Vegan innovation: Growing appetite, plant-based power & retail positioning


28 Aug 2018 --- The image of veganism is undergoing the most radical change in its history while shedding some tired, old stereotypes – that’s according to The Vegan Society itself. The group proudly states that consumers now closely associate eating vegan with health, fitness and well-being – all huge trends that are dominating the global food industry. The word “vegan” didn’t even exist until 1944 when The Vegan Society’s co-founder coined it, but today it can now be seen on menus and products around the world. This week, Unilever announced the launch of vegan Magnum ice cream bars in Sweden and Finland.

In fact, manufacturers and suppliers are constantly tapping into vegan innovation as demand for new vegan-friendly products gathers pace all of the time, across a multitude of categories from dairy to beverage, plant-based products to grains, the meat substitute sector to frozen desserts and more. 

And there’s still lots of room for innovation as demand for vegan shows no sign of slowing down. In fact, gravitation towards plant-based diets in general, along with interest in vegan, vegetarian and flexitarian lifestyles as well as concerns over animal welfare, have together served to increase interest and NPD has subsequently seen an 11 percent CAGR for the 2013-2017 period, according to Innova Market Insights. Research also indicates that four in ten US consumers increased their consumption of meat substitutes/alternatives during 2017.

Growing consumer interest in health, sustainability and ethics are driving plant-derived ingredients and products into high popularity. Innova Market Insights also reports that plant-based product claims increased by 62 percent globally (CAGR, 2013-2017) with growth occurring on platforms such as plant proteins, active botanicals, sweeteners, herbs and seasonings and coloring foodstuffs.

Click to EnlargeFoodIngredientsFirst spoke with Dominika Piasecka, from The Vegan Society, who explains the considerable growth in vegan eating and how many more opportunities lay ahead for new product development. 

“This growth is not only driven by vegans and vegetarians but also by the huge number of meat and dairy reducers, the lactose intolerant, and those who simply enjoy vegan food,” she says. “Providing vegan options makes clear commercial sense, and that’s why we’ve seen a huge increase in the number of vegan products on offer in supermarkets as well as restaurants coming out with extensive vegan menus.”

“We hear about vegan product launches on an almost daily basis to satisfy the growing demand for vegan food. Veganism is showing no signs of slowing down.”

Retail innovation – the growth in vegan options in-store
Supermarkets also know the shift in thinking many consumers have regarding vegan eating – and they have been getting in on the action with their own kind of innovation, product placement. The ethics-driven lifestyle of consumers has made its way into the mainstream supermarket and big retailers are taking notice of the growing number of vegans, vegetarians, flexitarians, etc. There was a time not so long ago when vegan products were few and far between in any given store, but now many supermarkets are not only launching whole new lines of vegan food and drinks but also placing them in priority positions in-store, alongside their meat counterparts.

In June, UK retailer Sainsbury's began a trial stocking meat alternative products in its meat aisles, as opposed to the traditional practice of placing these products in their own dedicated sections. Shoppers can now find vegan and vegetarian plant-based products from Naturli’ Foods in the meat aisles at 400 stores nationwide. 

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Vivera’s vegan steaks

Tesco is expecting the vegan-friendly Beyond Burger made its debut in the supermarket last month and it’s also available via London’s Honest Burgers chain alongside beef and chicken options.

The strategy of stocking plant-based alternatives alongside meat has been successful with Beyond Burgers in the US and is expected to be a hit in the UK as well. 

Tesco also sold 40,000 units of Vivera’s vegan steaks in just the first week it launched in May. There has also been success for its Wicked Kitchen range of ready meals with the supermarket chain announcing plans to expand the line which only started at the beginning of this year.

And earlier this month saw a “world-first” launch of a vegan smoked sausage from Dutch meat alternatives innovator The Vegetarian Butcher which has been working on the plant-based smoked sausage with a traditional taste for the past seven years. 

Jaap Korteweg, Founder and Director of The Vegetarian Butcher, says: “The fact that we, together with sausage makers and flavor specialists, worked on this product for seven years, shows how much importance we attach to developing a great smoked sausage from all aspects. This was the longest development trajectory in our entire product range. And more is coming: we are keen to bring more vegan news in the near future.”

Innovation in dairy and protein sources
The global market for alternative dairy drinks is expected to reach US$16.3bn this year, up dramatically from US$7.4bn in 2010 and the rate of innovation in the dairy-alternative space is running at a high pace. 

One company working in this space is Hydrosol. The Hydrosol team develops tailor-made stabilizing systems and emulsifying systems for dairy products, ice cream, deli foods, ready meals, meat and sausage products and also integrated compounds for deli specialties and desserts. 

Last month saw the launch of Hydrosol’s Sundogs, all-in compound, which the company believes is an ideal fit for plant-based demands. Sundogs is used to make vegetarian or vegan sausages and is based on plant proteins from sunflower Click to Enlargeand peas. This makes it the first allergen-free alternative to soy and wheat.

Furthermore, a multi-purpose system was launched to cover more applications like vegan salami, vegan bacon and vegan cold cuts. The product HydroTOP VEGAN SF as a base can be used to create this broad range of meat-free products, as well without the use of soy and wheat proteins.

Speaking with FoodIngredientsFirst, Product Manager Dairy and Deli foods, Katharina Schäfer, explains how the company is seeing a demand for products that combine different trends like plant-based products that are reduced in sugar and high in protein. 

“In addition to high protein varieties of vegan products, there is high potential in snacking solutions. Research shows that consumers seek more vegan solutions that can be eaten on the go. In the dairy category, this could be plant-based alternatives to yogurt or drinking yogurt or even sandwiches with alternatives to cheese.”

“Off-taste is a common problem since vegetable protein can bring an intensive own taste and besides this a color deviation,” Schäfer continues. “Regarding texture, we need to consider difficulties in creaminess or elasticity. For example, milk proteins bring stretch and elasticity to cheese and it is hard to replace this with vegetable proteins. The technology and product behavior highly depends on the vegetable protein source that is used. Therefore it is mandatory to know how these ingredients affect the process and the product and this means you need to have extensive know-how in these raw materials and this is why we have done a lot of research in this field.”

Schäfer’s colleague, Florian Bark, Product Manager Meat and Meat Alternatives, also believes that new products categories like hybrid products (meaning meat products where a part of meat is exchanged by suitable plant-based materials) will provide new opportunities in the market.

“Most of the vegan meat alternative products are made with machines that are typically used in the meat industry. When producing meat alternatives production processes often have to be adapted and as part of our service we are supporting our customers with on-site product implementation,” he tells FoodIngredientsFirst

What’s next?
As demand grows in markets all over the world, vegan innovation, specifically plant-based product development, will increase. This includes all manner of food and beverage categories with dairy alternatives and meat culture alternatives at the fore. Opportunities for manufacturers remain stable as the number of consumers cutting down on meat, seeking meat-free meals or deliberately shifting to a vegan-only diet are predicted to increase as ethics take on a new role within food and lifestyles in general. 

Plant-based and dairy-free trends continue to thrive in the food and nutrition industry. Earlier this month, NutritionInsight featured a report on Consumer Taste and Texture Expectations, you can read more on this here

By Gaynor Selby

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