Tate & Lyle: Plant-Based Products Offer Long-Term and Sustainable Business Opportunities

The consumer trend towards plant-based diets is helping to reduce the negative environmental impact of the food industry and is becoming an essential part of the climate debate.

Many brands have now adapted to the needs and preferences of consumers, who are increasingly looking for innovative plant-based products on supermarket shelves that support their lifestyles. Fundamentally, however, consumers are looking for products that meet their basic food quality needs, such as taste, mouthfeel, and nutritional value.

Brands must adapt to current climate

The challenge brands face today to meet these demands is also partly driven by the global shortage of raw materials of animal origin, exacerbated by events such as the past pandemic and subsequent supply chain disruptions, as well as the need for affordable products in inflationary economies.

Companies are looking to innovate to meet consumer needs while keeping costs down. Tate & Lyle, a UK-based global supplier of food and beverage ingredients, last year acquired Nutriati, a developer and producer of chickpea-based protein, as part of its intention to manage the trend towards plant-based foods while better adapting to changes in the global supply chain.

“With the inflationary spiral that has gripped many economies around the world, cost optimisation projects with customers are on the rise as brands seek to minimise price increases for consumers. There are also availability challenges, such as the shortage of eggs caused by avian flu in countries such as the US, UK, France, and Japan. Often a plant-based ingredient solution can meet consumer expectations at a lower cost and still deliver an exceptional end product,” says Shen Siung Wong, director of global applications at Tate & Lyle.

a graphic of a burger with the word plant based between the bread buns
© iStock 1151930343

“For the herbal sector, the focus now needs to be on brand differentiation, perfecting those sensory attributes and improving nutritional value to encourage regular consumption,” says Wong. “At Tate & Lyle, we are well positioned to support these efforts, both technically and by providing more sustainably produced ingredients like our CLARIA® Clean Label Functional Starches, which we will soon be producing with one-third less carbon and water than our original product line.”

By working with food and beverage brands, Tate & Lyle is able to make plant-based products a reality, for example at its Customer Innovation and Collaboration Centre in Germany and also at its US lab. Chickpea flour, for example, is gluten-free and easily recognisable to consumers. At the same time, it offers many functional advantages when used as an egg substitute, such as similar muffin volume and peak height. Through extensive research and testing, animal proteins, fats, and ingredients such as eggs and gelatine can be replaced with Tate & Lyle’s plant-based ingredient solutions without compromising the aesthetics and mouthfeel of traditional products.

Alt dairy offers opportunities

“Dairy products are a very active category in the area of plant-based ingredients. Cow’s milk provides the perfect composition for making yoghurt, cream, and other enjoyable dairy products. With plant-based alternatives, we need to balance the main ingredients – water, plant fats, and proteins – to replicate the texture, taste, and eating experience that people love,” says Wong.

One of the biggest challenges in this process is meeting the growing expectations of “clean label”, which is the preference for recognisable ingredients and short ingredient lists. Currently, the global team of food scientists at Tate & Lyle sees brands placing emphasis on taste and texture, which go hand in hand to ensure repurchase.

“…the pace of innovation in this sector is phenomenal”

“It’s not going to happen overnight to meet all of these criteria, but the pace of innovation in this sector is phenomenal,” says Wong. “As the trend continues to spread and eventually goes from niche to mainstream, with the economies of scale to match, R&D professionals will know they are not only making tastier, healthier and more sustainable products, but also helping to drive the radical change the industry needs to be fit for the future.”

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