GLOBAL – In response to the growing demand for plant-based alternatives, food manufacturers are intensifying their efforts to enhance the taste, texture, and nutritional profile of meat and dairy substitutes.

As the number of flexitarian consumers continues to rise, these innovators aim to bridge the sensory gap between animal-based and plant-based products.

Anne Sinha, Director of Strategic Segments at CP Kelco, sheds light on the progression of alternative proteins noting that the first generation of alternative protein products was mostly soy-based and appealed to vegetarians looking for meatless and dairy-free options.

“The second generation expanded into almond, oat, pea, and coconut bases, attracting curious consumers interested in eating less meat and dairy,” she added.

“Now, in the third generation, developers are focusing on taste, texture, pricing, and nutrition, leading to a wide variety of meat and dairy alternatives that closely mimic their animal-based counterparts.”

According to Ian Carroll, Strategy Director for Kerry Europe, a significant product overhaul to meet evolving consumer expectations is anticipated wholly by the entire industry.

He highlighted the importance of improving the consumer experience, emphasizing the gap between consumer expectations and current market offerings.

Carroll added that delivering superior ingredients and products that exceed these expectations can convert trial consumers into loyal shoppers, driving sustainable growth in this fast-expanding market.

“Consumer demands in the plant-based segment align with the expectations for all food and beverage products, a harmonious blend of taste, texture, nutrition, and price.”

Niels E. Hower, a member of the executive board of directors at Beneo, identified a global shift toward plant-based nutrition, with almost six in ten people paying attention to their meat consumption. Juiciness in meat alternatives and creaminess in dairy substitutes are high on consumers’ wish lists.

Hower also noted fish alternatives as a promising growth area within the plant-based market. Given the challenges surrounding fish availability due to overfishing, plant-based solutions are gaining traction.

Meanwhile, Meatless, a specialist in plant-based texturizing solutions, is exploring options to replace popular fish varieties like North Pacific pollock and cod with innovative, plant-based alternatives.

Speed to market is crucial in this rapidly evolving landscape. To meet consumer demand efficiently, companies like Meatless streamline production processes and work closely with contractors.

The end-to-end service approach is gaining importance, particularly for specialized plant-based production that requires unique expertise to deliver high-quality products at scale.

Jeremy Marichez and Nandrianina Raboanason of Sensient Flavors & Extracts Europe acknowledged the rapid growth of meat and dairy alternatives. They noted the increasing presence of plant-based options in restaurants and fast-food chains, showcasing the widespread adoption of vegan and flexitarian diets.

Despite some reports of a decline in the plant-based category, Marichez and Raboanason believed there is room for growth, especially in cheese and fish alternatives. To differentiate themselves, companies are specializing in specific market segments, such as fish, seafood, foie gras, and cheese.

Additionally, Sandy De Houwer, Global Marketing Director for Meat and dairy Alternative Solutions at Cargill, emphasized that the alternative protein category is just beginning to explore new technologies for improving taste and texture.

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