Taste still trumps health as snacks sector heads for plant makeover

By Gill Hyslop contact

- Last updated on GMT

BakeryandSnacks hosted a panel discussion at ProSweets in Cologne, Germany, to delve into the plant-based trend: discussing its effects, the pros and the challenges it is having on the snacks and confectionery sectors.

The preference for natural, simple and flexible diets is driving the demand for vegetarian, vegan and other plant-focused formulations, says Mintel.

The market researcher said the global market will see an ever-growing number of products on shelves featuring plants as key ingredients as producers grapple to capitalize on consumer’s nearly omnipresent priority for health and wellness.

According to Marcia Mogelonsky, director of Insight, Food and Drink, Mintel, Millennials are pushing the market, notably more so than any other generation.

“The consumers driving the trend forward are more likely to be younger consumers rather than their older counterparts – although older people are quickly realizing the benefits of following flexitarian or vegan diets,”​ said Mogelonsky.

With Millennials now producing offspring, “they are teaching their children that they can do not have to eat meat or drink milk… they can grow up with plant-based dairy and meat-free meals,” ​she added.

Top influencer

However, Mogelonsky noted that, no matter the generation, taste is still king in getting consumers to purchase a product.

“Taste trumps health and price all the time, especially in confectionery and snacks,”​ she said.

According to Mintel’s Global New Products Database (GNPD), 52% of US adults placed taste at the forefront when following a plant-based diet, outranking health (39% of respondents), the environment (13%), animal protection (10%) and concerns over diet (10%).

“Despite the fact that health attributes, particularly free-from, factor strongly in consumer decisions when purchasing plant-based proteins, at the end of the day, taste is the driving force behind purchase and eating decisions,”​ wrote Billy Roberts, senior food and drink analyst at Mintel and author of Mintel’s latest report.

Repeat sales

Adrian Ling, MD of So Free dairy-free chocolate maker Plamil Foods – which has been manufacturing free-from foods for more than 30 years – echoed the sentiment.

Plant-based food market

GettyImages Young plants growing Love the Wind
©GettyImages/Love the Wind

The Plant Based Foods Association reported the total market for the plant-based food sector generated $3.1bn in 2017.

According to Nielsen data for the 52 week period ending August 12, 2017, the growth overall in plant-based foods was 8.1%, compared to the 0.2% decline of all food products – including bakery, frozen foods, dairy, grocery and meat – in the same channel.

The market researcher’s data showed that plant-based dairy alternatives are the fast-growing category – with  20% growth – topping $700m in sales over the past year.

While the free from chocolate sector has witnessed huge improvements – ranging from different ingredients to processing methods and equipment, he said it is “vitally important that the consumer enjoy the product in order to buy the next one. They will not buy the second or third [if they don’t like the taste].”

Kerstin Bergander, Doehler’s head of Food Application, said the global ingredients provider is constantly looking for new ingredients before a product even reaches the retail shelf or the consumer.

“It has to offer a multisensory experience,”​ she said, noting that, while many plant-based ingredients need no tweaking, some need more technology behind them to be offer the right taste, stability and other criteria that consumers demand from products.

Clean living

While health and functional attributes are top of mind among consumers, only 46% of the respondents said they trust the functional claims made by plant-based foods, according to Mintel’s GNPD.

This, said Roberts, presents an opportunity for brands to further communicate the benefits.

“Busy consumers look for shortcuts for how to live well, and labels offer a quick and easy understanding about what a product contains,” ​he said.

These consumers are more likely to seek plant-based protein products with no artificial ingredients (41%), that are high in protein (35%) and fiber (28%), and those that are non-GMO (28%).

“The biggest challenge for the plant-based proteins category continues to be finding the right balance between flavor and health, and discovering the categories where consumers will accept the addition of plant-based varieties,”​ concluded Roberts.

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