There is a reason why we can’t stop talking about innovation when it comes to plant-based.
The reality is that the market is moving forward quickly, and failing to innovate fast enough could leave your product falling behind. These market shifts aren’t only dictated by new product and ingredient developments but by new technologies as well.
“History shows that disruptions tend to render previous technologies obsolete within just 10-15 years,” claims think tank RethinkX when discussing the promise of new alternative food technologies like precision fermentation and cellular agriculture.
In a separate article for Food Navigator, analyst Catherine Tubbs, RethinkX, forecasts that precision fermentation will soon be able to “outperform the cow”, leading to the collapse of the dairy and cattle industries by 2035.
While these claims may seem unbelievable, even outlandish, the same could have been said about the unprecedented rise of plant-based in recent years. Almost no one would have ever predicted that the plant-based market in the US alone would have increased 44.5% over three years to a staggering USD 8 billion.
What we have to understand is that innovation in the alternative food space can quickly turn from a snowball into an avalanche. What may have seemed like a pipedream six months ago is now a reality that can potentially reshape the market. For example, with the USDA recently granting permission for two US-based manufacturers to start selling “cell cultivated meats” for consumer consumption, the competition in the alternative market space is about to intensify beyond what we’ve ever imagined.
Moreover, if these new products are able to deliver in terms of taste and texture in ways that plant-based offerings cannot, the disruption they can cause to the market could be difficult to comprehend—especially considering that plant-based milks (USD 2.88 billion) and meat substitutes (USD 1.4 billion) make up over half of the total sales in the plant-based space.
This isn’t meant to be a warning but rather a call to action for developers to re-evaluate their approach toward plant-based innovation.
Source: Plant-Based Food Association
Innovation is absolutely necessary to keep pace, but it can’t be done for that reason alone. It must be focused on addressing the needs of your consumers.
The truth is future innovations in this space will have to come from looking beyond the boundaries of replication toward the possibilities of everything that plant-based can be.
Reimagining Plant-Based: Beyond Replication
In a recent article on Value Driven Product Development, Edlong’s Global VP of R&D, Dr Bernd Koehler, stressed, “To truly understand value, food product developers need to see how the [consumer] data translates into both the functional and emotional needs your product hopes to address for your consumers.”
He discusses that we can’t just focus on what consumers want but must also understand why they want it. This is how consumers, whether they realize it or not, decide if your product meets their needs and, more importantly, their expectations.
This is where developing plant-based products for flexitarian consumers becomes difficult. With the option to return to animal-based items at any time, hitting on taste expectations is a must.
Yet, according to Innova Trends Survey 2023, when it comes to plant-based products, taste and texture remain the top two things that leave consumers wanting. Surprisingly, the third most important thing that consumers would like to see more of from plant-based were standalone products that did not try to mimic meat or dairy.
However, that’s not all.
Source: Innova Trends Survey 2023
While 48% of consumers surveyed claim to be at least “cutting back” on meat and dairy, that same survey found that despite limiting their consumption of animal products, 47% of consumers don’t see it necessary to consume direct substitutes.
In another survey, Innova discovered that “Plants in their more natural state are already among the most popular alternatives to meat”. In fact, while vegetables and legumes came in second and fourth, respectively, plant-based “alternatives” only ranked ninth overall.
This data suggests that meeting consumer needs for plant-based might require a different approach towards innovation.
It shows that while they want more plant-based products, above all, they just want more delicious food options that they can feel good about.
More Options = More Opportunities
Reorienting your innovation strategy away from animal-based replacements unlocks nearly limitless possibilities. This also solves one of the biggest hurdles for consumers on the fence about these products: a lack of options.
Greater adoption of these products really is a numbers game, with 1 in 5 consumers saying they don’t include plant-based foods in their diet because of a lack of options. Conversely, 43% say they started to purchase more of these products simply because a wider array of options had become available.
Removing the constraints of replication is exciting for developers of any size, from start-ups to established CPGs.
It means that plant-based innovation becomes a blank canvas for green gastronomic delights that puts taste and creating memorable eating experiences back at the forefront.
With this approach, honouring the natural tastes of your ingredients becomes a selling point rather than something to try and cover up.
From exotic flavours to plant-based versions of traditional or local cuisines, coming at innovation with consumers’ needs and tastebuds as the priority creates endless opportunities for success.
At the end of the day, taste is still king, and that is where having a partner like Edlong can make the difference.
Collaborating with us from the start of your project lets you leverage our team’s experience and expertise to help your development move at the speed of innovation while keeping taste top of mind.
About the Author: Anne Marie Butler, Edlong Global Director of Strategy and Innovation
I help food stakeholders from startups to CPGs solve complex flavor problems and accelerate innovation within the food space. Through my 15+ years of experience, I’ve gained skills as a food technologist, thought partner, and leader. My clients and team appreciate my collaborative, humanistic approach to problem solving. In an increasingly tech-centric world, I think that human connection is the source of innovation. Through my work, I’ve realized how important it is to be more proactive about inviting stakeholders into conversations around flavor innovation. I’m not working alone, and I don’t want to be thinking alone either.
Innova Trends Survey 2023