Plant-Based Eating Goes Mainstream: To Meat-Free Burgers and Meat Alternatives

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Survey findings by Accenture indicate that the onset of COVID-19 has induced 81% of consumers to shift to healthier, more sustainable or more ethical purchases, with 89% reporting they are likely to continue post-COVID. This aligns with FMCG Gurus’ findings in its September 2020 global survey of 23,000 consumers, which say 72% consciously decide to buy healthier food and beverages.

A preference for a plant-based diet is a manifestation of this trend for healthy eating, and this represents a fantastic opportunity for growth and differentiation for food enterprises. With the right food flavour supplier, manufacturers of meat products and restaurants and chains specialising in burgers, pizzas, sandwiches, and other meat-based menus can capture a bigger share of the growing plant-based diet market.

What Is Plant-Based Eating?

Plant-based eating is consuming whole and unprocessed plant foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds. It also pertains to eating plant-based meat products made from plant-based ingredients such as soy, wheat, or pea protein.

People shifting to a plant-based diet do so primarily for its health benefits. Studies show a plant-based diet can help reduce one’s risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. It is also associated with lower rates of obesity and improved digestive health.

However, plant-eating is also done for other reasons. The following are other factors driving the growth of the plant-based diet market:

  • Ethical considerations (e.g., all animals want to live)
  • Environmental concerns (e.g., livestock farming is a significant contributor to global warming)
  • Preference for clean ingredients (e.g., want food products free of hormones and antibiotics)
  • Asceticism (e.g., commitment to self-denial)

Plant-based eating consumers can be vegans, vegetarians, reducetarians, and flexitarians.

Vegans

Vegans are against consuming products (e.g., food, clothing, cosmetics, etc.) derived wholly or partly from animals, created through the exploitation of animals or tested on animals. They do not only avoid meat and meat products. They also do not consume dairy products, eggs and honey.

Vegetarians

Vegetarians are committed to consuming only vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, and grains. There are different levels of vegetarianism. Some do not eat all meat, fish, shellfish, poultry, and the flesh of any animals, but some eat fish (i.e., pescatarians). However, some vegetarians consume eggs, dairy, and animal by-products (lacto-ovo vegetarians), while some consume eggs but not dairy (ovo-vegetarians). The strictest vegetarians (no animal flesh, products and derivatives) are vegans.

Flexitarians

Vegetarians who would occasionally eat meat and fish are flexitarians.

Reducetarians

Reducetarians are meat-eaters deliberately reducing their consumption of meat and dairy products.

The Plant-Based Diet Opportunity

All in all, reducetarians, flexitarians, vegetarians, and vegans comprise 56% of plant-based food consumers worldwide and represent a significant market meat products manufacturers and food establishments can try to capture. The bigger opportunity comes from reducetarians and flexitarians, which cumulatively represent 44% of the world population.

According to Food Specialities Limited (FSL), a leading supplier of raw materials, ingredients, and flavouring supplies across the spectrum of the food and beverage industry in the Middle East, the flexitarians and reducetarians also heavily comprise the plant-based diet market in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries and are the largest consumer segment that enterprises can target with healthier, plant-based food and beverages.

Supplies and Ingredients to Help You Take Advantage

Introducing more plant-based meat alternatives is the key to taking advantage of the growing market of plant-based diet consumers. For instance, Burger King has plant-based options, such as the Plant-Based Whopper, Plant-Based Bacon King, Vegan Royale, and Vegan Nuggets. Subway also has V-Subs, a plant-based meatball sandwich.

Food manufacturers, restaurants, caterers, and chains that wish to capture the plant-based diet market can do so with the help of the following plant-based supplies and ingredients.

Meat Analogues for Meat-Free Menu Items

Meat analogues, also known as meat alternatives, are made of plant-based proteins. These products are made of textured proteins (pea, faba and soy), designed to mimic the taste and texture of traditional meat products even though they are made from plant-based ingredients.

In the GCC, plant-based analogues exist for the following:

  • Burger patties (e.g., beef burger, chicken burger)
  • Sausages (e.g., hot dogs, frankfurters)
  • Nuggets (e.g., tandoori chicken)
  • Skewered chicken (e.g., shish tawook)
  • Bacon
  • Fish sticks
  • Shawarma

Ingredients for the Manufacture of Meat Alternatives

Manufacturers of meat analogues or restaurants developing their proprietary meat-free menus need various ingredients to make their meat-free alternatives. The following are some of these ingredients:

  • Protein isolates and concentrates for protein enhancement and binding functionality
  • Starches (wheat, pea, faba, potato) for binding functionality
  • Flour (pea, faba) for binding functionality
  • Binder solutions, methylcellulose, and hydrocolloids, for high water binding capacity emulsion, giving meat alternatives a meatier and chewier texture
  • Fibres (pea, citrus, wheat, pectin) to improve water-holding capacity, making meat alternatives juicier
  • Vegetable fats and oils to imbue meat alternatives with marbling and improve their mouthfeel and juiciness
  • Yeast extracts to provide savoury notes and mask off-flavours
  • Colour blends to mimic meat’s colours, particularly the meat alternative’s colour, as it changes from a raw to a cooked state
  • Flavours and seasonings to give meat alternatives the taste of chicken, beef, mutton, or seafood and to mask unwanted flavours
  • Nutrients premixes to fortify meat alternatives with vitamins and minerals

Condiments Free of Meat By-Products and Other Complementary Plant-Based Ingredients

Plant-based analogues can now replace burger patties, fillings for sandwiches, toppings for pizzas, and meats for skewers, nuggets, shawarma, and other traditionally meat-based dishes. However, they are not sufficient to satisfy the preferences of all plant-based diet consumers.

As a case in point, vegans and lacto vegetarians will not eat a plant-based burger with mayonnaise. Mayonnaise is made with eggs, and lacto vegetarians and vegans don’t eat eggs. For these plant-based diet consumers, therefore, food manufacturers and providers must offer an alternative, like egg-free mayonnaise made with vegetable-based hydrocolloids and modified starches.

Burgers also typically have cheese, something vegans and ovo-vegetarians won’t consume. To this end, there are vegan cheeses such as plant-based parmesan, mozzarella, cheddar, gouda, and cream cheese. Such vegan cheeses are typically made from soy, nuts, peas, and vegetable oils.

Sourcing Plant-Based Ingredients

After deciding to incorporate meat-free alternatives into the menu or developing plant-based products, one must face the challenge of finding all the ingredients and supplies required to create meat analogues and meat-free menu items. The availability and quality of plant-based ingredients can affect the development, production, and cost of plant-based products.

Many plant-based ingredients are sourced from specific regions or countries, which can create supply chain disruptions due to climate-related issues or geopolitical conflicts. In addition, the quality and consistency of plant-based ingredients can vary depending on factors such as farming practices and harvesting techniques. The sheer number of options, and the effort and resources it will take to explore all of them, can also be an insurmountable challenge for any enterprise willing to shift to plant-based food production.

Thus, before any business decides to create products for vegans, vegetarians, reducetarians, and flexitarians, one must establish a robust supply chain for its plant-based ingredients, flavourings, and other supplies.

Plant-Based Eating and Plant-Based Meat Products: A Growing Trend in the Food Industry

The pandemic has made people want to live healthier, and there has been a growing preference for plant-based eating. This is a unique opportunity for food manufacturers and other companies in the food industry. Manufacturers can take advantage by creating meat analogues, while restaurants and chains can start offering meat-free burgers, skewers, shawarmas, nuggets, and other meat-free menu alternatives.

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