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Accelerating Beyond Burgers: Early indicators into next plant-based eating opportunities

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Although plant-based meats are available in various guises at retail and have been for decades, historically their appeal was limited to vegetarian and vegan consumers. These same vegetarian and vegan consumers supported the niche market in alternative meats, unconditionally and frankly, their expectations for these products were much different than the average consumer’s. There was a lot more leeway in product taste and texture acceptance. Putting chik’n on the label was enough. A product didn’t actually have to taste or chew like chicken.

Examine today’s market for plant-based meats, and that’s not the case. People want a great overall eating experience. And they’re not willing to compromise. That’s because more mainstream consumers are embracing plant-based meats as part of their regular diets. The main motivation for the average American to eat plant-based meat is to maintain a healthy lifestyle through a balanced, protein-rich diet. Sustainable eating is incorporated into the definition of a healthy lifestyle. Since many of these consumers still love meat and are not abandoning meat altogether, their expectations are high. They want plant-based meats to deliver a great eating experience and to fit seamlessly into their lifestyles. They’re not looking to compromise. DuPont Nutrition & Biosciences surveyed this growing group of new adopters to understand the early indicators of where new plant-based eating opportunities lie.

Try it out

The top barrier to trial of plant-based meat is price. In a recent IPSOS study conducted on behalf of DuPont among meat-eating consumers open to eating plant-based alternatives, 44% said plant-based meat is too expensive. Interestingly, “foodservice is what’s really driving growth in plant-based meat among mainstream consumers,” says Mark Cornthwaite, industry and marketing lead, DuPont Nutrition & Biosciences. “Restaurants are lowering the barrier to trial by offering different plant-based meats on their menus. Why not try an Impossible Whopper at Burger King or a Beyond Sausage Breakfast Sandwich at Dunkin’? It’s a lot easier to try a burger or breakfast sandwich with plant-based meat prepared for you in a restaurant than it is to buy a pack at retail with multiple servings you’re not sure you’re going to like.”

Trying plant-based meats in foodservice outlets is leading more and more Americans to buy plant-based meats at retail. As the transition from foodservice to retail and at home preparation of plant-based meats continues, consumers will look for products that fit into their at-home eating occasions.

The same IPSOS study identified the top functional needs of plant-based meat consumers as:

  • Really delicious
  • Good value for the money
  • Filling
  • High in protein
  • Natural ingredients
  • Contains vitamins & minerals
  • Healthier than other products
  • Pleasant texture
  • Without preservatives and additives

Dabbling in dayparts

In order to mainstream plant-based meats, they need to become part of every meal occasion during the day – snacks included. This means moving innovation beyond ground meat patties or crumbles into the entire meat case from whole muscle meats to deli slices to kebabs to seafood. To be accepted by consumers, products have to satisfy both their emotional and functional needs. The IPSOS research reveals that the importance of consumer needs shifts throughout the day. Where in the morning a holistic and healthy lifestyle along with basic requirements, and energy and performance are most important, by the end of the day, enjoyment and good mood, and taste and texture become most important.

As mentioned previously, consumers choose plant-based meats because they believe they’re healthy, and people want to eat healthfully. For these consumers, plant-based meats fit into their healthy eating pattern. While many Americans still eat three meals a day – breakfast, lunch and dinner, flexible mealtimes and snacking habits are blurring these traditional times. Snacking is now a daily meal occasion for most people, with some people claiming to forego regular meals altogether and simply snacking or eating mini meals throughout the day. Snacking claims 8% of eating occasions between breakfast and lunch, another 9% between lunch and dinner, and 8% in late evening hours, per the IPSOS survey.

Need states change as the day wears on from basic nutrition, energy, satiety and functional benefits in the morning to more pleasure-centered ones in the evening, particularly when it comes to snacking. For morning snacks people want similar benefits to breakfast – on-the-go, Fair Trade, low-calorie products, while by late evening, they want intense taste, pleasant texture and refreshing products. Enjoyment and good mood are rewards reserved for the end of the day.

“Understanding what people expect from plant-based meats at different times of the day, gives us insight into areas for innovation,” says Cornthwaite. “At the moment, plant-based meats are fulfilling basic needs for consumers, but as the market grows and matures, manufacturers will need to pay closer attention to product nutrition and ingredient choices. The same desire for clean label and focus on nutritional composition in the broader market will surface in the plant-based meat.” Lower sodium, lower saturated fat and higher protein levels will be expected by consumers.   

Read more about the Eating Occasions study in our brochure​.

SIDEBAR: Plant-based Innovation Kitchen

In DuPont’s Innovation Kitchen, application scientists are harnessing the enormous breadth of the company’s ingredient technology and decades of knowledge of plant-based protein to address the next generation concerns of plant-based food and beverage development. In the alternative meat space that includes sodium reduction, fat reduction, juiciness retention, cleaner label, novel applications, shelf stability and more.

“We’re looking ahead to solve the next hurdle before anyone even considers it a concern,” explains Willy Nunez, Ph.D., Applications Group Manager, Meal Solutions, DuPont Nutrition & Biosciences. “Working with novel proteins and reimagining meat or center of the plate protein is part of our mission to expand plant-based applications beyond imitation in order to support a more sustainable plant-based diet for our planet.”

Plant-based development takes into account consumer nutrition requirements and applies them to a variety of protein sources. Along the way, great taste must be achieved, and that is about mastering sensory characteristics – the mingling of sight, smell, touch and sound.

In plant based where there is a variety of protein sources, combined with consumer requirements on nutrition – designing and formulating new formats that are top-performing on all sensory dimensions is a challenge. “The interactivity of the ingredients in plant-based meat is critical to deliver great taste and texture. Having a deep understanding of each of these components, specifically protein, binders and shelf life protection ingredients and how they work together is fundamental to making epic products,” says Nunez.

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