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Katech On How to Develop Meat Alternatives That Excite Consumers

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Today’s consumers are very critical and have clear expectations of the products they eat. This is especially true for meat alternatives. Gone are the years when products were on the market that were not only far removed from the meat-based original, but also presented a clear challenge to the consumer in terms of the eating experience.

Nowadays, this is clearly no longer the case. Today, plant-based meat alternatives have to be pretty close to the original and taste good to consumers in order to survive in this highly competitive market.

Thus, food companies that want to tap into this market and plan to develop new meat alternatives face some challenges.

Is there even room for new meat alternatives on the market?

As the vegan trend has been going on for a while, there are already many successful products on the market.

In 2020 alone, more than 2,400 new products were launched worldwide, and supermarket shelves are stocked with meat alternatives. This could lead to food manufacturers deciding that it may be too late to bring new products to market.

KaTech Ingredient Solutions GmbH sausages © KaTech Ingredient Solutions GmbH

It is important to remember that, according to forecasts, such as those from Innova, the market is expected to continue to grow in the future and consumers will have further demands on the product.

Even though many products are already on the market, there are still points of criticism from consumers that food manufacturers can address with new product developments:

  1. The list of additives in these products is sometimes quite long and manufacturers could work on reducing them to a minimum.
  2. products often have a high fat and salt content with little protein. This leads to poor nutrition labels such as the Nutri-Score. This can also be further optimised.

Some products contain fats that are rich in saturated fatty acids. These can be exchanged for healthier fats.

These points represent opportunities for food manufacturers to develop or even optimise new meat alternatives to meet the new demands of the market.

What are the challenges in developing meat alternatives?

Consumers have high expectations of meat alternatives. Meat alternatives that have gained acceptance in the market are products that directly imitate the eating experience of a meat product but are completely plant-based.

plant-based cold cuts Katech © KaTech Ingredient Solutions GmbH

This is contrasted with the need of food manufacturers who are looking for a product that is easy to produce.

So, the food manufacturer wants a product that is not too soft and can be moulded well. Because if the product is too soft, it tends to stick to the production machines, which makes production difficult and can lead to production losses. In the case of the burger patty, this means that an additive is needed that gels under cold conditions.

Consumers, on the other hand, are looking for a product that meets their expectations in terms of texture. Since meat alternatives are, as the name suggests, an alternative to meat, the consumer will always expect a certain bite and juiciness.

For the burger, this means that the consumer is looking for a juicy and stable product that does not fall apart during frying. This therefore requires an additive that gels when heated.

The beginnings of the development of meat alternatives

The good thing about the production of meat alternatives such as burgers, sausages or nuggets is that manufacturers are very flexible when it comes to the machines used to produce them. All they need is a machine capable of mixing and emulsifying a product.

The situation is different when it comes to the ingredients used in the products. These have a big impact on the final result. There are many texturising ingredients on the market, but there are a number of ingredients that are currently essential for the development of meat alternatives: methylcellulose for hot consumption and Carrageenan and Konjac Mannan for products that are consumed cold. 

plant-based chorizo Katech © KaTech Ingredient Solutions GmbH

As mentioned before, the main reason is that most meat alternatives go through two production processes.

Carrageenan and konjac are important for production at the manufacturer. Let’s stay with the example of burgers: the manufacturer needs a product that does not stick to his machines and that can be shaped well. That’s why a combination of carrageenan and konjac is often used here, as these additives swell when cold and thus ensure that the burger mixture is dry enough and runs smoothly through production.

In the burger example, the methyl cellulose is important for the consumer who fries his product in the pan. He wants a product that is not too soft and does not fall apart in the pan. This is ensured by methyl cellulose, which gels under hot conditions.

What influence does the choice of vegetable proteins have on the product?

The choice of vegetable proteins has increased dramatically in recent times to meet the growing demand of the market. However, the quality of the different plant proteins can vary greatly.

Plant proteins differ mainly in their functionality in terms of solubility and emulsifying ability. There are proteins that emulsify better and some that dissolve better. Both are important for the result of the product.

Plant proteins that dissolve well gel better and give the product a good bite. Emulsifying plant proteins mainly ensure that the fat in the product is well bound, which in turn results in a juicy product. It therefore makes sense to choose a combination of plant proteins that contain not only emulsifying proteins but also proteins with a high solubility.

KaTech team © KaTech Ingredient Solutions GmbH

What role do texturates play?

Texturates are also frequently used in meat alternatives. Texturates are denatured proteins, which means that the protein has lost any gelling or emulsifying ability. However, they are still important in meat alternatives because they give the product a fibrous texture, making it closer to the original meat product. In addition, texturates have the property of absorbing extra water, making the product itself drier and more malleable.

From a nutritional point of view, texturates are an important ingredient as they add protein to the product, which in turn has a positive impact on labelling such as the Nutri-Score or the UK traffic light system.

There are some challenges that food companies face when developing meat alternatives. However, the meat alternatives market is a growing market that offers a lot of potential and is worth investing in. As such, it is an interesting area that will give food companies room to grow in the future.

If you need more information about developing meat alternatives, please contact us. We will be happy to help.

Contact [email protected]

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