‘Future food leaders,’ others get a taste of industry’s hottest trends at Fi Europe

Plant-based concepts dominated the annual Food ingredients Europe show at Messe Frankfurt. Held the last week of November, the four-day event dedicated several key components to plant-based solutions and innovations.

Audarshia Townsend, Content Director, Food & Beverage Insider

December 7, 2023

5 Min Read

At a Glance

  • Sensory science is key for retaining consumers in the plant-based market.
  • Plant-based products should be indulgent, tasty, and have a nice texture, according to experts.
  • Fermentation is a major trend in the plant-based sector, and formulators are aiming to use it to perfect innovations.

At this point, it’s second nature for us to tirelessly cover the latest developments in plant-based innovations. There’s just so much happening, including regulatory updates in labeling laws, functional beverages and using AI to improve the taste, texture and variety of alt-eggs, seafood and dairy.

Plant-based concepts also dominated the annual Food ingredients Europe (FiE) show at Messe Frankfurt in Germany. Held the last week of November, the four-day event dedicated several key components to plant-based solutions and innovations.

For example, Tastemakers Way, a central area connecting eventgoers to the exhibition hall, featured New Product Zone. Here, there were displays for novel ingredients and solutions such as Diveks’ Textured Insect Protein. The ingredient is developed by combining insect and pea proteins, resulting in a sustainable product that’s versatile and ideal for water binding capacity.

Also, Driessen Food Extrusion introduced a Crispy Vegetarian Cheeseburger Bite at the show. It promised “game-changing innovation” with an extruded breadcrumb coating specially designed for high-speed ovens. It was created to deliver that crispy, yet juicy aspect familiar with traditional burgers, elevating the experience of a non-meat burger.

Related:Experts declare 'fermentation' a top F&B trend for 2023 and beyond

California Natural Color Pure Yellow Safflower was also on display in the New Product Zone. Color is a major factor in plant-based analogues achieving the traditional look of animal protein products, but it’s also important to be sustainable. This ingredient aimed for solutions with dairy and alt-dairy products and is also clean and sugarless.

The ever-evolving technology and innovations in the plant-based sphere are what inspired Fi Europe’s organizers to develop a “Future Food Leaders” program. This year’s event marked the first time they’ve invited food science and food technology graduate and undergraduate students, who represented two local universities. It was an opportunity for them to learn about some of the hottest industry trends from a panel of experts from the likes of Cargill, Gelita and Drexel University. In addition to plant-based trends, the students learned about some of the latest innovations in fermentation and sustainability.

The plenary session and show were free for the students, who also had the chance to network with other professionals and tour the exhibition halls. They could ask questions, offer their opinions and seek job opportunities. They were also encouraged to explore the show on their own.

Sensory greatly impacts plant-based F&B

Related:Fi Europe 2023 sees record attendance, innovation

Elsewhere, exhibitors enthusiastically showcased their newest developments in plant-based innovation. At the top of the list was sensory science, one of the biggest buzzwords at the show. According to the experts, once the formulator understands it, the approach to plant-based products should evolve.

“The sensory experience is very key for retaining consumers, especially for new products and innovations,” explained Bastian Hörmann, global marketing director, sweet food, dairy, specialized nutrition, ADM. “It’s not only about the taste and how you perceive the taste, but also about the texture. If the sensory experience is not matching [the consumers’] expectations, they will never buy the product again.”

As an example, he continued, ADM’s R&D experts lean in to rich, recognizable global flavors to draw in consumers for plant-based innovations. At FiE, one of the offerings was a plant-based gyro topped with vegan tzatziki sauce. “So, the plant-based chunks you see on top are mimicking gyro meat—also in taste,” Hörmann said.

“The sensory experience is very important in the wellness space because the mainstream consumer tends to be a bit skeptical about new things,” he added. “They are likely adventurous in taste. They might be skeptical about the functionality. So, they’re seeking an experience that’s sensory and tasty … the functionality should not overshadow them.”

