ADM’s OutsideVoice Primary Research Study recently revealed that 44% US consumers now self-identify as flexitarian. Motivated primarily by health, wellness and sustainability, this powerful group is the driving force behind the demand for foods and beverages with plant-based protein.
There are many factors to consider when formulating a new product to meet the varied needs of flexitarians.
When it comes to protein content, quality is just as important as quantity for flexitarians. Soy meets quality standards with a protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score (PDCAAS) of 1, highly functional, widely available and cost effective.
However, not all consumers are interested in soy. Dina Fernandez, ADM’s global protein development manager, recommends blending plant-based protein sources when an alternative to soy is requested.
“When blending proteins, careful consideration must be given to the types of proteins used,” she says. “A good solution can be combinations of proteins with complementary limiting amino acid (LAA) profiles—such as pea and rice, pea and sunflower and pea and wheat. These complementary blends will offer enhanced nutritional value. Additional considerations should be taken to also enhance the functionality and minimize the flavor challenges in protein blends.”
In addition to high-quality protein, flexitarians are looking for nutritional benefits beyond just protein, such as fiber, whole grains, added nutrients and antioxidants and also dietary diversity.
“Added nutrition claims can be obtained with many emerging plant protein ingredients, including beans, lentils, whole legumes, quinoa, chia, amaranth, sorghum and others,” adds Fernandez.
Again, blending these types of proteins can help manufacturers achieve multiple nutritional benefits for flexitarian consumers who are looking to diversify their diets.
A Matter of Taste
Although flexitarians are attracted to foods and beverages with multiple nutrition benefits, those products must taste good to win in the marketplace. And from a consumer perception standpoint, plant-based proteins already have flavor challenges.
ADM’s research finds that more than half of consumers report that the taste is not ideal in plant-based options.
“This is because emerging plant proteins have strong unfamiliar off-flavor notes, such as beany, earthy, sulfur and malty,” notes Fernandez.
In order to achieve protein ingredients of cleaner flavor, Fernandez recommends manufacturers take care in sourcing the highest quality raw materials, optimizing processing conditions, formulating with the right proteins for the application and using effective flavors and flavor improvement technology.
Don’t Forget Texture
Texture is just as important as taste when formulating plant-based foods with appetite appeal. In fact, it’s in an area where 33% of US consumers believe that plant-based protein products can be improved.
“Texture is especially important as we look at the rise in meat alternatives,” says Fernandez. “Most texture challenges we see are related to the use of low functional ingredients; low solubility, low gelling and low water holding proteins will result in poor texture products.”
Soy protein and wheat gluten continue to dominate in the flexitarian space because they are the best texture-enhancer ingredients. They are also widely available and are cost effective compared to most plant protein ingredients.
Another solution is texturized proteins.
“Ingredients from soy, beans, wheat and peas—or a combination of them—are an excellent way to get the right bite, crumble and juiciness when trying to create a meat alternative,” says Fernandez. “But if you choose to move away from soy, be sure to add other hydrocolloid solutions to perfect the texture.”
Archer Daniels Midland