s large market for new protein foods, there are lots of consumers who just want plant-based versions of their favourite, animal-based products.

Trust in a brand is a key driver of purchases of plant-based foods.3​ Brands that translate the signature taste and texture of their animal-based products into new protein foods stand to capture consumers who want to reduce their consumption of animal products without giving up their favourite foods.

Developing a plant-based version of a beloved product offers companies a way to use their brands to adapt to changing consumer demands, bringing their portfolios into the modern era without losing years of brand recognition and loyalty. However, food science shows the plant-based version needs to closely replicate the original product, with researchers finding “there is a risk of failure in the marketplace” when sensory properties do not meet the expectations created by the product name, packaging, and labeling.4

Why a broad toolkit is vital to success

The diversification of the new protein food market is creating challenges for brands. While a small set of ingredients and technologies can deliver a standard plant-based burger, a much broader toolkit is needed to replicate familiar animal-based foods and provide novel taste and texture sensations. The developers of the new protein foods of the future will need access to all the possible combinations of ingredients and technologies to meet the specific demands of different groups of consumers.

Customisation is needed to both replicate familiar foods and create new sensations. In both cases, consumers have highly specific expectations, whether they want the comfort of a familiar food but in a plant-based format or the novelty of an entirely new taste and texture sensation. It is impossible to satisfy either demand with cookie-cutter approaches that rely on a small portfolio of ingredients or technologies.

NEXTERA by Solina’s approach is well suited to these emerging demands in new protein food, because unlike companies working with proprietary toolkits, NEXTERA by Solina is free to select the best ingredients and technologies for each project. The upshot is the new protein food specialist never needs to try to fit a square peg in a round hole. Rather, it starts each project with a blank canvas and can pick whatever mix of ingredients and technologies is needed to create the target taste, texture, and nutrition profile, leveraging knowledge of local preferences from R&D and sales teams on the ground in different markets.

This freedom is supported by a dedicated global procurement team that sources from suppliers around the world. NEXTERA by Solina is equally flexible in terms of technology. The team has all the relevant choices and no biases toward any particular approach, enabling it to explore the best choice of extrusion technology for each project at its dedicated Future Food Research Center, where Solina is invested in both commercially relevant wet-extrusion technologies.

Independence on ingredients and technologies, as well as the culinary rooting and local knowledge within Solina, facilitates creative customisation. NEXTERA by Solina can find the bespoke combination to deliver the desired product profile and has the local knowledge and local rooting, via local Solina R&D centers, to tailor products to the demands of each market. After creating a pilot-scale recipe, the team works with customers to transpose it to industrial-scale manufacturing lines, sending experts to their plants to start up or fine tune production.

The recipe creation and industrial assistance services are part of an end-to-end offering for launching customised new protein foods. Brands that partner with NEXTERA by Solina to access the offering stand to deliver customised new protein foods adapted to the demands of specific subpopulations of consumers, positioning themselves to thrive as the plant-based market grows and diversifies.

References

1.      ProVeg international. https://proveg.com/ (2016).

2.      Most EU consumers open to eat more sustainably but face hurdles, new survey shows. https://www.beuc.eu/publications/most-eu-consumers-open-eat-more-sustainably-face-hurdles-new-survey-shows/html.

3.      ProVeg consumer survey report download - ProVeg international. https://proveg.com/what-we-do/corporate-engagement/proveg-consumer-survey-report-download/ (2020).

4.      Tuorila, H. & Hartmann, C. Consumer responses to novel and unfamiliar foods. Current Opinion in Food Science 33, 1–8 (2020).

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