Related:3 trends shaping protein formulation to meet consumer needs

Hörmann believes plant-based products are still popular despite some reports stating that consumption is down.

“When you give them options that are beyond their wildest dreams, that brings them back in,” he said. “In order for the plant-based sector to grow, you have to just go all out.”

A mission: making healthy food pleasurable

Roquette, another exhibitor, is zeroing in on what the company is calling “positive nutrition.” Sophie Castelain, global business communications leader, Roquette, defined their latest plant-based innovations as “indulgent,” “tasty” and with a “nice texture,” yet integrating a healthier approach with their proprietary fiber and texturized pea protein.  

One of the standout products they sampled was a plant-based samosa, which played into the global flavors craze. Castelain said these innovations target consumers who might follow a flexitarian diet and would consider plant-based options.

“We would like to propose [innovations like these] to our customers; these are new options … with a wide range of flavors and textures that can really give consumers a new experience in terms of food,” Castelain said. “Our samosa originates from a fusion, plant-based recipe inspired by Asian spices, Asian culinary trends.”

Taste rules every time

Fementation continues its stronghold in the plant-based sector, and MycoTechnology is proving to be one of the standout companies. It garnered Fi Europe’s Health Innovation Award during the show. The company uses shiitake mushroom mycelia to break down pea protein to create a milder, creamier flavor than traditional pea protein.

“I think [this award] validates all the things we knew about our protein to begin with,” said Pete Lubar, EVP of Business Development and co‑founder of MycoTechnology. “We’ve known that it was a very high-quality protein and more bioavailable than other proteins. We’ve done studies with it with the University of Illinois, and once it goes through fermentation, it makes the protein more bioavailable.”

MycoTechnology’s demo at the show mimicked traditional bologna in color, texture, smell and flavor. Lubar said that for the plant-based sector to “get out of its slump,” formulators must produce products that meet four important pillars.

“Pillar one is that it’s got to taste great,” he said. “Pillar two, it’s got to be nutritional. Pillar three is that it’s got to have the right mouthfeel. And pillar four is that it’s got to be affordable.

“The industry has significantly slumped in the last year, but I think we'll see better technology, better products come out over the next couple of years,” he continued. “I think we're figuring out how to make really good food that people wouldn't care whether it was plant-based or not.”

About the Author(s)

Audarshia Townsend

Content Director, Food & Beverage Insider, Informa Markets

A lifelong Chicagoan, Audarshia Townsend is an award-winning, veteran food and beverage journalist who serves as the content director for the Food & Beverage Insider brand. She is Informa Markets' 2024 "Star Storyteller" winner. Her experience as a visionary editor and writer spans 30 years, with an emphasis in print and digital magazines. Audarshia's professional passion is to champion and amplify underserved business communities. Some of her most recent content includes her review of 2023's F&B trends, the future of food science careers, an interview with culinary star Padma Lakshmi, and Pescavore's sustainable ahi tuna jerky strips. She also appears regularly on local and national media outlets to discuss food and beverage trends, most notably FOX-32 Chicago, WGN-TV, WXRT-FM, NPR-Chicago and the Travel Channel. She is often called on to serve as a judge for prestigious food, beverage and restaurant awards, including the James Beard Foundation, NEXTY Awards and Black Women in Food. She continues to write for Chicago magazine, and previously she has written for the likes of the Chicago Tribune, Eater Chicago, Esquire, Essence, Los Angeles Times, Playboy, Time Out Global and World’s Best Bars. With food and beverage being her longtime, chosen beat in media, she has created content for a number of prestigious brands such as AOL, Google, Lawry’s Seasoned Salt, Lexus, MasterCard, Markon Cooperative Inc., Miller Brewing Co., Resy and Simplot Foods.

To date, Audarshia has guest lectured at the following higher-education institutions: Columbia College Chicago and Loyola University Chicago for undergraduate journalism students; Northwestern University for graduate journalism students; and Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) for undergraduate, graduate and PhD food science students. She also mentors aspiring young writers and journalists whenever she can. Email her at [email protected] and also connect with her on LinkedIn.

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