Op Ed: Declan Rooney, Plant-Based Protein Growth Platform Manager, Ingredion, on the Future & Evolution of Plant-Based Foods

In the past decade, Veganuary has been instrumental in transforming the food industry, encouraging millions to eat vegan foods throughout January and beyond. The movement has significantly influenced consumer habits and the food market, creating a surge in the availability and variety of plant-based foods.

In this article, Declan Rooney, Plant-Based Protein Growth Platform Manager, Ingredion, explores the trends that will shape the next decade of the plant-based market, and explains why pulse proteins will be key to meeting evolving consumer demand.

The ongoing success of Veganuary highlights the growing importance of plant-based products. The market is diverse: some consumers seek alternatives that mimic traditional meat and dairy, like plant-based burgers that replicate the experience of a traditional beef burger. Other consumers look for natural options that solely use clean-label ingredients. Such varied consumer demands and preferences are driving food and beverage manufacturers to tailor their products and evolve in line with consumers’ ever-increasing demands.

Addressing consumer expectations

Consumer expectations are also becoming more varied. This ranges from seeking more adventurous tastes and textures, and trust and transparency, to health and nutrition, affordability, and convenience,[1] as well as adapting well-known dishes.[2] Addressing these key trends will inevitably impact the next decade of the plant-based market.

Health is one of the main reasons consumers eat more plant-based products, with over half of Europeans citing their overall health when making decisions about what to eat or drink.[3] And a big part of meeting consumers’ health and nutrition demands involves manufacturers delivering a variety of plant-based protein content.

Addressing taste, meanwhile, is particularly key in terms of new product development, as is affordability and protein content, which are key considerations among the younger generation. Recent data suggests that flavour and protein are important considerations for Gen Z and millennial consumers, although millennials value affordability over flavour.[4]

Ingredients must also focus on transparency while also being better for the planet. This means manufacturers must create products — featuring engaging storytelling on-pack — that are less processed and feature recognisable ingredients lists. With new farming systems improving ingredient quality and sustainability, there is renewed consumer interest in food sources, with 40% of consumers in Western Europe wanting products that are “better for the planet,” while 32% want more organic products.[5]

Coronation Chicken Ingredion
© Ingredion

Addressing trends with technological advances in pulses

As consumers increasingly turn towards plant-based diets, the role of technology in harnessing the potential of plant proteins is crucial. Given the evolving demands of consumers across the generations, we expect to see demand for pulse proteins such as those from pea, fava beans, lentils and chickpeas to increase.

At the heart of technological advances is the adoption of advanced processing techniques such as dry fractionation and mild processing methods, which are pivotal in maintaining the nutritional integrity of plant proteins. Unlike traditional methods, these processes do not use water, thereby ensuring a more sustainable and environmentally friendly approach.

Deflavouring technology is also being used to remove the distinct, often undesirable, taste profiles of pulse proteins, which is a key consumer concern today. In addition, meat alternatives without methylcellulose are being created to deliver the characteristic texture of meat protein That’s because although methylcellulose – an EU-authorised food additive – is used to deliver the characteristic texture of meat protein, it tends to lose the cold bite. New solutions that rely on the jellification properties of plant-based protein are being developed to deliver an appealing hot and cold bite in vegan meat products.

Plant based grilled burger patty with grill marks and rock salt isolated on white. Top view.
© Moving Moment-stock.adobe.com

Embracing the future of plant-based foods

As we look to the future, the plant-based food industry stands at the cusp of even greater growth and innovation, poised to cater to an increasingly health-conscious, environmentally aware, and flavour-seeking global population. The journey of Veganuary, from a campaign to a lifestyle choice for many, mirrors this evolution, indicating a future where plant-based diets are not just an alternative, but a mainstream choice.

[1] Innova Market Insights, FMCG Gurus & Stylus, 2023

[2] Innova Market Insights, Innova Trends Survey (average of Brazil, Canada China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Spain, the UK and the US), 2023

[3] IFIC, Food and Health Survey, 2020

[4] Innova Market Insights, Innova Trends Survey (average of France, Germany, Spain, UK), 2023

[5] Innova Market Insights, Innova Trends Survey (average of France, Germany, Spain, UK), 2023

[6] Euromonitor

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