Sustainability and health concerns are driving consumers to plant-based meat alternatives, but the taste experience of these products remains inadequate, according to research conducted by Kerry.
“The key to success in this category is that they not only taste good, but also have better nutritional value and sustainability.”
Flexitarians continue to drive the market
In 2022, Kerry surveyed more than 1,500 consumers in four countries – the US, the UK, Australia and Brazil – to determine sensory expectations for plant-based burgers and cheese alternatives. The research found that flexitarians, the key consumer group driving the growth of plant-based products, are more critical of the products than vegan and vegetarian consumers. While sustainability is an important factor, consumers are unwilling to compromise on taste and are looking for products that are as close as possible to the taste experience of animal products.
The study uncovered the key drivers in major markets, as well as the attributes consumers look for when purchasing plant-based burgers. Kerry’s research found the following:
- Overall, 60% of UK consumers have started eating plant-based products because they are considered “healthier,” and 76% would buy a plant-based burger that tastes authentically like “grilled meat.”
- 63% of US consumers have started eating plant-based products because they believe plant-based products are “better for the planet.” Overall, 80% of U.S. consumers would be likely to buy a plant-based burger that is “rich and tasty.”
- 51% of Australian consumers buy plant-based products for their better environmental impact, and 78% expect a burger that caramelizes and browns when cooked to be delicious.
- In Brazil, the benchmark is preparing beef burgers and seasoning them to taste. Overall, 67% of Brazilian consumers continue to buy plant-based products because they want to improve their own (or their family’s) health.
Although beef is the benchmark, consumer expectations for plant-based burgers go beyond just the taste experience and are even higher. Consumers want products with improved juiciness and a “bite” as close to that of meat as possible. They are also looking for cooking characteristics such as charring that signal a burger is perfectly cooked and safe to eat, and want meat alternatives with better nutritional value.
Commenting on the findings, Fiona Sweeney, Strategic Marketing Director at Kerry, said: “The need for a great tasting experience is universal. With plant-based foods often chosen by consumers as a more sustainable alternative, ensuring great taste can be a gateway to providing innovative and sustainable nutrition solutions for consumers around the world. However, ensuring a great taste experience – which includes a comprehensive sensory experience of sight, sound and texture – is extremely complex and inherently more challenging for plant-based foods, as the bar is set high with meat and dairy as the benchmark.
“The flexitarian consumer, the key consumer group driving the growth of the plant-based food category globally, is actively seeking to reduce their meat and dairy consumption. However, because they still consume meat and dairy products, their expectations for the taste of plant-based foods are driven by these experiences. Overall, our research found that flexitarians are more critical of plant-based products currently on the market. The key to success in this category is that they not only taste good, but also have better nutritional value and sustainability.”
The findings of the research are included in a series of e-books published by Kerry that provide the industry with opportunities for action to meet current consumer expectations and future unmet needs.