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The rise of plant-based protein

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Consumer demand for plant-based foods is on the rise – and at a significant rate. In 2019, the total retail market for plant-based foods was worth nearly $4.5bn, and dollar sales have grown by 31% over the past two years, compared with just 4% for total US retail dollar food sales over the same period.

Plant-based protein, and in particular vegetarian alternatives, make up a significant portion of this market. With 44% of US consumers now identifying as flexitarian , and research from Mintel showing that 50% of UK consumers are cutting their meat intake, an increasing number of meat processors are looking to diversify their offering to meet the changing needs of consumers. The role of plant-based protein may also be expedited as a result of coronavirus, as consumers across the world become increasingly aware of their personal health and immunity, as well as how and where their food is sourced.

To effectively break into the plant-based market, manufacturers need to understand the trends that are driving this change in consumption, how they can rise to the challenge, and how they can meet the demands of a developing market. But what are consumers looking for in plant-based proteins – and how can these needs be met?

Consumers demand great taste

Consumers choose plant-based diets for a variety of reasons. Mostly, the rise of plant-based alternatives is attributed to an increased focus on ethical and sustainable consumption. For others, however, taste and texture still rule – especially when it comes to the growing flexitarian market. Historically, manufacturers have found formulating vegetarian alternatives – or analogues – difficult, as it can be challenging to achieve the temporal effects of salt, umami, richness, and savory mouthfeel that are associated with meat products. Producers must therefore balance product performance with masking the bitter, chalky off-tastes that typically comes with high protein foods. This presents a challenge, as it is not enough to simply select nutritious quality ingredients – manufacturers need to understand how proper ratios and blends affect product performance, taste, and texture. For example, beans are attractive to customers, but also present functionality challenges. We overcome this with our customers by combining different forms of our VegeFull cooked ground bean ingredients to aid in product moisture and achieve a more desirable texture.

Why is this important? If products don’t deliver on taste and texture, as well as ethics and sustainability, buyers are likely to remain one-time purchasers or look to other alternatives instead of incorporating your products into their diets long-term.

More than just protein

Taste is not the only feature motivating buyers. For many, health is a key driver of switching to plant-based protein. It’s no longer enough to market a product as simply being high in protein – consumers are now looking for enhanced nutritional benefits, such as added fiber, antioxidants, probiotics, and vitamins.

Searching for clean label

Consumers are also looking for total clarity on the ingredients that are delivering these benefits. The demand for clean label products is continuing as ingredients lists are expected to be short, with recognizable ingredients. Beans, lentils, whole legumes, quinoa, amaranth, and sorghum are attractive protein sources that producers should focus their attention on to catch the consumer’s eye. However, many raw ingredients present formulation challenges, particularly when included in a powder form. Extrusion of these ingredients is a great strategy for providing better bite and improved support for the structural integrity of the application, without adding ingredients that customers consider unappetizing.

Adding variety to ‘veggie’

Continued innovation is key to growing market share. Consumers are increasingly comfortable choosing plant-based alternatives and are looking for more variety than the classic veggie burger. This means there’s considerable room for innovation, as food producers move towards varied product portfolios, including plant-based alternatives for fish, seafood, chicken, sausage, and more. To bring these products to life, at ADM our product developers work closely with our Sensory & Consumer Insights team to create authentic taste and texture in a variety of product areas.

Meeting consumer demand in the current climate

Today’s conscious consumers are increasingly looking to balance elements of holism, permissibility, and proactivity as basic tenets of health and wellness, and this will inevitably have an impact on their food and beverage choices. As a result, the plant-based protein category is likely to expand further still, as consumers seek varied vegetarian alternatives. Buyers are also becoming better informed of up-and-coming ingredients, such as ancient grains, algae, mycoprotein, and lupin.

Regardless of the motivation for those switching to plant-based proteins, expectations are high. Buyers aren’t just looking for an alternative to meat; the crucial factor for achieving success in this space is developing products that authentically mimic the taste and texture of their animal-based counterparts. As R&D and product development teams continue to focus on extrusion, ingredient function, and formulation, they must have confidence in the suppliers they partner with.

It’s likely we will see shifts in food consumption trends, including trends in plant-based products, post COVID-19. At ADM, we understand the challenges facing manufacturers today and are continuously listening to our customers and developing new solutions to address this evolving landscape. Our wide range of complete plant-based protein solutions for a variety of applications means we are uniquely positioned to support our customers, both in the immediate future and longer-term. Our expansive footprint and highly traceable global supply chain allow us to add value at every stage, from raw materials to expertly crafted ingredients that you and your customers can trust. What’s more, our 75 years of experience in protein and flavor design, and our team of experts in consumer insights, means that we have the technical expertise to help you achieve the desired sensory attributes, functionality, and nutrition profile to create products not just for today’s taste, but for years to come.

Visit or to learn more about our range of plant-based proteins or contact uryyb-ahgevgvba@nqz.pbz

[1]​ SPINSscan Natural and Specialty Gourmet, and SPINSscan Conventional Multi Outlet (powered by IRI) channels during the 52 weeks ending April 21 2019

[1]​ ADM’s OutsideVoiceSM Protein Perception & Awareness Study

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