Protein remains a significant opportunity for the food and beverage industry, and as the market continues to evolve, interest in plant proteins grows. For example, Mordor intelligence reports the global plant protein market to be $14 billion (U.S.) by 2022, while a recent study conducted by Packaged Facts (2016) found that half of Americans now believe plants are the best source of protein.
Why do we see an increase in plant protein? Many reasons factor in, including shifting consumer behaviors toward nutrition and their overall health and wellness, a rise in allergies and intolerances, ethics and environmental sustainability, as well as food safety concerns.
While market growth and demand is trending, manufacturers are becoming increasingly interested in sourcing plant protein ingredients to help them create innovative products. It is important for product developers to understand that consumer knowledge of nutrition and good protein sources is on the rise, while taste remains the No. 1 purchase motivator. But creating products that meet expectations come with inherent formulation challenges, including: • Nutrition: How can we find a quality plant-based protein that provides a more complete amino acid profile?
• Taste: It’s difficult to find a plant protein with pleasant taste profiles, as they are often known for their poor flavor, texture and palatability. As manufacturers look for ways to appeal to consumers, they should not only leverage insights into the marketplace but also understand taste and nutrition. Having an expert understanding of how plant protein sources can impact product formulation, nutritional values and tastes profiles, is essential to innovation.
Consumer Lead Growth
As mentioned, there is clear market opportunity for developing foods and beverages with plant proteins. At Kerry, our primary research has found multiple consumer drivers contributing to plant protein market growth, including:
1. An Increased Health & Wellness Awareness
Maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle are the top reasons for consuming protein products. Consumers also understand the multiple benefits of protein, from building muscle mass to supporting weight management. Further, consumers believe these benefits are not just restricted to animal or dairy protein, with 75 percent of protein users perceiving pea protein as nutritious (Kerry Primary Research, 2016).
Diet and nutrition also play an important part with the more health conscious consumer, where it’s not just about totally replacing meat in the diet. It’s about people wanting a greater variety of protein beyond animal sources (meat, eggs, and dairy) to include more plant sources; an approach often referred to as “flexitarian.”
2. A Rise in Allergies & Intolerances
Growing demand for allergen-free food continues to fuel the growth, with more than half of protein users reporting dairy free as the most important nutritional factor when purchasing protein products (Kerry Primary Research, 2016).
3. Ethics & Environmental Sustainability
Many plant-based protein products have a strong sustainability story and claim lower carbon footprint than alternatives. Sixty-two percent of protein users cite sustainability as an important factor when purchasing a protein product (Kerry Primary Research, 2016).
4. Food Safety Concerns
More than half of protein users want natural ingredients in their protein product, reflecting growing consumer demand for recognizable, simple ingredients (Kerry Primary Research, 2016). Consumers are also likely turning away from animal proteins as a way to avoid antibiotics and hormones often found in meat.
Consumer behavior is also influencing product innovation in specific product categories. Consumers are looking for convenient ways to get their protein, so it comes as no surprise that our research found that the majority of protein users consumed protein in a beverage or bar format (Kerry, 2016). Consumers are also seeking benefits of plant proteins to help them with their nutrition goals in sports and performance nutrition and weight management.
Blending Nutrition is Difficult
While consumer behaviors are driving market value and the benefits of plant proteins are far reaching, finding plant proteins with the right nutritional value is a challenge product manufacturers face when looking to develop new or update the nutritional positioning of existing products. This is because the nutritional value of most plant-based proteins often fall behind animal-based proteins, as they can lack a complete amino acid profile.
Amino Acids 101: Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. In total, there are 20 types of amino acids that the human body uses to synthesize proteins into the body. These amino acids are classified as either essential (indispensable) or non-essential (dispensable). Non-essential amino acids can be created by our bodies, while the essential amino acids need to be provided by our diets. For optimal health, our bodies need all of the essential amino acids in the right ratios. Animal protein sources, such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy, are considered “complete” sources of protein because they contain all of the essential amino acids in the right proportions to meet the body’s needs. On the other hand, plant-based proteins, such as cereals, legumes and nuts, are lower in certain essential amino acids.
