A survey of 102 food and beverage decision makers in the UK, conducted by Savanta in October, found that 56% are keen to broaden their product ranges to appeal to flexitarians, ahead of producing clean label (37%) and low calorie (34%) products.
The flexitarians they want to attract are those consumers who eat a plant-based diet without eliminating meat completely (48%) and vegans (47%). Interest from retail customers and environmental concerns was on a par at 36%.
Four in 10 (41%) surveyed believe plant-based substitutes for meat will be the biggest growth category for plant-based foods, followed by cereals (13%) and cheese (12%).
But moving into the plant-based space with products that would appeal to consumers is not as easy as saying it.
A third (34%) of the professionals surveyed said that difficulty of sourcing ingredients was their biggest barrier, while 29% pointed to formulation issues. A similar percentage claimed a resistance to the idea from consumers regarding possible taste and texture.
“Our research suggests that plant-based is a big priority for professionals in the food and drink industry, tapping into evolving vegetarian, flexitarian and vegan consumer diets,” said Paul Donegan, commercial development and marketing manager at Artura Proteins.
“The increase in demand presents a significant opportunity for food and beverage brands. Our survey suggests that decisionmakers may have challenges sourcing some plant-based ingredients, which may reflect the supply chain pressures brought about by increasing demand.”
He noted the plant-based food market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 11.9% from 2020 to 2027, according to ResearchandMarkets.
A 2021 YouGov survey estimates that 13% of the UK population are flexitarians, equating to around 8.7 million consumers, “so it’s a great time for businesses to think about tapping into the market,” added Donegan.
Atura specialises in producing pulse proteins at its dedicated facility in Somerset, which it distributes to customers in the UK and Europe to potentially reduce food miles. The company also provides a product formulators toolkit to help with functionality issues.
Pulses like chickpeas, fava beans and red lentils provide high levels of protein, while keeping calories low and a good source of fibre. One cup of cooked chickpeas, for instance, contains 14.5g protein, 12.5g dietary fibre and only 269 calories. A similar serving of fava beans packs in 13g protein, along with a wealth of B vitamins, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, iron and zinc.
“Protein is enduring in its popularity and the trend towards protein fortification shows no sign of slowing,” said Donegan.
“Coupled with the trend towards plant-based, there is a real opportunity to consider alternative protein sources to help deliver optimal food and beverage products for consumers.”