Over the past few years, the way consumers view and approach the food they eat and choose to buy has changed dramatically, and many companies have taken notice. As 2023 gets fully underway, developers and manufacturers need to know where these changes are trending and how they can stay ahead of the curve. On top of that, understanding how to tackle these trends without trading taste is essential for making them work for you this coming year.
- Redefining Value
- Affordable Nutrition
When people think about “value” the first thing that always comes to mind is price. “Is this worth the money I’m paying for it?”
However, despite the current economic situation, that isn’t necessarily how today’s consumers are going to judge the value of your product. In 2023, it isn’t always about what’s cheapest; it could be what’s the healthiest, most sustainable, most convenient, or just what tastes the best.
Instead of trying to save money by buying what has the lowest price, many consumers are starting to cut back on certain items so they can continue to purchase the products that really matter to them and their quality of life. This is evident in the US Consumer Pulse Survey by McKinsey & Co. that reported 74% of consumers are changing their shopping behavior to get more for their money. What that “more” is can be different to each consumer.
This is the meaning of redefining value; what about your product keeps your customers coming back again and again? Is it the crispness? The sweetness? A combination of both taste and texture. Or, maybe, it’s your product experience from package to plate.
Finding your specific definition of value requires thinking more holistically about what drives the liking of your product. There are all sorts of places you can reduce costs that aren’t why your customer keeps buying your product. However, once identified, those drivers can’t be sacrificed.
Although it is possible to reduce costs through changes in packaging or marketing strategies, sometimes the only option is to alter your product. Introducing less expensive ingredients or utilizing commodity reduction are great ways to get your numbers where they need to be, but regardless of approach, meeting and maintaining customer expectations for your products has to remain your #1 priority.
Let’s take pound cake as an example. The first thing that comes to mind is the flavor of butter, which also happens to be a commodity with prices and availability that are in constant flux. However, simply reducing it to save costs bears the risk of altering the cake’s flavor and texture, which could negatively influence consumer liking.
More specifically, in addition to the strong characterizing butter profile, customers may also value the dense yet somehow soft textured sponge of the cake. The reality is, that on top of flavor, commodities often have functions that are critical to the product as well as the customers’ perceived value.
With our sensory-based approach and over a century of expertise, we can help you strike the right balance between commodity reduction and replacement ingredients. For instance, with the pound cake we can find the proper ratio of fats, flavor, and any remaining butter to get you the cost savings you need without having to sacrifice the buttery richness and texture that your customers value and expect.
Even as customers search for ways to save money, they want to do so without sacrificing on nutrition. Meaning companies that can prioritize making nutritious choices affordable are in a great position to take advantage of this trend.
I believe this push will be easiest to see in the plant-based space, especially as more people move into this market segment.
Although most view plant-based as a “healthy option” with milks like oat and almond becoming go-to’s, the nutritional difference between plant-based and traditional dairy products remains a big hurdle.
This may not matter much for your latte, but matching protein levels and reaching the nutritional gold standard inherent in dairy, all while remaining affordable, is certainly a tall order for developers of plant-based foods.
Many are turning to fortification as a possible solution. However, this doesn’t come without presenting a set of taste challenges.
Although many ingredient suppliers are working to produce “cleaner” plant-proteins, these still often introduce unwanted off-notes that require masking.
Pea protein, for example, although becoming extremely popular for its nutritional profile, can introduce unwanted vegetative or bitter notes.
Depending on your product, adding masking flavors can be the solution to reduce or even eliminate the unwanted notes that could distract consumers. In other situations, product developers may be adding flavors into the profile that complement existing notes. For example, taking the nuttiness found in a plant protein and using it to your advantage to create a nicely balanced Romano cheese.
Regardless of the approach, this is where flavor can help you strike the balance between affordable nutrition and a delicious product, getting the best of both worlds.
As plant-based continues to grow, manufacturers and developers are finding more room to play and innovate beyond what was previously thought possible. So much so, that new processes and technologies are looking to push the space past the label of “plant-based” and towards the more appropriate titles “alternative dairy” or “animal-free”.
With revolutionary new fermentation, cellular, and chemical processes, developers are working on new ways to improve nutrition, address sustainability, and in some cases, skip plants altogether. Some of these new “animal-free” technologies even have the potential to mimic traditional dairy at the molecular level, opening up endless possibilities to expand the alternative space.
Another area of plant-based and alternative products that is a real opportunity for growth is hybrid products. Larger companies with presences in both the plant and animal-based spaces are already looking into the possibilities that could be unlocked through such products.
Despite the tremendous promise of all these new technologies and potential products, Taste will always be King; meaning, in order to successfully get consumers to accept them, flavor will have to play a key role in their development. Hybrid products allow for taste, texture, and function to more closely mimic that of the full animal-derived counterpart, while still offering sustainability and nutritional benefits, like plant-based products can.
If achieved, these could end up being what wins those on the fence over to the alternative dairy space.
Make sure to watch our trend video with Edlong experts Bernd Koehler, Global VP of R&D, and Anne Marie Butler, Global Director of Strategy and Innovation, to learn more about these trends!
About the Author: Julie Drainville, Sensory Manager
Julie Drainville leads all sensory functions for Edlong globally, maintaining a trained employee panel for sensory testing, and also collaborating with applications scientists and customers to run testing to meet project needs. Julie has an extensive background in food science including over 15 years in the sensory field, a degree from Purdue University in Foods, Nutrition and Business/Dietetics, a Master of Science in Nutrition Education from Rosalind Franklin University, and completion of the UC Davis Applied Sensory and Consumer Science Certificate Program.
 From Innova Market Insights