Studies & Numbers

From Satisfaction to Perfection: Closing the Sensory Gap for Plant-Based Foods

A study published in the journal Food Quality and Preference has found that while consumers are generally satisfied with most plant-based products, there is still a sensory gap between plant-based and animal foods.

In the categories of plant-based milk and yogurt, the gap is relatively small, with consumers suggesting minor changes — such as a reduction in beany or grainy flavors for milk, and a thicker texture for yogurts.

For plant-based beef and chicken, participants wanted to see a more meaty, umami flavor, which the authors suggest could be achieved using seasonings such as nutritional yeast. Improved texture and tenderness are also desirable, and could be attained using different types and combinations of plant-based proteins and fat. Numerous new fat alternatives are now being developed specifically to improve the sensory qualities of plant-based meats.

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Improving alt cheeses

The category with the lowest consumer satisfaction was plant-based semi-hard cheeses, with significant sensory improvements required. Study participants described the cheeses as too bland, with an artificial taste and odor. They also expressed a desire for a more umami flavor.

Consumers appear to be relatively satisfied with the cream cheese alternatives on offer, but would like a more spreadable appearance and a creamier, cheesier taste. The study suggests that this could be achieved through fermentation technologies.

Strategic insights

Despite the sensory gaps reported, overall none of the categories received a score lower than “neither like nor dislike”. As might be expected, vegans reported liking plant-based products more than those who followed other dietary patterns.

“This study identified potential gaps between consumers’ sensory-based cognition of currently available and ideal versions (yet to be developed) of PB chicken, beef, semi-hard cheese, cream cheese, yogurt, and milk alternatives,” say the study authors. “These findings strengthen the strategic insights to direct the product development of PB food and beverage alternatives.”

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