A Plant-Based Craze in Europe Creates A Branding Opportunity
In Europe and further afield, the plant-based alternative industry is expanding rapidly. The popularity of the European plant-based meat industry has exploded in recent years, reaching an estimated €140 million by 2020. With sales growing at a 68% rate over the past two years, this staggering growth certainly shows no signs of slowing down.
1. What do plant-based consumers want?
According to the Smart Protein Project, for European consumers, taste is one of the most important purchase drivers for plant-based foods. This sentiment is reflected globally, with data from the Good Food Institute showing that taste is also the top consideration for plant-based alternatives among U.S. consumers.
Brands seek to produce not only great-tasting products but also at competitive prices. In addition to replicating the taste, consumers demand price parity between traditional meat and plant-based options. The same survey found that despite showing a strong willingness to replace meat products with plant-based equivalents, few consumers are willing to pay extra for the switch.
To get ahead in this market, brands must find ways to lower the price of plant-based products to compete with traditional meat products while achieving indulgent, meat-like flavors. Several companies, such as Beyond Meat, predict that their alternatives will be priced below traditional animal-based competitors within the next two years. They have taken practical steps to address those demands.
2. U.K. plant-based industry is the fastest growing in Europe.
The report said that the U.K. is driving the growth of the European plant industry, with sales peaking at 502 million euros in 2020. Germany came in second with 357 million euros, followed by the Netherlands with 174 million euros.
However, all countries included in the ProVeg analysis had double-digit annual growth rates, led by Germany at a breakthrough 75%, illustrating that plant-based alternatives are a growing and geographically diverse phenomenon.
From consumer demand, there is a strong preference for plant-based refrigerated meat, more specifically plant-based burger patties and sausages, which grew by 51% in the U.K. and 127% in Germany in 2020.
Plant-based milk is another key sector rapidly gaining popularity and value in Europe. Oat milk is a consumer favorite, with sales exceeding 100% in Germany and the U.K., followed by almond and soy milk.
Plant-Based Milk Brands Face Taste and Texture Challenges
More than 34 percent of European consumers say sensory attributes are the top area of improvement for plant-based milk alternatives.
The study found that 76% of consumers prefer a “creamy taste without dairy”, and 77% find dairy-free alternatives that “have a better taste and texture” attractive. So it’s not hard to see that taste is the number one reason consumers repurchase products and overall consumer acquisition, and taste is critical to driving category growth.
Consumers seek the creamy, rich, and buttery profile that dairy products provide. While the benchmark for a successful plant-based dairy launch is deliciousness, delivering successful dairy taste and mouthfeel in dairy-alternative beverages has proven to be extremely challenging.
1. Taste challenges for plant-based products
Four major challenges to meeting consumers’ taste needs have been identified through consumer research. Managing off-flavors such as bitterness, “cardboard”, and “beany” in non-dairy bases can be challenging. Another reason is that consumers are also looking for the signature flavors of plant-based dairy products to meet the needs of specific products and local communities.
Mouthfeel refers to how a feeling of food or beverage in the mouth is a distinct attribute from taste and a key consideration when choosing plant-based kinds of milk. Consumers expect manufacturers to provide a clean taste experience with less sugar but still have the same sought-after sweetness and mouthfeel as full-sugar products. Therefore, creating a creamy, fatty mouthfeel that mimics real dairy products is crucial.
2. Eliminate “odors”
Manufacturers can overcome off-flavors by understanding the chemistry of the flavor mechanisms in their recipes. Advanced sensory testing and understanding of how various properties affect the overall sensory profile of plant-based kinds of milk allow food scientists to develop solutions to reduce taste disturbances.
Examining and understanding off-flavor mechanisms and correlating off-flavors to key flavor compounds is critical to enabling brands and formulators to create flavor-masking solutions.
Food industry stakeholders are researching plant-based milk to stay ahead of dairy consumer demand for the category and to identify attributes consumers look for when choosing dairy alternatives. For example, Ireland-based Kerry is currently conducting a European consumer study to understand consumer drivers and barriers in the plant-based milk space, influencing future product launches.
3. Which one is more important?
– product taste? or consumer education?
However, it may not be entirely centered on the actual taste of the product but the importance of education. The taste of dairy alternatives has proven popular with some consumers, with more than 20% of French consumers aged 16 to 44 saying they prefer plant-based milk to dairy products. As a result, food and beverage brands in the plant-based milk space today may need to focus on taste and texture.
