Quiz any proponent of plant-based eating as to why they’ve gone green, and near—if not topping—their list of rationales is likely the belief that plant-based products are cleaner, healthier, simpler and closer to nature than their conventional counterparts.
But quiz any plant-based product developer on the hoops and hurdles they must clear in creating these marvels of modern food science, and they’ll likely maintain very little qualifies as “simple.”
A tweak in one ingredient can require a compensatory twist in twice as many others; and when a brand is trying to do it all while keeping labels pure, nutritionals high and taste and texture tops—well, as Brian Zapp, creative director at Applied Food Sciences (AFS), puts it, “I think we can all appreciate that plant-based ingredients are tough to figure out.”
But industry is figuring them out. And the pace at which products keep appearing on shelves testifies to how much is being learned—and improved. The plant-based space is still new ground, but so far, it’s being successfully seeded.
The new normal
“I recently learned,” Zapp noted, “that compound annual growth in the global plant-based meat category alone is forecast [via proprietary UBS data] at 28% through the next 10 years, which means that alt-meats look set to be an US$85 billion industry by 2030.”
With companies like Tyson, Perdue, Nestlé, Hormel, Unilever, Beyond Brands, Impossible Foods and more attuned to the category’s potential, their near-term goal is simple. “They’re all looking for ingredients and technologies that improve the taste, texture, sustainability and affordability of plant-based products,” Zapp shared.
And ingredient suppliers are obliging. In fact, they’re happy to talk about it.
Michael Cropp, technical services associate at Kemin, noted “plant-based product support is becoming a much more frequent request. A few years ago, we only received inquiries a few times a year; but today, we seem to receive them almost weekly.”
Jacquelyn Schuh, product marketing director of protein nutrition solutions at ADM, can relate. “Typically, I spend a good part of each day diving into what’s new in the plant-based space, and which innovations our team’s working on to ensure we’re keeping up with—and getting ahead of—the latest,” she reported.
At Butter Buds Inc., principal food scientist Lisa Spurlock revealed that she and her team focus “close to 50% of our time developing applications geared toward plant-based formulations.” The company has even doubled its plant-aligned ingredient offerings over the previous three years.
Katharina Schäfer, product manager at Planteneers GmbH, shared that the demand her team was fielding for plant-based systems was so strong that parent-company Hydrosol founded Planteneers as an independent spinoff in late 2020. “The development,” she stated, “is anchored in this vision: Plant-based is the new normal.”
Colonizing the store
Need proof? Just visit a supermarket. According to Nathan Effron, sales manager of the retail division at Aiya, “Retailers are realizing that stocking plant-based innovations is good for business, and there’s a symbiotic relationship between brands and stores to answer that demand.”
As stores give over ever more real estate to plant-based products, they’re not pigeonholing them in meat and dairy, either. The category’s colonized every aisle from snacks to frozen to bakery.
“Plant-based deli slices?” asked Mark Cornthwaite, marketing industry team leader at IFF Nourish (formerly DuPont Nutrition & Biosciences). “Already here. Pepperoni? Done. Beverages? Ice cream? Dips? Plant-based butter? Done, done, done, done. Very little escapes this revolution—not even pet food.”
The revolution is so inescapable for one reason: the rise of the flexitarian.
To continue reading this feature, check out Decker’s “Very little is simple about plant-based formulation” article in the “Power to the plants: Capitalizing on the plant-based momentum” digital magazine.
Kimberly J. Decker is a Bay Area food writer that has worked in product development for the frozen sector and written about food, nutrition and the culinary arts. Reach her at [email protected]