Consumers’ ‘taste experience’ falls short for plant-based meats, but there’s room for improvement
Concerns regarding sustainability and health are pushing consumers toward plant-based meat alternatives, but they continue to “seek products that are as close to the taste experience of animal products as possible.”
“The expectations for plant-based foods continues to rise and consumers don’t want to compromise,” Shannon Coco, strategic marketing director at Kerry, said in an email interview with FoodNavigator-USA.
The firm surveyed 1,500 consumers throughout the U.S., Australia, the UK and Brazil in 2022 to learn their preferences regarding plant-based burgers.
In the U.S., 63% of consumers began eating plant-based products because they are perceived as healthier, while 40% started eating plant-based products because they felt those products are “better for the planet.”
For US consumers, the standard for plant-based meat is “beef but better,” according to the report.
“What they really mean is, they want a burger with only positive taste attributes of a real beef burger coupled with improved nutrition and better environmental impact,” according to the report.
Moreover, they have even higher taste expectations for plant-based burgers than for fresh or frozen real beef burgers.
Flexitarian drives future growth
Based on its research, Kerry sees flexitarian consumers as essential for increasing market growth in the coming years, as those consumers are actively working toward reducing meat and dairy consumption.
However, their plant-based meat expectations are informed by their animal-based meat and dairy experience, and they are more critical of plant-based products that don’t measure up, placing a greater emphasis on taste and texture than vegetarian or vegan consumers.
“Delivering great taste, along with improved nutrition and sustainability credentials, will be key to success in this category,” Coco said.
Looking for traditional cues
On the whole, consumers are looking for plant-based meats that, essentially, taste, look and feel as close to meat as possible.
“They also seek cooking cues such as charring which signal that a burger is perfectly cooked and safe to eat and want meat alternatives with improved nutrition,” Kerry said.
According to Fiona Sweeney, strategic marketing director at Kerry, making plant-based meats with a great taste “can be a gateway to delivering innovative and sustainable nutrition solutions for consumers around the world.”
She pointed out that this is challenging, as a great taste experience comprises sound, sight and texture and has to pass a high bar of comparison with animal-based meat and dairy.
“Consumers want a texture and mouthfeel that’s close to meat,” Coco explained. “Without this the overall experience will be disappointing.”
Flavor depth differentiates
When developing plant-based meat products, manufacturers should focus on flavors with depth and complexity - described as multiple notes detected at the same time - in order to differentiate their plant-based burgers.
Consumers cite flavors including chargrilled and caramelized notes as favorites for plant-based burgers, in addition to “intense meaty flavor (slightly smoky, umami, and savory),” according to the report.
In the U.S., 80% of consumers surveyed said they were likely to buy plant-based burgers that are marketed as “rich and savory.”
However, consumers are turned off by bitter, plant-based notes, and manufacturers also must be careful to avoid including too much flavor.
For instance, salt levels need to be taken into consideration, along with aftertaste, Kerry explained, as they “can be perceived as artificial or unpleasant.”