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Motivated by health, Americans turn to plant-based meat alternatives, yet gaps in taste and texture still persist

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Mainstream interest in plant-based eating is on the rise—more than half (52%) of consumers claim to be eating more plant-based foods, while 63 percent say they are increasing their use of plant-based foods, according to a HealthFocus International study. So, it’s not surprising then that demand for plant-based meats is also trending upward. In fact, meat alternatives represent one of the fastest growing subcategories in the plant-based segment evidenced by scores of new product activity from both startups and established food companies. In 2018, sales of plant-based meats grew 24 percent compared to an increase of just six percent in 2017, according to Nielsen data from the Plant Based Foods Association.

Flexitarian eating among the general population, rather than an increase in people adopting a vegetarian or vegan dietary pattern, is responsible for the burgeoning market for plant-based food and beverages. Today’s plant-based consumers come from across all demographic groups yet are bound by a common influence. The interest in plant-based eating among Americans is being driven by a desire for overall wellness or healthfulness.

People understand they are what they eat. Fifty-four percent of respondents to a 2017 HealthFocus International survey of more than a 1,000 Americans stated, “including more plant in my diet makes me feel healthier.” And 42 percent said if options are available, they prefer to include more plant-based foods in their diet. The main health benefits people cited were heart health (63%), illness prevention (60%,) longevity (59%) and strong bones (54%).

Looking specifically at motivations for consuming meat alternatives, health again is the primary motivator. In a 2018 MarketsandMarkets Meat Alternative survey, 96 percent of respondents chose health as their primary reason for eating meat alternatives. Cost, animal welfare, a sustainable environment and a desire for variety were the other strongest motivators for eating meat alternatives.

Market opportunities

While more and more Americans may be interested in plant-based meat alternatives and product development is heating up, certain challenges still remain. Flexitarian consumers are unwilling to compromise on eating quality. People see taste, texture and lack of variety in meat alternatives as barriers to adoption. A 2019 MotiveQuest analysis of three million internet conversations focused on plant-based eating found taste and texture concerns discussed as hurdles to eating meat alternatives. People often commented that textures were too dry and crumbly instead of juicy and chewy. The researchers also found that consumers didn’t expect meat alternative products to completely look, feel and taste exactly like meat—being delicious and satisfying were the key motivators. Another recurring theme was consumers seeking more variety or options in the meat alternative space. Interestingly, protein content was expected, but different types of protein were rarely discussed in these online conversations.

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Furthermore, some consumers are willing to pay five to 10 percent more for plant-based meat alternative products. So, food manufacturers who can successfully address taste and texture gaps while introducing more varieties of meat alternatives will find receptive buyers. There’s definitely a market opportunity for superior tasting burritos, tacos, fajitas, hamburgers, sausage, chicken nuggets and more.

Protein, structure, binding, food protection and shelf stability are all key components in creating crave-able meat alternatives. DuPont Nutrition & Health is uniquely qualified to help food manufacturers, because of its expansive ingredient portfolio and decades of development experience and research in plant-based proteins, specifically related to meat alternatives. DuPont experts can help brands achieve real meat-like taste and texture and create innovative formats. For a great many plant-based meat alternative formats, the DuPont ingredients can supply all the components needed to develop a product from plant proteins to hydrocolloids and antimicrobials to antioxidants and colors.

 

For more plant-based market insights visit: plantbasedlifestyle.dupont.com

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