Current trends in the emerging protein arena go beyond delivering vegan or vegetarian alternatives to meat. They revolve around putting alternatives on the center stage and convincing a broader range of consumers – from omnivores to vegans – with an authentic product category. Having the closest copy to a well-known piece of meat has evolved into getting the best out of alternative proteins and, in the end, making them “better than meat.”
Consumers increasingly want to eat meat-free products due to a variety of reasons, including concern for animal welfare, a desire for healthier food, reducing meat consumption and adding variety and adventure to their diets.
Innovation in alternative proteins is expanding, including plants, insects and marine sources, but as Eva Scholten, Marketing Manager Category Culinary EAME Flavor Division, Symrise, puts it, “as long as we compare meat alternatives to meat we will still face hard competition.”
“Knowing consumer preferences delivers the key and they are currently based on multifaceted wishes: Healthier market products, good for the environment, based on only natural ingredients, less processed and naturally providing an ultimate taste sensation, which comes close to the traditional meat experience. Consumers accept no compromises on any of their wishes,” she tells.
As a flavor house, Symrise is keen to understand which elements exactly contribute to the taste experience. Its recent in-depth consumer study revealed a complex landscape and to really understand consumer needs, Symrise delved deeper into the starting point of a meat-free journey: What is driving consumers to reduce meat? What could a “transformation” journey look like?
“From our study, we have learned that many types of meat reducers exist. The motivations for the reduction or even the renunciation look so manifold that we need to broaden our perspective and look very closely at heterogeneous target groups. We have learned that with the motivation of each meat reducer along comes the preference for the product appearance, naming and above all the taste,” Scholten adds.
A so-called “Newbie Veggie” is happy to have an alternative to start the veggie journey, whereas a “Pighead Omnivore” claims: “I would never eat something that is marketed as an imitation,” she explains.
“Taste depends on who you ask,” Scholten continues. “Understanding consumers provides the key to developing products they would buy a second time. To convince the broader mass of omnivores, meat eaters need to perceive an impactful win. This means that making a veggie burger taste the same as meat isn’t good enough. Instead, they have to be taken out of the vegetarian box and put into a very cool, unique and interesting taste experience.”
Mastering the taste and texture challenge with natural ingredients
In March, Beneo inaugurated its new Belgium-based BioWanze plant for texturized wheat protein (TWP), in cooperation with fellow Südzucker Group subsidiary CropEnergies. The move follows an investment of €4.3 million. BioWanze is a daughter company of CropEnergies and is the largest producer of bioethanol in Belgium. When running at full capacity, the plant will be capable of producing enough TWP to create one million vegetarian burger patties per day.
The new facility expands Beneo’s portfolio of functionalized proteins with a product that is especially suitable for meat substitutes, transferring the raw materials (gluten and wheat flour), into a texturized wheat protein with a flake-like shape. This can then be directly and conveniently used in meat substitutes.
OIivier Chevalier, Business Development Manager Meat Applications and Textured Wheat Protein at Beneo, tells.
“Approximately half of the consumers in the UK, Germany and the US have increased their consumption of meat substitutes in recent years. Following this shift in consumer preferences, wheat protein has grown in popularity and was the most-used plant-based protein out of any other new meat substitutes launched in 2018.”
“We see great potential for this market to flourish in 2019 and beyond. This is why we have recently invested into opening a new production line for vegetal protein in Belgium. Developments are ongoing and, in the coming months, we will be revealing more about how we can support our customers in making the most of this growing trend,” he reveals.
Vancouver-headquartered plant-based food technologists Burcon NutraScience also recently ramped up its plant protein “transformation” through a joint venture partnership with an investor group to build a new CAN$65 million pea-protein and canola-protein commercial production facility in Western Canada. Expected to be completed by mid-2020, the protein production facility, will initially process around 20,000 tons of peas per year. Burcon has established a new operating entity, Burcon Functional Foods Corporation (known as Burcon Foods), which will own and operate the new facility. At the same time, Burcon has also launched its new pea-protein and canola-protein blends, Nutratein-PS and Nutratein-TZ.
Burcon’s novel canola and pea proteins, when combined, create “unique, unparalleled plant-protein blends, with exceptional functional characteristics, low allergenicity and a nutritional value exceeding those of the standard pea proteins available on the market currently,” according to the company.
Equal to or exceeding dairy and meat in protein quality, the pea and canola protein blends have application potential across a multitude of food and beverage products. They will be 90 percent pure and will have no bean flavor or texture, notes Burcon.
Burcon’s JV comes amid a boom in plant-based proteins as food innovators continue to develop vegetarian and vegan products primarily based on pea protein, although there are a wealth of other ingredients also being used.
Similarly, Symrise’s latest vegan taste solutions have been developed from exclusively natural ingredients this year, explains Scholten. The core characteristics of these solutions come with a total novelty that balances off-notes and brings back juiciness and therefore extends “the playground of meat alternatives,” she says.
“These integrated solutions do both – they balance and reduce bitterness, astringency or even beany notes, which come along with proteins like pea, soy or even insects. Simultaneously, it increases the overall juiciness and mouthfeel and efficiency of a taste solution performance within the entire recipe on a cost effective level. Integrated within unique tonalities – even beef or herbal notes across all declarations options from flavor, natural flavor and even food solutions – we effectively master the taste challenge and deliver culinary complexity and inspiring first-time taste experiences,” she says.
What's next insustainable nutrition?
The looming challenges for sustainable nutrition are also driving developments in emerging proteins. Global food production is responsible for approximately 25 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, most of which are related to livestock. Livestock production, meanwhile, is also a contributor to other issues such as water pollution, land degradation, overfishing and antimicrobial resistance. Some sectors of the food industry have already begun their journey toward a new food frontier, innovating a new wave of ingredients and products that have a significant and transformative impact for both people and the planet.
Plant-based alternatives to animal proteins, including the highly exciting field of cellular agriculture and even insect labriculture, are trends gathering pace around the world, driven by health and environmental conscious consumers reducing their meat consumption.
Talking about what’s next for emerging proteins, Scholten says that it really depends on the availability and industrial scale up potentials. “I personally believe that insects – e.g., the winner: buffalo mealworm – could win the battle in the future. It really depends on the positioning and labelling options. From the taste perspective, we know about the huge potential in it, and consumers’ acceptance is growing,” she notes.
Moving away from animal-derived proteins, whether meat, dairy or both, is the order of the day and will likely be the norm of tomorrow.