With the demand for vegan alternatives on the rise, the main issue being faced by manufacturers is the lack of willingness by consumers to compromise on taste and texture.
Full of texture
From a texture perspective, the advancements in textured plant protein products and the growing acceptance of more ‘natural’ hydrocolloids is allowing manufacturers to produce more accepted products.
There is a division in this view between those who choose a vegan lifestyle due to animal rights concerns and those who choose a vegan lifestyle for other reasons.
Those who choose non-meat sourced products may be less inclined or even put off by products that have been designed to mimic meat more closely. For those who choose vegan products for alternative reasons, this closer profile to meat is likely a positive trait.
Therefore, manufacturers of vegan bakery goods, such as a vegan ‘sausage’ roll for example, need to consider the market subgroup at which they are aiming their products.
Many flavors and flavonoids require the presence of fat and or sugar for the palate to properly recognize them. As such, the addition of fats and sugars to typically low fat and sugar containing products is necessary to impart the desired flavour profile.
To then balance the flavor to ensure that savory products do not appear sweet, manufacturers are required to add salt – the addition of salt also helps to promote the creamy/fatty notes more typical to meat products.
There are better alternatives to this. If manufacturers are aiming their products at consumers who are sometimes consuming meat, then the addition of fat, salt and sugar is likely still necessary. However, for products aimed at non-meat eating consumers, the use of spices and seaweeds in savory products could assist with flavor masking, while the use of starches and some fat mimetic fibers (i.e. inulin) to help impart the creamy notes associated with fat could be considered.
There is a tension between taste, nutrition and cost so food manufacturers need to strike a balance.
Texture and nutritional profile are likely to be the highest priority to most consumers, with taste following closely behind. I think that it is understood by most consumers in this market, that this category is still considered a niche or non-commodity product and, although price is still a contributing factor, an increase in cost compared to the meat alternatives is still expected.
As the vegan product category becomes more mainstream, this acceptance of a higher cost will likely reduce in the general consumer market.
Free from sugar?
Sugar alternatives such as beta-glucan and polydextrose work well at rebuilding the structure primarily in bakery products, while acting similarly to sugar in water biding properties, however, both have the downside of a color impact.
The use of plant fibers such as inulin also work well at holding on to the water and reducing moisture migration, which is a problem manufacturers of reduced sugar multilayer products such as desserts can see. The downside of using non-soluble fibers as a sugar replacer is that it can cause issues in products where the water activity is critical for food safety reasons.
There a tension between achieving optimal taste, at the right price, while reducing sugar. This is because primarily sugar ‘sweetness’ replacers do not have the same neutral profile as sugar.
To combat this, manufacturers who consider a two-pronged method combining stealth sugar reduction with sugar replacers will likely find customers less likely to notice a bigger difference over time than if they were to move to the larger sugar reduction in one step.
Innovations on the sugar replacement front include allulose and monkfruit, which are currently used in the US and Asia, and are being examined by the EU to determine their suitability.
If these are allowed into the EU market, their addition to the sugar reduction portfolio could allow for further reductions in products in which it is currently not possible to reduce the sugar without detriment to the product’s quality.
As we reach a point where it becomes technically not possible to reduce the sugar any further without detriment to the product quality, we will hopefully see a plateau in the demand from legislation.