Sustainability is also a common factor in consumers’ decision-making process. Brands can use their environmental credentials, the lower environmental footprint of their plant-based dairy products, as an attractive differentiator for non-vegan milk.
The successful non-dairy manufacturers of the future will produce plant-based beverages that address significant consumer concerns about taste, nutrition, function, and versatility. Likewise, manufacturers need to ensure mass appeal and ease of operation.
The Ways Using Fruits to Attract Customers
1. Monk Fruit for reducing the sugar by 40%
As parents increasingly focus on reducing their children’s sugar intake, Kraft Heinz is using monk fruit to reduce sugar in Capri Sun products in the U.S. This practice reduces sugar by 40% for taste and health.
How do sugar and artificial sweeteners impact children’s health? This question has recently received much attention. Concerns about sugar consumption have prompted several U.S. cities to introduce “soda taxes.” Such local taxes make distributors of sugar-sweetened beverages pay for the drinks they distribute in cities like Boulder, Philadelphia, Seattle, and San Francisco. The latest update from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration now requires manufacturers to list the grams of added sugar and the percent daily value (%DV) on the Nutrition Facts label. Therefore, there is a growing interest in natural sweeteners, and Luo Han Guo is becoming a popular natural alternative for manufacturers. Luo Han Guo is said to taste similar to sugar but without the bitter taste of stevia.
A Kraft Heinz spokesperson said, “Sugar reduction is a key desire for Kraft Heinz and a long-term goal for Capri Sun. We have heard from consumers that sugar content is a pain point and conducted extensive testing to find natural Ways to reduce added sugar while maintaining the delicious taste that consumers and children know and love.”
By August of this year, every pouch of authentic fruit juice drinks in the U.S. will contain Monk fruit concentrate and about 8 grams of total sugar and 5 grams of added sugar. In addition, the new packaging will highlight the sugar-reduced benefits of all original beverages. Kraft Heinz said the low-sugar Capri Sun would only be available in the U.S.
As an expensive natural sweetener
Monk fruit is one of the types in the Melon family. And people also know its name Luo Han Guo in Chinese because its native to China. Its pulp contains a compound called Mogroside V, which is about 250 times sweeter than table sugar (sucrose), making it an ideal ingredient for natural and health-related food and beverage products. However, Luo Han Guo’s high cost has created a barrier to growth compared to other natural sweeteners. Currently, it is unapproved in Europe and used in very small quantities. Still, it is slowly growing in the U.S., China, Australia, Mexico, and Japan, with only 1% of product launches between June 2020 and May 2021 using Monk fruit as a sweetener Flavor ingredient. Luo Han Guo extract is only approved as a tabletop sweetener in Canada. However, monk fruit juice concentrate, the ingredient in Capri Sun, is permitted because of its lower Mogroside V content.
Health-related, plant-based, no additives
Although the number of food and beverage products containing monk fruit is relatively small, products that are already on the market tend to be associated with health and dietary trends, such as additive-free labels, plant-based labels, or both. Monk fruit has been shown to have antioxidant, liver-protective, and glucose-lowering properties. In a 2020 Journal of Dairy Science study, researchers developed a yogurt that uses Luo Han Guo extract as a sweetener. They found that it had similar microstructural properties to sweetened yogurt. The results showed that Luo Han Guo extract could be successfully used as a novel sweetener and food antioxidant for functional yogurt and related products.
2. Blueberries for driving customers’ demand
Blueberries are an ingredient and flavor that consumers recognize and demand.
At the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, we’ve been inspiring manufacturers and product developers for more than 20 years with bold new blueberry apps that bring the power of this small but mighty berry into every corner and product of the grocery store category. Blueberries offer a variety of textures, color intensities, and natural sweetness levels. And they also have functional health effects and much more demand from customers.
Blueberry buyers continue to rank blueberries as their favorite fruit, having surpassed strawberries and bananas in popularity, and 80% of manufacturers agree that adding blueberries to their products can provide consumers with perceived or additional benefit health benefits. Additionally, the color and flavor of blueberries have increased their popularity, with most manufacturers surveyed stating that blueberries provide added value to their customers.
The health benefits of blueberries are a major driver for consumers to buy. Their immune-boosting and antioxidant content have long been considered highly desirable benefits by the global market. There is growing evidence that blueberries can be part of a healthy eating pattern. Blueberries can help people from cardiovascular and brain health to gut health and insulin response, especially as part of an overall healthy lifestyle. Therefore, applying the health benefits of blueberries to the packaging of related products can stimulate consumer interest and generate demand and consumption.