Trends and opportunities in plant protein: a global perspective

Trends and opportunities in plant protein: a global perspective

Consumers are buying more plant-based products than ever before. But how can brands make the most of this demand?


Foods made from plant-based protein are growing in popularity among consumers. In fact, 24% of U.S. consumers aged 18-24 say they consume packaged meat alternatives such as veggie burgers in a typical week.

But what exactly are consumers looking for?

For food and beverage producers, it’s the eternal question. But in a rapidly evolving segment like plant-based foods and meat alternatives, the question becomes even more elusive. There are, however, a few trends that undeniably point to exciting opportunities for plant protein innovators. 

Emphasize the environmental benefits

In Ipsos’ Global Trends 2020, “climate emergency” is the strongest common value among people across the world – and in the case of plant proteins, we can see that changing values are translating into changing actions.

Producers of foods with plant proteins are already offering a product that requires a less intensive use of land resources, in comparison to animal proteins. But, according to market intelligence firm Mintel, they could be highlighting this aspect more, since it is, increasingly, a deciding factor for consumers. The Asia-Pacific region lags behind in this regard, and could especially benefit from playing up ecological and ethical benefits.

In the same way, eco-friendly packaging is also critical. In fact, a recent survey found that 75% of meat-free consumers in the U.K. say that eco-friendly packaging would make them buy one meat-free product over another.


Take flavor and nutrition to the next level

Consumers want better nutrition from their plant-based protein – but they’re not willing to compromise on taste. For different regions, this has different implications:

  • In the Asia-Pacific region, Mintel advises driving interest by innovating with local ingredients and flavors, such as burdock and kinako, along with tailoring flavor profiles for regional dishes such as curries and biryani.
  • In the U.S., bold, flavorful ingredients, coupled with meat-like textures and an emphasis on the nutritional qualities of vegetables, could be what it takes to win over consumers.

Globally, producers can highlight high protein content in an effort to appeal to those who don’t consume meat and also to flexitarians, who are an increasingly important part of the segment’s business model.


Experiment with new protein sources

Though soy protein remains the leading plant protein ingredient in Western markets, many brands are diversifying their offerings and exploring a variety of plants and seeds to use as protein.

That’s in part due to consumers moving away from soy and wheat/gluten for health reasons. Take, for instance, the U.S., where, among households avoiding certain foods or ingredients:

That is, in part, the appeal of pea protein derived from yellow and green split peas. According to many regulatory bodies, pea protein does not need to be listed as an allergen, enabling brands to more easily achieve a clean label and attract those avoiding wheat and soy.

Meanwhile, other consumers report a degree of sticker shock in the plant protein aisle: In Canada, 66% of respondents to a recent survey said they found plant-based proteins to be too expensive, with 47% of respondents in the U.S. agreeing with that opinion.

The message is clear: A significant portion of consumers are looking for meat alternatives that are not just made from a source that is not wheat or soy, but they also want those products to be more affordable. Here, rice protein has potential to perform well, as it is nutritious, hypoallergenic and affordable.


Enhance flavor and texture naturally

But whether you’re using pea, rice or even soy, plant-based proteins don’t always have the best flavor and texture. At the same time, using acid-hydrolysis (aHVP) works against a brand image of sustainability, and can’t be listed as natural flavor in the EU.

One solution  is to use enzymatically hydrolyzed vegetable proteins (eHVP) , which are considered natural and can be labeled as a natural flavor preparation in EU. This is also an excellent alternative to yeast extract in regions where yeasty flavors are not preferred or where yeast extract is less welcome on food labels. 

Through the process of enzyme hydrolysis, brands can produce a cost-competitive, label-friendly, great-tasting flavor preparation that fits their processing needs and the requirements of the final product. In fact, enzymes can this this way enhance the umami taste of savory products while enabling a reduction in salt.

Now that sounds like something everyone can agree sounds appealing.

Can we help you produce natural umami?

Can we help you produce natural umami?

Explore more about how enzymes can provide label friendly flavor enhancement.