By Christian Philippsen, managing director, BENEO, Asia Pacific
The pandemic has had a significant impact on the food that we eat. Afterall, as health rose to the top of our agenda, consumers across the globe were on the hunt for more nutritional alternatives that improve wellbeing. This shift in mentality as well as an increasing awareness of sustainability issues has led people to set their sights on plant-based nutrition, with nearly one in two consumers across the globe being (very) interested in this type of diet, according to a recent consumer survey1.
Plant-based nutrition includes not only fruits and vegetables, but also expands to nuts, seeds, oils, whole grains, legumes, and beans. Turning to such a diet does not mean that you strictly do not eat meat or dairy. Rather, consumers are choosing to incorporate more foods from plant sources into their diets. Besides plant-based staple foods, this also comprises alternative products to meat, sausages, fish, dairy products or bakery and sweets.
The health benefits of a plant-based diet are slowly gaining recognition amongst the masses. Studies have shown that a plant-based diet can reduce the severity of COVID-19 infections2, and 70% of consumers also state that promoting long-term health is an extremely or very important driver for their switch to plant-based nutrition3, with 32% of Asian consumers planning to include more plant-based food in their diets as a result of COVID-194.
Who’s driving the plant-based boom?
Asians are no stranger to plant-based diets. Food such as tofu, tempeh, and mock meats are very common in our daily lives, and widely consumed by the population. However, what has really driven the market in the last 2-3 years is the uptake of plant-based foods by flexitarians5—people who have a primarily vegetarian diet but occasionally consume meat and fish. Globally, around one in four consumers already identify as flexitarian6. This group of consumers is a key driver of the plant-based boom, since they seek to diversify their diets with more plant-based options.
Furthermore, with the advancement of technology, the plant-based nutrition market has progressed by leaps and bounds. Food manufacturers are now able to introduce plant-based meat, fish or dairy alternatives that are increasingly similar to the original in terms of taste and texture — a key factor for consumers when choosing plant-based options in the supermarket. This further caters to the palate of consumers to promote enjoyment and provides more options for flexitarians, thus contributing to the plant-based trend in the region.
Food producers hence have the opportunity to reinvent their catalogues to include more plant-based ingredients to meet consumer and market demands. Already, a wide variety of ingredients is available which they can tap into.
How can food manufacturers help?
For instance, BeneoPro W-Tex, a textured wheat protein, enables the creation of meat-free products such as burgers, sausages, or even dim sum fillings with a stable and authentic bite. With its fibrous structure after hydration that can emulate a meat-like juicy texture, it can also be flavoured with a variety of herbs and spices—making it a meat substitute that meets consumer standards.
BENEO’s portfolio of functional rice ingredients enables producers of plant-based foods to meet clean label requirements and to support transparent ingredient lists. Additionally, the use of these hypo-allergenic ingredients provides several technical benefits. As natural texturisers in dairy alternatives, rice starch and flour provide a creamy and smooth mouthfeel, while ensuring a clean taste and colour at the same time. Moreover, rice starch can serve as a binding agent in meat alternatives and offers good shelf-life stability and freeze-thaw functionality.
Where do we go from here?
The plant-based movement is far from a fad, and demand will only continue to soar as health remains of utmost priority, alongside other growing concerns like sustainability and animal welfare.
With readily available ingredients at their disposal, food manufacturers are well-equipped to welcome the plant-based future and cater to consumer demands within the region.
1 BENEO Global Plant-Based Survey, 10 countries surveyed in 2021
2 Kim H, Rebholz CM, Hegde S, et al, Plant-based diets, pescatarian diets and COVID-19 severity: a population-based case–control study in six countries. BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health 2021;4:doi: 10.1136/bmjnph-2021-000272
3 Health Focus International, Global Trends Study, 2020
4 FMCG Gurus, COVID-19, 18 countries surveyed July 2020
5 Euromonitor, Going Plant-Based: The Rise of Vegan and Vegetarian Food
6 BENEO Global Plant-Based Survey