In 2016, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics stated that protein from a variety of plant foods, eaten during a day, can supply enough of all essential (indispensable) amino acids when calorie requirements are met. After all, our bodies are constantly remodeling our cells and tissues, so as long as enough of the body’s building blocks (amino acids) are provided throughout the day in the right amounts, our bodies receive a “complete” protein source over time. This is why it’s important for different sources of plant proteins to be used in combination to complement their deficient amino acids.
Combining Proteins: To successfully meet the nutritional needs of consumers, food and beverage manufacturers should look for solutions that combine different plant proteins. Combining complementary sources of plant protein—such as grains (rice and oats) and legumes (pea, beans, lentils)—will provide a plant protein source closer to animal protein amino acid profiles. When combined, complementary proteins will provide all essential amino acids.
Taste Reign, But Plant Proteins Challenges Our Senses
While consumers are making better nutrition choices, taste remains the No. 1 purchase driver. For example, when asked to report the three most important factors in choosing a protein product, 72 percent of consumers selected the flavor of the product and 63 percent selected the texture of the product (Kerry Primary Research, 2016).
The challenge here is that when it comes to formulating products with plant proteins, most plant protein ingredients are associated with bitter tastes, off-notes, poor flavor, or poor mouthfeel properties.
Taste Technology Expertise: Taste is a powerful and sophisticated sensation. It’s not just about flavor, or about sweet, salty, bitter or sour. It’s a multi-sensory human experience—a layered effect of appearance, sound, touch, basic tastes, mouthfeel and aroma—all influenced by our cultures, life stages, individual preferences and mindset. So the taste challenges inherent with plant proteins needs to be met through expert taste and sensory science, and application and development expertise.
This type of understanding will bring solutions that utilize processing technologies to improve texture, as well as choosing applications that complement the flavor of plant proteins; it is possible to deliver the benefits of plant protein in a way that delivers on the taste expectations of consumers.
Clarifying With Plant Protein Solutions
At the end of the day, formulating a plant protein solution can have its challenges, but with the help of an experienced application, formulation, taste and nutrition science team it’s more than possible to create a great tasting plant protein.
At Kerry, we’ve seen our customers struggle with the taste and nutrition challenges associated with plant proteins. That is why we’ve launched ProDiem, a plant-based protein product optimized for quality nutrition, texture and taste.
ProDiem is made up of a complementary combination of plant proteins including pea, rice and oats to improve the protein amino acid score, delivering a solution with a complete amino acid profile. The blend of plant proteins in ProDiem provides a quality source of protein. This unique combination delivers a great-tasting protein solution with several nutritional benefits, such as weight management, maintaining lean body mass and muscle health and helping to support appetite and hunger control.
ProDiem also provides a solution for taste by using a proprietary processing technique and Kerry’s flavor-masking technology to address the grainy texture and mask the characteristic off-notes traditionally associated with plant proteins. This means manufacturers can create quality plant protein products with a better taste profile.
With ProDiem, Kerry has developed a product that does the work. We’ve identified it as a product that meets the market demands and formulation challenges of plant protein. The goal here is to help our customers create innovative products that drive consumer value. As manufacturers look to plant proteins to capture this growing demand, bringing taste and nutrition together in a way that is unique and uncompromising will help bring more innovative and authentic products to the market. NIE
Satya Jonnalagadda, PhD, MBA, RD is currently the director of global nutrition science at Kerry. She is responsible for leading Kerry’s nutrition science function, strategic nutrition research, internal and external nutrition positioning and scientific communications while staying up-to-date of proposed food regulations and identifying new nutrition science opportunities. Jonnalagadda leads the Kerry Health and Nutrition Institute (www.kerryhealthandnutritioninstitute.com), a leading resource in for health, nutrition and general wellness science and policies in food and beverage product development. The Kerry Health and Nutrition Institute is supported by a Scientific Advisory Council, which includes four independent advisors who are recognized leaders in nutrition science and research.